This is a column I have meant to write for years, but have just never quite got around to it. As we roll here in the US towards the Thanksgiving Holiday, I thought it would be a good time to tackle the subject of supply chain industry analysts. I was also prompted, in part, by the fact that in a few days we will also launch the same survey on supply chain strategies and plans that we have done for the past two years with one of the supply chain analysts firms, Gartner (please take a few minutes to complete the survey when it is ready).
As most, but not all know, there is a group of firms that are typically called supply chain analysts, and analyze and organize is largely what they do, though, as I will note below, that role is changing to a degree. Familiar analyst names are firms such as Gartner, AMR Research, Forrester, etc.
I am well familiar with these companies, as I actually was an analyst for over two years at a company called META Group (second largest at the time), which was later acquired by Gartner. In other roles, including now, I have interacted in depth with the analysts, personally know lots of them, and consider many to be friends.
In fact, Supply Chain Digest was launched with the idea of fitting somewhere between the traditional “trade press” and the analyst community. “Valued-added journalism” someone once said, and that’s about right in what we do.
So, why should you care about the analysts? A number of reasons, which include:
- They provide useful information and insight, if you can get access to the research/publications. That often includes nice graphics, which help visualize a process/opportunity and can be used to explain the concepts to others.
- At some analysts, if you are a client, you can set up phone interactions to have your specific needs for information/
insight addressed one-on-one with an analyst.
- Their research/opinions can often have a significant impact on how a company views specific technology vendors/options.
- Technology vendors themselves often change product development plans and/or their “messaging” to appease analyst critiques (delivered as the vendors “brief” the analysts).
That said, I am often amazed how often “end users” (the words vendors use to describe regular companies and supply chain professionals like yourselves) and even SCM technology providers do not well understand the analyst community and how it works.
In fact, I will argue that SCM professionals in most companies that subscribe to the analyst offerings don’t leverage the full opportunities they have very well. That is often because the primary target for the analysts is frequently the CIO/IT group. Sometimes, SCM managers don’t even really know they have access to the service, or certainly the full scope of what they are entitled to, such as the one-on-one “inquiries,” as they are usually called.
The reality is that the analysts firms which charge a lot of money (as much as a hundred-thousand dollars or more annually for big “clients”) do not do much interacting with mid-sized and smaller companies as clients, though some have tried programs tailored for that market. SMBs often see some of the work, however, as the research often gets around in legitimate and illegitimate ways.
All the analysts have their strengths and weaknesses. I always say you need to understand the analyst company, how they make their money, and other factors when viewing any research or considering the analysts’ opinions.
In my view, the SCM industry analyst firms can differ along these attributes:
- Size and scope: Gartner is huge, some are very small, and others in-between. Some are very broad based IT/technology analysts, others more narrowly focused on operations/supply chain.
- How they Make Their Money: Some rely mostly on a client subscriber model, which depends on things like what specific services you subscribe to or how many research “seats” you buy. Others rely primarily on vendor sponsorship of various reports and other activities. Some are in-between. A third group primarily makes money selling research reports, usually around market sizing and such, which are usually purchased by vendors, investment firms, etc., looking to understand growth potential for RFID or whatever.
- Content Access: Closely tied to “how they make their money,” in general, the subscription-based firms closely limit most content access only to clients and, even within clients, limit the number of people authorized to access the research. In reality, the documents can be made available to most anyone in the company – if you know to ask. The companies that make money by vendor sponsorship generally make the research available with free registration. Increasingly, even some of the subscription-based analysts are making individual pieces of research available “by the drink” – say $395.00 for an individual report.
- Subscriber Mix: Some analysts have primarily vendor clients, others have a high percentage of “end users” as clients. Some have no end-user clients.
- Inquiry Opportunities: Related to all the above, some have formal programs for client inquiries (e.g., We are looking at these three demand planning vendors, what can you tell me?). How this works, in practice (ease of setting up an inquiry, quality of answers) can vary substantially. Usually only available from subscription-based firms.
There have been some changes since I was in an analyst role, and it largely relates to the near death of analysts writing any “negative” research/opinions on specific vendors. Ten years ago, this was fairly common, even though it likely would bring fire and brimstone from any vendor so described. Today, the need to keep vendors as clients has largely eliminated any real criticism of vendors today, and that’s too bad, though I well understand those pressures (we have them here too in a different way.) But, it is something to keep in mind, though most analysts will speak more freely in one-on-one inquiries. But, good luck finding any negative opinions in print today – it is about an extinct life form. I even had one analyst who had some negative things to say about Walmart’s RFID program tell me I couldn’t quote him, lest Walmart get mad at his firm.
I was going to include a list of the most important analysts, along with a brief summary of each, but lack of space will have to leave that for another day. I will end with these general recommendations:
- Find out what analysts firms to which your company subscribes, what access the company and you personally may have, and how you can access the info you need. Don’t let this stay bottled up in IT.
- Find a way to keep abreast of what is published. The challenge many companies have with analyst subscriptions is that only a few people really see what material has been published. I think the gatekeepers should make that info freely available internally though a internal portal, emails, whatever.
- Take documents that in some way rank vendors (e.g., the Gartner “Magic Quadrant”) as just one input into the process. They should be used to add more color to internal analysis; to use them as a basis to reject specific vendors outright is usually silly, as the analysts themselves will tell you, but companies still do this.
- If you have access to them, take advantage of one-on-one inquiries (can usually have several individuals on your side). Your specific questions can be addressed, and you will get a lot more “unvarnished” answers here, I promise.
- If you are not a subscriber, and you have some need for specific third-party research information, there is often a buy-by-the-drink option, and/or vendors you are working with can usually find a way to get some document to you – if it supports their cause.
Did you find this overview of the SCM analyst world helpful? What else would you like to know? What are your thoughts on the SCM industry analysts? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.