How Practitioners Can Get the Most Out of the Industry Analysts

Ariba is obviously going to great trouble and expense inviting all of the big -- and small -- name industry analysts to their analyst services day in Pittsburgh. Why are they doing it? Because historically, most vendors have believed that analysts have had significant influence on market direction and even individual deals. In the best of cases, this is certainly true. But often times, measuring the impact of analyst influence on the market can be tough.

The good news is that from a practitioner perspective, there's much that can be done to take advantage of industry analyst research and access. Deciding to engage and spend money with the analysts is often a far simpler equation on the practitioner side. Many companies have contracts with the AMRs, Gartners and Forresters of the world through their IT departments, but fail to take advantage of the inquiry time that is available to them.

And far too often companies end up depending on the written word -- through reports and briefs -- to guide their direction. But analyst reports only represent an individual perception at a point in time, a personal snapshot that may or may not be accurate or reflective of the current state of the market at a future date or a point of view of someone else at the firm. And I know first hand that those written reports are often influenced by vendors who play the AR game well, so take them with a grain of salt. Given this, my first sage piece of advice for procurement and operational practitioners is to understand what resources are available to you through IT, and make the calls into the firms that you're already working with. And most important, get past the written research and build relationships based on phone or face time.

The second piece of advice is to get past the big names in the space and to expand the definition of what an analyst is (and no, this is not a plug just for bloggers). Rather, I believe that benchmarking firms like Hackett can serve a critical role in advising companies how best to adopt technology depending on where they are in their Spend Management journey. Even Aberdeen's benchmarking efforts, while admittedly much lower scale than Hackett's, can be a solid complement to traditional research and advisory relationships.

Beyond the benchmarking providers, I also believe that the Big 5 such as Deloitte and CGE&Y can play a critical advisory role of sorts from a technology analyst perspective. In fact, I count some of them in the "analyst" camp rather than simply labeling them as SIs. In fact, I'd wager that the experts in these firms are often far closer to the technology itself than the other "experts" -- myself included -- sitting around the table in Pittsburgh today. How could this be? I've seen a number of their individual client reports and recommendations on Spend Management technology. And their one-off efforts often put generic magic quadrants and waves to shame. And most important, each report is tailored for specific client needs with real solution -- and sometimes technology process expertise -- baked into the solution recommendations.

My final recommendation for working with the analysts is getting to know and value the opinion of the individual, not the firm they represent. For example, Gartner had a gaping hole before they hired Debbie Wilson to cover the sector. Before Debbie came on board, I had no reason to trust specific software / services recommendations Gartner would make in the sector because Andy Kyte, though a great speaker and incredibly senior in his right, was simply too high level to dirty himself in the feature / function and process details of the broad Spend Management technology portfolio outside of specific areas that captured his personal interests like contract management. In my view, a Gartner Research Fellow does not make for an in the trenches analyst! But now, Debbie's addition gives Gartner some very specific and deserved credibility in software selection and solution recommendation. The same goes for AMR, which had a big gap after Pierre Mitchell left, but was able to fill it over the course of two years with the additions of Mickey North Rizza and Mark Hillman.

So practitioner readers, remember these three pieces of advice. First, take advantage of contracts that your company might already have, getting past the written word (i.e., what analysts say on paper) and get on the phone or meet them face to face. Second, expand your definition of who and what an analyst is depending on what you're looking for, opening up your search to benchmarking and other consulting firms. And third, focus on the quality and knowledge of the individuals that you're working with. If you take these pieces of advice, you'll find that the analysts can be invaluable in helping you make technology -- and even process-based -- investment decisions.

Jason Busch

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