Spreading the discussion: what is an analyst?

There’s a discussion going on over “what is an analyst”, started by sagecircle and picked up in various places.

A great dal of what’s discussed is for IT vendors’ analyst relations professionals, rather than users. I’ve a different perspective because I’ve come out of a decade or so managing analyst services for a major enterprise IT function. So, rather than comment in the existing threads, I’ll spawn a slightly different one here and link back.

I’ve encountered a variety of attitudes among colleagues, ranging from those who see the output as commodity research papers to those – myself included – who looked for a longer term strategic relationship. We talk about research services, about information providers, about advisory services as well as about analysts. What enterprises want is insight – into a marketplace, into an IT-business issue, into a strategic question, into a technology future. So I talk about insight services.

From the enterprise perspective (so this isn’t relevant for vendor-oriented services), what does the client want? That’s another way of saying, how did I position the service I was managing?

Of course, you want eyes and ears in the technology marketplace. You want people who have the spread you can’t have, the time to develop the knowledge, and the ability to draw conclusions. You want people who know the connection between IT and business. That’s research and analysis, in the sense the threads have discussed it.

But you want something more. All the major insight services – Forrester, Gartner, IDC, whoever – will want to develop a closer relationship. The more understanding they have of your business, the more they can go beyond their research base (the written documents, and the work that went into them) and provide specific, tailored advice that is relevant to your own enterprise – not just your type of business, or your industry sector at large.

For me, the thing that’s been missed in the discussion about what defines an analyst is precisely this ability to go beyond the research and provide insight that makes the data, the analysis actionable in the specific context. That’s true whether you are speaking of a service company as a whole, of an individual analyst within one of those companies, or of a one person outfit. That’s what makes an insight service, rather than just an analyst.

Links:

What is the definition of “analyst”? sagecircle, 1 May 2008
Link to the above in Tekrati Keeping Tabs, which also links to the Wikipedia definition
and all the links in those posts.

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