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Don’t dog nod your way to unemployment. Read this and get on your soap box

 

After yesterday’s slightly risqué rant, I received an interesting comment from Nigel Barron (pictured) this morning, an avid follower of HFS over the years, who spent much of his career with CSC and subsequently DXC before recently going independent (and clearly off the leash and wagging his tail!):

“Since 2008 every job has become a hustle and analysts are no different. Authenticity is not a winning attribute. To survive, being the nodding dog is the difference between having a paycheck and not having a paycheck and when they’ve got mortgages to pay and kids to put through college truthful, honest and clear research might not be the best bet. That’s not to say its the right thing to do, just an observation. I speak from experience also.”

I refused to become a nodding dog. It’s simple if you keep at it…

Nigel Barron: Nodding Dog Sympathizer

Well, Nigel, I also speak from experience here. I used to work for Deloitte Consulting back in the day, and my lead Partner demanded I take my blog offline (having initially been fine with me continuing with it, during the interview process).  The firm literally could not tolerate one of its consultants having freedom of thought and bypassing its painful thought police (aka “risk”) process.  I eventually left the firm after that… I just couldn’t stomach an employer putting the muzzle on thought leadership.  Especially mine!

A couple of years later, I was working for AMR Research (now part of Gartner) and a huge debate ensued among management whether “Phil should keep his blog up”.  Many of the clients insisted one of the reasons they stuck with the firm was because of my blog, so money eventually spoke – they felt they got some real views of the industry and wanted to call me to discuss as part of their research contract. In fact, our Chief Research Officer, Bruce Richardson, at the time candidly said, “Let’s just let all the analysts blog, I can guarantee only 2 or 3 will bother”.  Bruce was right.  In fact, I think it only me who actually bothered.  And then another boss decided to try and ban analysts using LinkedIn.  My god… where do they find these people?

Amusingly, around that time, I went for a job interview with SAP (yeah OK, I wanted a Merc)… and the first thing the hiring SVP asked me was “Phil, you will keep your blog going, won’t you?”.  I nearly fell off my chair – you’d have thought the Germans would be the first to censor free thought =)

Find an employer who lets you express your ideas and views.  Otherwise just work for yourself.  Or just be a nodding dog…

If you are a nodding dog who’s happy nodding away and taking home your paycheck each month, then I am very happy for you.  Life is good.  However, if you are bored out of your mind and are desperate to craft a living that utilizes your creativity, please get out of your predicament… for your own sake.  The digital world is all about people with creative relationship skills and entrepreneurial capabilities.  Nodding dogs can (and will) be replaced by automated ones… please don’t nod your way into unemployment.

Let’s face facts, the world is a digitally-scary place, and the only way to deal with it is to keep trying to learn more and keep talking to colleagues and peers in other firms about how to get ahead of this. Suddenly, we have become disposable assets and we need to keep reinventing ourselves to keep sounding like we’re up on all the new stuff. Suddenly, we live in a world where everything is about to be transported to the scrapheap of legacy professionals who can’t be retrained to do anything meaningful anymore. So keep nodding at your peril…

However which way we look at this, the real answer is that we simply don’t actually know what the future has in store for our careers, our companies, our economies, politics and our children, but what we can do is keep understanding the facts and keep sharing knowledge with other like-minded people… and the future will unravel before our eyes as we keep trying to make sense of it all.

Our recent study on Intelligent Operations, conducted with the support of Accenture, which covers the views and dynamics of 460 global 2000 operations leaders, gives us some real insight into this shift towards the creative, curious types, with a thirst to learn and an obsession with networking and partnering:

 

The focus is heavily shifting to dynamic, entrepreneurial individuals who understand how to define outcomes 

So if we’re one of these obsessively socially curious animals with a penchant for constantly knowledging-up on all the cool new stuff – and we love to talk partnerships with other companies in our network, the near future is actually pretty encouraging for us:  our skillset now tops the list for what global 2000 leaders are looking.  Leadership is under intense pressure to change the norm, to align their operations with the direction their customers are taking them.  The wonks who spend all day staring at spreadsheets, focused on execution “left-brained” activities are less in demand – they need to learn how to wrap the needs of the business into broader processes that can cater to customers and support management decisions in real-time.  Essentially, if your operations are not in sync with the customer-driven front office, you will likely fail.  Yes, you need opinions, you need to speak up, yes you need to stop the nodding and find your inner digital mojo.

The Bottom-line: This is the new normal – leaving our comfort zones and getting out there to make stuff happen.  End the nodding now!

It really is as simple as that – we’re all leaving that big comfortable world where all you had to do was turn up for work, do the same routine activities each day, go to the same mundane meetings and keep the lights on.  We all know those days are leaving us behind, and if you’re under the age of 55, it’s unlikely you can plot that sneaky escape to early retirement… we’re living in a world where we need to learn about new technologies (you don’t need to code anymore), we need to share experiences and use cases with peers across the industry, and we need to reach outside of our cosy internal networks to talk through smart partnerships with tech firms, supply chain partners, customers etc.

You only have to look at the reason 200 executives showed up at the HfS FORA Summit in New York to understand motivations have changed in an anonymous poll:  they are going out to get educated and share experiences with peers.  The days where conferences were all about job hopping are over – it’s more about how to stay relevant and ahead of the game.:

 

In essence, there is no written rulebook where this all leads – the world has become an uncertain place politically and we have yet to experience an economic downturn for many years.  However, what is clear is sitting in a quiet office all day staring at your emails and nodding in a canine-like fashion is unlikely going to get you where you need to go next in your career.  This is the age of getting networked, getting smart and learning from collective experiences.  The only comfort zone is the one you make for yourself – being comfortable with the impact of change agent technologies and the experiences you can have working with them.

So let’s wage a war on the turgid dog nodding motherhood and apple pie, people… Ugh, it makes me want to curl up into the foetal position and reemerge in the 1960s… when thought was valued, and democracy was everything.

 

(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)

Rant Warning: Nodding dogs and vendor marketing – this is all our industry deserves

As an analyst, you spend your time with a lot of other analysts – for better or for worse. And, recently, worse is taking up more than its fair share. It just seems like, as an industry, we’ve lost our collective teeth, our ability to question, challenge and find out the truth.  We’d even go as far as questioning whether we’ve lost out soul.

When HFS launched ourselve onto the market over eight years ago, the cornerstone of the firm was a blog that was revered as one place you could get the real truth about the industry, where people were safe to make a (gasp) controversial comment where we could all call a “spade a spade”.  One industry leader (from IBM of all places) even went as far as describing this blog as the “Wall St Journal editorial section of the industry”.  More recently, we’ve been called “Blue Collar” research, which I guess we’ll take as a compliment.  Anything is better than being seen as fully paid and played by the dirty vendor dollar… which is sadly how so many recent pieces of “research” have been described.

Today, most analysts and advisors use hype as their comfort blanket – even if they don’t understand it, they just circulate it because it makes them feel relevant

Sadly, at HFS, we doubt we’d have succeeded with our honesty and bluntness if we launched today.  The industry is too controlled by vendor marketeers who shower their lovely budgets at analysts and advisors alike to keep them all in line… where most just regurgitate the same hype as each other because they just don’t care anymore.  Most barely understand the hype, but regurgitate it because it gives them a sense of security, a sense of belonging.  It really is fucking sad, isn’t it?

Today, when you go into a vendor briefing packed with analysts, you’ll be confronted with row after row of nodding dogs, passively absorbing the hype, marketing drivel, and outlandish ‘thought leadership’ that has no bearing on reality today, let alone the future.

Yes folks, let’s face reality: vendor executives deliver lovely fluffy cotton candy the analysts and advisors gratefully inhale.  No one seems to want to give anyone a hard time these days… it’s all PowerPoint bullshit being delivered to plastic smiles and nods of universal agreement, even though no one really has a fucking clue what reality is versus bullshit anymore.  In fact, no one seems to care… they just keep nodding… like dogs.  I mean how can you really be an expert in RPA when you’re spinning your wheels at conferences 13 months a year?  When are you actually talking to real clients about real issues?  Does it matter in this age of #fakenews?

Vendors just insist on nurturing the nodding dogs

Let’s give you an example. At a recent event on the “future of work” (yep… that old chestnut), a room jam-packed with senior analysts listened and nodded intently to a vendor expert proselytizing on the business benefits of pushing 70% of enterprise employees onto the modern equivalent of zero hour contracts. It’s scalable; enterprises can tap into talent whenever they want, reduce costs, all of the good stuff businesses have been desperate to do. Eventually, a couple of HFS analysts broke ranks and said ‘what on earth makes you think the labor market will accept that deal?’

I mean, honestly, it’s weighted so heavily in favor of the enterprise that if government regulators and unions don’t kick it in to touch, a massive disenfranchised labor force almost certainly will. But the simple act of challenging this line of thought was almost enough to cause the immediate ejection of the analysts. The look on the faces of the professionals from the vendor told the whole story – they hadn’t been challenged in such a long time they didn’t know what to do with it. The other analysts in the room stopped their nodding briefly with dazed confusion across their faces. I can imagine it was the same reaction a courtier would get if in the middle of a banquet they told Henry the Eighth he should stop eating so much and think about his cholesterol… or his gout  For once, the nodding dogs stopped nodding and looked up in amazement…

We’re in a world where rocking the boat gets you quickly hurled overboard

There have been other occasions when plucky analysts have challenged the core narrative – at its worst, they’re ejected from the room. At its best, they have been picked on as a ‘negative person’ or someone who ‘hasn’t read around the topic enough’. The world we are building for ourselves is one in which analysts are just a collection of dullards with a single purpose – to toe the party line of whatever a vendor is telling them. Either that or be ostracised and ridiculed. You can see why keeping in the pack is a much more attractive prospect to some.  Why rock the boat when you can nod like a dog and everyone leaves you alone?

In many ways, vendors are as much to blame as the analyst firms. A short while ago it became vogue to cram analysts into large lecture theatres and run presentation after presentation – “Thanks for listening to two hours of us running through our financial performance, now you’re suitably sedated we’ll tell you about cloud, automation, blockchain, AI, GDPR, et al. quick succession over the next five hours. Unfortunately, there will be no time for questions. Try and ask a question and you won’t be invited back. Thanks, have a great day and remember your earplugs and eye masks are stored under your chairs.”

This bred a particular type of analyst – the nodding dog – that silently sits at the back of the room, nodding reassuringly when anyone makes eye contact, and briefly types out a mirror image of what the vendor has splurged out on their slide deck. “Doing lots more digital huh? great, I’ll write that down and get it off to editing.”

Just take your money and nod like a dog, please

Now, this may seem like a vitriolic attack on the analyst industry as a whole – which is partially correct – but this is really a look at the series of factors that have slowly eroded the value that analysts can provide to clients. The days of clear, impartial insight that fuel business decision making  on their way out unless we start fixing this industry now.

The biggest issue is that the analyst firms swimming against the current are the first to be snubbed by vendors looking for the immediate gratification the industry now offers them. Publishing something even lukewarm will see your inbox filled with demands for ‘rebuttal’. You can’t imagine the response to something which is openly critical. Ultimately vendors know this works, they hire pushy and aggressive AR people to drive their narratives into the skulls of analysts. The big firms, chasing the money, know not to fight back – drilling their analysts to nod politely and, crucially, not to write or say anything that could lose them the account.  Take your money and nod like a dog.. and we’re all cool, right?

This short-termism is pillaging the credibility of our industry.

‘Pay to play’ has become an insult so frequently used that’s it’s lost all meaning. Like that family member we all have whose frequent profanity was shocking at first, but eventually became an endearing characteristic. Corruption, subjectivity and personal agendas have become the knowns that clients expect and budget for. Frankly, it’s a constant surprise that 2×2 grid hasn’t disappeared as quickly as positive interest rates did after the financial crisis. There’s no value in them anymore – and if enterprise decision makers know that, by and large, they’re sketchy and not worth consulting, why do them at all?

Our worst fears were confirmed in a recent dispute on LinkedIn, in which industry grandee’s defended research that contained none of the major players in a market as a better way of supporting buying decisions (although they went on to argue that these reports, paradoxically, have no role to play in informing sourcing professionals!). As a sign that the industry is doomed – as with a failing company where all assets are for sale in a desperate bid to eek out a few more months – professional credibility and the reputation of a firm are up for sale for a relatively small price tag

What business are most ”analysts” in these days?  Not “research”, that’s for sure…

This is the question at the center of an existential crisis for the analyst industry. In recent years, business models have eroded from research and analysis to vendor PR and marketing. The proliferation of nodding dog analysts which serve only as a mouthpiece for vendor marketeers, and the production of research which only has market value as far as vendors are willing to sponsor it has pushed analyst firms further and further away from the core mission of the industry – to inform clients. For some, the journey back is too long and arduous – they may as well throw in the towel now, or just honestly label their output as marketing fluff. At least they’ll be able to claw back some credibility for owning up to the true nature of the business.

For others that have drifted less, they must ask themselves ‘what business am I in’. If the answer is anything other than to provide clients with truth and clarity, sorry – you may as well phone it in as well.

The tragedy is that the current analyst market incentivizes the nonsense. For guaranteed business revenue and analyst bonuses, it adds up to pump out the same hype that we are supposed to be cutting through. Blockchain and AI hype trains are mandatory for most analysts if they want to get paid. And the easiest way to join in the conversation without needing to do any actual research is to circulate what vendors are saying. Even I’ll admit that it’s easier to find free time as a researcher if you don’t need to do any research.

But this dynamic simply can’t continue. The type of people that consume analyst research are, save some exceptions, exceptionally intelligent people. As soon as they start seeing the same crap from analysts as they get from vendors – the type of drivel that doesn’t tie up with how their business works – then they’ll stop reading and listening. It’s a simple as that. Even the most remote watering hole in the desert will stop being visited by local wildlife if it gets filled up with sewage and shit.

Bottom Line: If things don’t change soon we may as well close up shop and join a circus. Assuming we’re not in one already.

So as an industry we need to keep asking us what business we’re in, who we’re serving, and why we’re doing the things we do. Luckily, at HFS we’ve built a community of candid, and often ruthlessly honest analyst, buyers, enterprise leaders, and advisors. While other vendors and analyst firms are stifling the voice of dissension, we’re giving it a loudspeaker. Because if we’re not producing truthfully honest and clear research – then we may as well jack it in as well and join a circus (or move to the part of the industry that’s already become one.)

 

(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)

Why so many no-go software decisions?

Most people assume Gartner analysts spend their lives drawing up magic quadrants. Actually the biggest single activity for most analysts is handling client calls as they look for new solutions. When I run into Gartner analysts at industry events I will sometimes ask them how many calls they average a year. Best I can tell, it is less than half what we handled when I was there from 1995-2000.

It was a very different time. Y2K led to a frenzy of software evaluations. Gartner had a higher mix of buyer as against vendor clients. The analysts today are more specialized by market category than we used to be.

But there is a much bigger factor. The conversion to cloud applications in the last decade has gone much slower, especially in larger customers, than the conversion to client/server solutions in the 90s. Salesforce and NetSuite have been around for two decades. Workday and Oracle have been offering cloud solutions for a decade, SAP and Infor for at least five. The last wave of applications are 20 to 40 years old and ripe for modernization. There are lots of drivers which would suggest a much more vibrant cloud applications market.

There are proportionately fewer calls to analysts, and even where they are made, much fewer actually result in purchases.   The last point is concerning and bears investigation.

From my conversations I believe there are several reasons for the relatively slow migration

“Square peg, round hole”

There are lots of mismatches in the market. Many customers want to modernize their shop floor or their warehouse with sensors and robots and are instead expected to buy complete ERP and Warehouse Management systems which, by the way, were designed to interface with humans, not machines. They want predictive maintenance around their major assets and are offered old school depreciation-calculating asset management software. They want social marketing and are offered bundles of SFA-centric CRM software.  They want to modernize industry functionality and find little of that has been moved to the cloud.

Cost of moving to the cloud remains high

While multi-tenancy has reduced cost of upgrades, hosting and application management, the cost of getting there is still too high. Very few software vendors have developed automated migration tools. Fewer have learned to manage their systems integrator partners. Implementation costs and failure rates remain stubbornly high.

Cost of staying put keeps going down

Third party maintenance, new business models for outsourced application management, infrastructure-as-a-service all make staying with legacy applications palatable. End users may not like it, but cannot argue with the improving economics.

The lag compared to consumer tech now seems permanent

A decade ago, most companies were willing to give enterprise vendors the benefit of the doubt to catch up with consumerization of technology. These days consumer tech companies are offering far more sophisticated infrastructure and artificial intelligence. The big surprise today is when Oracle or IBM delivers anything ahead of Amazon or Google. Even then, no one really expects their economics to be attractive.

It’s not all bad news. With so much of the market still wide open, we may see a second onslaught from Workday and  Salesforce. Oracle, SAP, Infor and others may jolt their laggard on-prem customer bases to migrate. A new generation of vendors offering point solutions may make them move to a new category of applications.

The market needs much more of that. We are in the summer doldrums with too many no-go decisions.

 

(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)

Passionate about #AI? Then look no further…

 

(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)