July 25, 2010

So who is an analyst anyway?

Recently, there have been several high-profile (at least within the independent analyst community) posts and initiatives relating to analyst business models. Each at least implicitly suggests a definition of what an “analyst” is. Interestingly, no two of the definitions seem exactly the same – even though similar people are involved in several of the efforts. :) Notwithstanding my well-documented skepticism about category definitions, I think it might be interesting to pull some of these ideas together in one place.

The post that kicked this all off, by Gideon Gartner and Barbara French, basically asking whether and how small analyst firms could rise to challenge the big ones like Gartner Group and Forrester Research. An extremely rich comment thread ensued. Implicit in the original post was a definition of “analyst” work that seemed to include both proprietary published research and quick-hit advisory services, fitting the traditional big-firm subscription model. More diversity, however, was shown in the post comments.

Long ago, Gideon probably based his model on his prior career at stock research firms, which to this day model their business somewhat like big IT analyst firms. Some of the main differences are:

Note: I used to be a stock analyst myself. Indeed, I once was ranked #1 on the Institutional Investor All-Star Team. This may be only the 3rd year in the past 29 that I get $0 revenue from investment research – and it’s not over yet. :)

My immediate reason for writing this post is that Ray Wang of Altimeter Group asked me to retweet his post on the best way to set up a new analyst firm, broken down into “7 Tenets”. The implicit model he’s using of analyst firm seems to be one that does a lot of advisory services, probably sells subscriptions, has “proprietary IP”, and gives a lot of research away via blogs and other public outlets. I.e., it’s similar to Gartner/Forrester, but not quite as rigid. Anyhow, I know Ray isn’t really that dogmatic, because – as he tweeted recently – he’s exploring a possible “trade association” of independent analyst firms, and I’ve talked with him about who might be in or out.

In my own business, I follow a more extreme form of the “freemium” model. In line with my stock analyst background, I feel anything I know that’s sufficiently important should be published openly, technology insight and general methodology alike. Advisory services are for:

I’ve figured out how to offer quasi-subscription retainer vendor services even so, but find it easier to sell user services on a project basis.

Of course, I don’t really publish EVERYTHING openly, for three main reasons:

But that held-back advice is not apt to be a market trend or analytic methodology. Rather, it is likely to be a more specific “Due to threat, opportunity or trend X, you should do Y,” where X is something I’ve actually been writing about publicly for a while.

Jonny Bentwood, meanwhile, goes to the opposite extreme from Gideon et al., defining an analyst by

if someone is independent and directly influences technology procurement then they are an analyst

That leads, for example, to him ranking Dennis Moore as a top-100 analyst tweeter. Now, I have no problem with mentioning “Dennis Moore” and “top-100 analyst” in the same sentence. But if Dennis has any analyst business model at all, it’s one of the stealthiest ones in the whole IT industry.

Finally, there was a webinar by French, Bentwood, Ray’s partner Jeremiah Owyang (who’s #1 on most of Bentwood’s lists, except for the ones Ray’s #1 on), and Carter Lusher on analysts’ use of social media. I haven’t listened to the recording, but two of the four bullet points listed below it say analysts can or should:

I agree, and in fact believe analysts are a huge part of the media ecosystem, already now and even more going forward.

So what are the implications? If you’re a vendor, I think:

If you’re a user, please note that:

Sorry if those bullet points at the end — or for that matter the rest of the post –  sound a bit self-serving, but this overview is in fact informed by thinking about my own business.

Or, to put it another way:

are, for rather obvious reasons, closely in alignment.


28 Responses to “So who is an analyst anyway?”

  1. The 7 Tenets Of Building A “Star Analyst” Firm on July 26th, 2010 3:20 pm

    [...] So who is an analyst anyway? [...]

  2. Simon L on July 27th, 2010 1:03 pm

    What are the advisory requirements that user and vendor firms have which are unserviced or under-serviced today? What particularly are the advisory needs of firms who buy no company’s offerings today?

    I feel that these are questions which are far more likely to uncover the business model and “analyst” model that can emerge to compete in the next few years. The vast majority of advisory firms are way too focused on what content they produce versus what the outcome is that their clients are seeking. Why do firms engage? What are they trying to achieve and how can they best be assisted to achieve those aims?

  3. Barbara French on July 27th, 2010 8:07 pm


    You built your personal / business brand early on, and it’s great to see you reaching out and mentoring colleagues newer to the analyst game.

    I have a question for you: do you think that “research” is a necessary part of an “analyst” job? if so, how do you describe the “research” that is requisite to being classified as an analyst?

    I’ve used my own definition of “what constitutes an analyst” since launching Tekrati in 2000, and performing “research” has been a part of my definition. It’s time once again to re-evaluate my position on research and analyst roles. Would like to know your point of view.

  4. Curt Monash on July 28th, 2010 7:45 pm


    I think we assume that an analyst does research. (Even if you’re mainly the conduit for research performed by closely-associated colleagues, if you’re not part of the team figuring out how to synthesize the research, you probably won’t be a good conduit.)

    To the extent an analyst is a purveyor of consulting services, what makes them be “analyst-y” rather than general consulting is that they’re based on research.

    To the extent an analyst is a quasi-journalist, that quasi-journalism presupposes research.

    As business models diverge, I’d say that the remaining consistent property of analysts is that they do research.

    That said, I’d be interested in hooking up with some straight implementers, where they + I provide a lot of assistance to organizations in (re)designing their computing systems. It wouldn’t be necessary for EVERY member of our team to do much of their own analyst research.


  5. Curt Monash on July 28th, 2010 7:50 pm


    You are absolutely correct. For example, I’ve decided to advise users on a more “project” basis, specifically targeting ones who never wanted and never bought a large analyst firm’s subscription services in the first place.

    Gideon Gartner suggested that big users should use analysts the way institutional investors use stock analysts — talk to SEVERAL of them for one decision. In principle, I absolutely agree. In practice, I doubt it will happen much soon, for reasons of budget and buying behavior.

  6. Curt Monash on July 28th, 2010 8:06 pm

    Barbara, Simon,

    For both of you, I could add that one of the big opportunities is probably repackaging core analyst insights for various markets, in connection with the original analyst, whether by vertical, geography, or size. Up to the point, that’s an advantage for the big firms, where — for example — a CRM analyst can work with an analyst who covers general analytic technology, to both their advantages. But many other opportunities along those lines are underserved.

    It’s all part of the disruption narrative: Serve certain markets better than the big guys do. Ultimately, they’ll only survive either by buying and embracing the disrupters, or by providing ever more differentiated value to their core customers.

  7. Barbara French on July 29th, 2010 1:16 am

    I’m increasingly skeptical about the amount and types of research many analysts perform.

    Either way, I’m in full agreement with you: the line between journalists and analysts grows thinner by the year, as analysts do less research and journalists do more (aided by web, nets, invitations to the same briefings, access to the same data/human sources, etc.)

    Thanks very much for your thoughts on this. Again, it’s a great post.

  8. Curt Monash on July 29th, 2010 4:37 am


    Journalists are doing less quality reporting these days, as their beats grow wider and their reporting consequently grows less deep.

    Part-time analysts (see my related post http://www.strategicmessaging.com/blurring-analyst-consultant-line/2010/07/28/ ) might opine without really doing much research, other than examining particular products they’re interested in using. Other people might just post a few insightful things and retweet a lot of other stuff and be viewed as “top-100″ analysts. :)

    And of course a lot of analysts are so busy with client service that their research time is limited. That’s always a danger if you get popular.

  9. Advice for some non-clients | DBMS2 -- DataBase Management System Services on July 30th, 2010 10:52 am

    [...] Oracle. And while I’m at it, outright dishonesty isn’t your only unnecessary credibility problem. You’re also playing too many games in analyst relations. [...]

  10. vinnie mrichandani on August 2nd, 2010 2:32 pm

    Curt, agree on the analyst AND consultant model…I think the industry is ready for many more ANDs as I wrote below


    - we need to look way beyond infotech and start also focusing on claentech, healthtech etc. We need to recognize some of the most advanced tech innovations are coming from what we traditionally considered “buyers” – GE, BMW, BASF etc are now tech vendors that few analysts cover. We need to look at growing global sources of tech. And finally, we have to start leveraging communities, crowds for our research. Frankly, those niches will allow smaller boutique firms to distinguish themselves more than positioning themselves as knockoffs of the Gartners

  11. Oracle on active-active replication : DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on May 3rd, 2011 9:08 pm

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