Ovum’s principal analyst for IT services has moved to upstart firm HfS Research. Having already worked at IDC, NelsonHall and Gartner, Dr Tom Reuner (@tom_reuner) gave me this exclusive interview on the analyst industry, and what made him move.
You have a huge amount of experience as an analyst. What’s the difference between the way that firms speak with analysts now, and how it used to be?
Thanks for reminding me that I am getting old, Duncan. Looking back to the days when I started as an analyst a couple of observations are standing out. First and foremost the whole industry has grown up. In the early days, a broad value proposition and a generic go-to-market were sufficient as buyers were equally immature. Fast forward to 2015: the analyst world is strongly consolidated. Only a handful of boutiques with a niche focus, who are leveraging opportunistically gaps in coverage of the larger firms, are dominating our space. Thus, if you are not working for Gartner or Forrester, you have to reinvent yourself constantly to stay ahead of the game and to continue to secure revenue from clients. On top of that the availability of free information on the web and emergence of social media as serious B2B communication channels is fundamentally changing the engagement models.
You’re an analyst who has had a global audience. Have you seen a difference in the sort of questions that clients have on either side of the Atlantic? And has that produced a difference in the analysts?
I believe the fundamental questions are the same, but you get regional variations in terms of technology adoption, customer behavior and the like. There appears to be different culture. Probably because many tech firms are headquartered in the US, and you have Silicon Valley, there is a wealth of smaller firms in the US while in Asia Pacific new competitors are emerging. The rise of social media has made it easier to interact with a global audience. I still get amazed by the reaction of people I have never spoken to when I post messages and research on those channels. This is probably the biggest change to the job as an analyst. Today you have to be a sector specialist, you have to able to advise and consult on specific challenges, and you have to be seen as a thought-leader and influencer. How clients deal with these options varies greatly. I have worked for Gartner, and I had my own company: the two extremes of the food chain. Many of our clients apply a tiering system, and a fair few are not overly sophisticated in doing so.
HfS is clearly a fast growing-firm and Ovum, where you and I have both been analysts, is a fairly typical example of a firm born in the 20th century. What do you think the strengths are of the 20th-century firms, and what are the advantages for the competitors that are born in the cloud?
If you define “20th-century firms” as the large firms like Gartner, Forrester, IDC or Ovum, you get a global sales and marketing reach as well as research coverage across multiple segments. Many of our clients buy solely around brand equity with those characteristics in mind. In order to compete boutiques have to be more focused, more flexible but first and foremost stronger in thought-leadership.
As a consequence, boutiques have to go the extra mile and consequently their research is often among the strongest in the industry. Thus it is by no means easier to be born in the cloud, but you have more channels to mitigate some of the buying behavior of our clients. While at Ovum many of my clients asked about my opinion of HfS. That in itself is testimony that HfS in engaging strongly with the stakeholders
HfS is well known for its research, but I think many people don’t have a feeling for HfS as a firm or as a brand. What attracted you to it?
Well, HfS came out strongly in your survey for the Analyst Firm of the Year 2014. As we have discussed previously, boutiques have to go the extra mile to be successful. Over the years from the outside I always looked at HfS to glean ideas for best practices. Be it the strong thought leadership, the high-level engagement model or the innovative leverage of social media. Fundamentally we share the same passion, the belief in strong thought leadership and commercial awareness that is required to take the business forward. A good example is the research on process automation where both HfS and myself (and now even stronger moving forward) won significant business because we spotted the trend early and executed strongly. That was the perception from the outside. When HfS approached me about joining them, I got a glimpse of the insight that is even more compelling. A great team, strong leadership to take the business to the next level. Thus I am very excited and feel privileged to be part of the journey to the next milestone.