Friday, August 20, 2010
Answers to Questions asked by Analyst Relations Professionals
Ksenia Coffman asked: How do end customers of analyst firms perceive "magic quadrants" on the scale from "pay-per-play exercise" to "bible"
Historically Magic Quadrants, Waves and other similar comparisons provided immense value in a world filled with expensive proprietary vendor offerings. Increasingly, there value is decreasing for a variety of reasons ranging from the increased adoption of open source to leverage software-as-a-service and other considerations.
Magic quadrants and their industry equivalents typically compare vendors more than they compare products and makes it challenging to incorporate fair comparisons of proprietary and open source products. At the end of the day, a customer is looking for a solution to their challenge and want to learn about all possibilities and the current method sometimes takes viable open source product offerings off the table. Analysts are quick to promote the fallacy that many of their customers aren't that interested in open source but I think the reality of the marketplace speaks otherwise. In the world of open source, sometimes customers do care about having vendor support in which the quadrant approach may work and at other times customers don't feel the need to spend money on support. This is all contextual.
The key consideration for analyst firms when it comes to providing real value to their end customers when it comes to open source is to figure out a proxy for revenue in these types of reports. Since open source isn't based on selling licenses, the revenue lens is flawed at best. It would be my recommendation that analyst relations professionals encourage Gartner and Forrester to not arbitrarily defend their current practice of exclusion of non-commercial open source from Quadrants and Waves and to figure out how to change the measurement to allow for inclusion.
Another perspective on this question requires acknowledging that Quadrants and Waves have value at procurement time, but increasingly many end customers are acknowledging that they already have more software than they need. Nowadays, with the emergence of enterprise software licenses where an enterprise may pay one fixed fee for all the software they can consume, the challenge is less about making a procurement decision than in how to properly leverage technology they already have. In this regard, end customers would benefit more from understanding technology from the perspective of a reference architecture, relevant industry standards and overall deployment best practices than they would from understanding overall market trends that are more popular with the vendor community.
Michael Myers asked: How much weight do end customers give to the analysts vs other sources of information?
The credence given by end customers to analysts does vary significantly based on who the analyst is and there is no consistency. I would say that credence tends to be given to analysts who are more practitioners who can go deep than analysts who just cover market trends. within the twitterati, the concept of the star analyst appears frequently and I can truly say that the analysts that are considered popular amongst the analysts themselves and the media at large aren't necessarily the ones that are most influential.
As an Enterprise Architect who spends a lot of time crafting PowerPoint, there are times where I need quotes and referencing an industry analyst is a popular tool in the toolbox. Some analysts are quotable but this doesn't make them influential. The inverse is also true. For example, Bob Blakely of Burton/Gartner has never been quoted in any of my PowerPoints but he happens to be one of the most influential analysts covering identity and privacy. In fact, he happens to have the distinct honor of having been referenced in my annual review.
Generally speaking, some parts of a PowerPoint presentation are marketing where you need a few obligatory quotes and some analysts are great at providing them. The hardest part is that you can't use search engines to tell which analysts have influenced the thoughts and minds of people and therefore many analysts use easy to gather metrics that otherwise are fundamentally flawed.
It is important to acknowledge that analysts are only one part of the equation and there are other factors at play. The analogy of the grass is always greener on the other side of the street (aka Jones) plays in the model of end customers as well. Not a day goes by where we aren't comparing ourselves to Progressive, Geico, Travelers and so on. Analysts can choose to increase their influence by providing their guidance in a vertical-specific context or more likely provide metrics/guidance that suffer from the lack of vertical focus. If the CIO of Walmart were talking to an analyst, would he care more about the industry trends at large or would he care more about what Target, Tesco and Dollar General were up to?
Other models of influence include reaching out to industry peers to get alternative perspectives. For example, if I wanted to find out not just what is good about a particular piece of technology but more of its operational characteristics (things that occur after procurement) what is the probability that analyst firms are going to provide me with insight when compared to say searching for the product name on LinkedIn and connecting to other users while avoiding going through the filtered vendor provided reference list?
Increasingly, there are many alternative sources of information that are freely available. While they may not be normalized they can in many cases be more insightful. So, what our industry peers are up to has a more profound effect on our decision making than analysts themselves, but the better question to ask is why aren't analysts helping end customers connect the dots. They need to acknowledge that they are no longer the center of "research" and need to embrace open source methods of analysis.