Back in 2000/2001, I was heading a team of highly experienced consultants at Nortel Networks that was put together to assist cellular operators in the development of their plans and activities in the brave new world of mobile data services. The interesting thing about this team is that it was deliberately devoid of telco industry specialists. My own background was in business software, having previously worked at firms like SAP, JD Edwards, Oracle and Sybase. The guys working with me ranged from an ex-Sony product manager, with years of experience bringing top titles to market in the electronic games space, to a consumer marketing specialist that had lived and breathed disciplines such as lifestyle based segmentation and aspirational messaging in the drinks and other industries. We also had human factors people in the mix to take care of situational analysis (e.g. based on the ‘day in the life’ approach) and usability.
The reason for assembling such a mixed bag of people was because the telcos we were working with were massively encumbered with their traditional view of the world, and needed help to appreciate that the changes taking place in the broader context meant success in the future was dependent on developing a new perspective, rather than maintaining or even extending the old one.
So what do I mean by this?
Well if you look at the traditional telco industry, the network operators had been used to being the all-powerful head of their supply chains, and even had power over a lot of the demand chain too (e.g. resellers of minutes in the high street). Basically, they called the shots in their world, and it could be argued for good reason – they were expected to deliver dial-tone with a 5 nines level of reliability so understandably wanted to control everything that was required to do that. It is also understandable that with this kind of culture and perspective, the aforementioned cellular operators tried to apply the same thinking and approach when they moved into mobile data services, viewing media companies and ISV’s, for example, as simply another form of supplier to control in the same way they were used to.
What our little team at Nortel was trying to do was get them to think less in terms of supply chains and adopt more of an ecosystem perspective. This was on the basis that the walls between their hitherto discrete telephony pond and the sea of activity in the media and applications sectors were disintegrating, and there were both bigger fish out there who weren’t going to fall in line, and smaller more nimble creatures that would sneak in and steal their lunch before they even noticed their existence.
Of course all this is very obvious today and operators like Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, etc have now largely understood the imperative to take an ecosystem view of the world, but it has taken at least 5 years for this mindset transformation to take place, and many in the sector still struggle with it.
So what has all this got to do with analyst relations?
The challenge in the analyst relations community at the moment is that at aggregate level, at least, it is encumbered by a perspective and accompanying mindset that has its roots in history, just like the mobile operators of 5 years ago. Of course the specifics are different, but the general problem is the same. There was previously a discrete pond in which the analyst fish were swimming, with clear boundaries that everyone understood – and if you wanted advice and guidance on IT procurements, you would pay a visit to that pond. Now, however, the boundaries around the analyst pond are being compromised and the broader sea of influence is washing in. As a result of this, the notion that big analyst firms will continue to control the decisions that are made by the IT buying community is even sillier than it has ever been. Electronic media in all its forms, and let’s not forget traditional printed media too, are all part of the mix, and the decoupling of sources from delivery mechanisms, with analysts propagating opinions through the media, via communities of interest, and so on, is undermining those neat little taxonomies that AR professionals have historically gravitated towards to understand how they should be focusing their efforts.
If Freeform Dynamics is publishing research through Computing or The Register, for example, is it more appropriate to compare the influence of Freeform Dynamics with that of Gartner, or compare Gartner with the influence of analyst content delivered via Computing or The Register? I am making no claims here as a lot depends on who the influencee is and where they are in the buying cycle, just trying to point out that you need an ecosystem view of the world to make sense of this, as you cannot compare apples with apples any longer.
With an ecosystem view of the world, you also have to consider relationships within the influencing community itself. Let me take a simple example to illustrate this. If you are major SAP user and you are looking to make an investment that has a touch point with your core business systems, you are very likely to ask SAP’s opinion before making a decision. Now I happen to know that Redmonk has been doing quite a bit of consulting and ecosystem support work with SAP recently, and from direct conversations with people at SAP myself, I know that Redmonk has a lot of influence with that vendor. It is inconceivable that such influence is not going to bleed over into the way SAP interacts with and advises its customers.
There are lots of other examples of the ecosystem at work – e.g. analyst firms such as Freeform, MWD, Quocirca, and so on that work with the press and are routinely helping journalists shape their thoughts. Another example is our own Jon Collins, who is delivering educational presentations and facilitating workshops with the IBM architect community one week, and the Microsoft equivalent the next. And, of course, analysts are constantly moving and interacting within the IT supplier community itself – vendors, resellers, integrators, service providers and the like – and it is naïve to think that conversations taking place within this context do not influence who invites who into their deal when there is a big IT sales opportunity being worked in the field.
My bottom line on this is that there is more to analyst influence than directly sold advice, consulting and research subscriptions. I am not disputing the value or, indeed, necessity of such things, but I am challenging whether this should be the focal point for discussion and assessment of influence as it is only part of the equation. So while I applaud efforts such as the ARmadgeddon piece to unravel what’s going on in the space, the opening paragraph focusing on history and traditional business models underlines the all too common point of reference for many AR professionals.
I’ll get onto the specific question I was asked by ARmadgeddon to address on open source and sponsored research in a future post, but that is just a detail in the broader context I have been discussing here. Meanwhile, while I never thought I would ever be pointing to the telco sector for lessons on how to do stuff, I do think the change to an ecosystem perspective that telcos are going through is similar to the mindset change that needs to take place in the AR community. The transformation has started, and there are some great forward thinking beginning to emerge in AR circles, but there is still a long way to go.