I have no patience for analysts. I have little respect for them, and even less for those who pay them big bucks for their “expertise”. Not all analysts mind you, I have not had to deal with them in lots of industries, and maybe some in some industries have some opinions of some value. The ones I have had to deal with extensively (in numerous capacities with several different companies) are the IT analysts.
You’d be hard pressed to find an article in a prominent IT publication that does not quote one of the major analyst firms spouting forth on .NET versus J2EE or WiFi or security or open source or standards or whatever else is the issue of the day. Similarly, you’d be hard pressed to find a CIO of a major organization who does not in some way rely on reports, conclusions, and recommendations provided by these analysts. After all, the IT press and CIO’s can hardly be expected to be experts in everything IT related, and so a hefty check and nicely printed whitepaper or briefing is exactly what is needed. Right?
Well, at the risk of generalizing, maybe not. I have read lots of analysts reports, I have spent way too much time with analysts briefing them on various topics, and I have had too many conversations with decision makers who approve all sorts of spending based on analysts reports and recommendations. And I have yet to meet a single analyst who actually knew, or had experience with, what he or she was talking about. Few have ever held IT jobs, and yet they make all sorts of predictions about the IT job market, decisions that actually impact that same market. Few have ever written a line of code, and yet they have no problem discussing languages, coding practices, and methodologies. Few have ever actually touched a server, and yet making infrastructure recommendations is the norm. Few even know what the acronyms they use really mean, but they use them anyway.
How do I know this? Analysts in the IT sector are not unlike analysts in the financial sector. I always find it amusing when publicly traded companies post numbers (good, bad, whatever) only to be followed the next day by analysts changing ratings to buy or sell. Does anyone actually need an analyst for after-the-fact ratings changes? Now, if the financial analyst changed ratings based on research and market analysis, before financials were disclosed, yep, that would be of value to investors, but that is not the way it usually works. And IT analysts are no different. Most seem to just go with the flow, spouting conventional wisdom, getting paid to regurgitate opinions they were just briefed on. I know, because I have done this. I know because I have spent time with analysts, I have briefed them, and have seen the subsequent published data. I have been presented with findings that were my own comments prettied up. Lots of spending and decision making is affected by analyst data, and so the major players make sure to feed the analysts with all the right information so as to ensure that the reports say exactly what they want. Some analyst reports are even funded by the vary companies whose products and technologies are being analyzed. Companies have to do this, because their competitors are doing the same. And as soon as one analyst makes an insightful comment, others are quick to agree. Opposing analysis is not the norm, regurgitation and lemming-like behavior is. And the scary thing is that billions of dollars are influenced by analysts, the futures of products and even companies has been impacted by analysts pontifications.
As a rule, I avoid referring to charts and stats provided by, well, you know who the major players are. I have no faith in them, and have a hard time accepting the fact that these do indeed impact decision making, and a harder time respecting those who rely so heavily on analyst data. When analyst data is presented in a meeting, regardless of whether it is proving may point or otherwise, I cringe. As I said, no faith, at all.
The problem is that I don’t know of a better option. The fact of the matter is that IT is complicated and grows increasingly so. Decision making has gotten complex and will continue to do so. Relying on outside experts make sense I guess, so long as they are actually experts, and in my experience few (if any) analysts actually are.
There has to be an alternative, but there does not seem to be one yet. It’s a tough one, and it is only going to get worse.