As an industry analyst, I’m used to be being slotted, even though my goal has always been to cover as broad a swath of the enterprise software market as possible, based on the assumption that customers and users need help understanding the full context behind their enterprise software decisions, and not just listen to a vendor pitch, write a check, and be done with it.
This goal is often anathema to how vendors organize their analyst relations functions, having historically followed the big analyst firms down the path of splitting the market into discrete analytical areas, mostly for the purpose of selling discrete analyst services. Thus, a general practitioner such as myself often must contend with multiple AR teams, often out of communication with one another, in the pursuit of full coverage for any vendor with a complex product portfolio.
Lately, this problem has grown in spades as vendors like Oracle have branched into hardware, vendors like Microsoft have started successfully blending its non-enterprise assets into enterprise product lines, and hardware stalwarts like HP have become erstwhile enterprise software vendors. With my holistic market view as the goal, as vendors evolve to provide a broader and broader portfolio of products for the customer, analysts who want to follow the customer’s perspective need to follow a broader swath of the vendors’ product portfolio as well.
Which, in most cases, turns out to be largely impossible, to the detriment of vendor and customer alike (and it ain’t so good for us general practitioners either.)
If I were (even) more cynical than I pretend to be, I would think the inability of most vendor AR teams to understand the need to cross-pollinate the analyst community with the full scope of the vendor’s product lines – or at least offer up the opportunity for analysts to try to understand the big picture – was deliberate, sort of a divide and conquer strategy intended to keep out any dangerous , holistic analysis that might reveal key dis-synergies in the strategy.
And if I were immodest I would claim that this total vendor coverage is easy and fits well with the capabilities and interests of most industry analysts and AR departments. As someone who tries to do this, I can assure you it’s hard, and at times damn near impossible.
But not completely impossible, and, in many ways, very possible indeed. And very much needed, now more than ever.
The reasons are simple: if a customer wants to buy the very best software at the very best price and with the very best performance possible, how that software interacts with the rest of the IT stack is critical (this has been the rationale for my analyst coverage for years, and the basis of my strategy advisory practice as well.) And as more and more vendors are not only providing more and more of the stack, but are actually optimizing their enterprise software for their own stacks, advising the customer requires an understanding of how all the pieces fit together. Merely commenting on the capabilities of discrete pieces of enterprise software without understanding the rest of picture just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The other pieces – hardware, middleware, database, deployment options, development tools, advanced UI tools, etc. – aren’t just important, they are often key points of differentiation between vendors and provide key selection criteria for customers. Customers almost never implement in a greenfield manner, rather, their selections for new software are intertwined with their existing infrastructures and applications portfolios. Which means that just buying the very best ERP system won’t cut it if that system doesn’t interoperate with the customer’s existing software and hardware infrastructure. And, in more and more cases, whether its Oracle touting the synergies of its enterprise software running on its Exalogics systems, or Microsoft showcasing how its Kinect gaming interface can be used on the shop floor, understanding these interactions and how all these pieces interoperate are must-haves for any well-qualified decision-making process.
Which leaves us with a dilemma: how to make the analyst and the analyst relations role a better fit for the analytical requirements of the enterprise software market? The answer isn’t simple: vendors with complex portfolios need to cultivate analysts who can understand that complexity, and provide them with a level of access intended to make sure the synergistic, holistic view is articulated and understood. This requires in many cases both a revamping of how AR thinks and acts as well as a similar reconsideration of how analysts look at individual companies.
These shifts are not always easy, for functional as well as political/cultural reasons: AR teams often reflect their respective product and solution marketing teams, which in turn means that changing the status quo means changing the structure of how products go to market, and even how products are developed (or acquired, depending on the vendor’s particular innovation strategy.) That makes this concept of total or holistic vendor coverage holy hell for anyone trying to make it happen, inside or outside a particular vendor.
But I’m convinced more and more that this is a necessary evil that must be confronted, assuming the goal of educating and informing customers so that they make the right choices is the goal of the vendors’ market communications. Unless that misplaced cynicism noted above is actually justified…