What is the definition of “analyst”?

Over on Twitter, there is a conversation starting about the definition of “analyst.” This post is to provide a place to gather ideas and see if we can come to consensus. Please leave comments with your thoughts.

There is almost no barrier to entry for someone to call themselves an analyst. All one needs is an opinion, laptop, cell phone, blog/website and (maybe) a business card. There are no state certification boards, no professional associations and no university degrees.

For analyst relations (AR) and public relations (PR) professionals this is not a trivial issue as there are more and more demands on their resources so it is important to be able to focus on the right community. Unfortunately it can be disastrous if a company arbitrarily ignores potential influencers so AR and PR need to collaborate on definitions so that a relevant commentator does not fall between the cracks.

This will become moot for those companies that set up “influencer relations” departments that take a unified view of the Fog of Influence. Until then, let’s see if the members of the analyst ecosystem can develop a definition of analyst that will all parties be more effective and efficient.

Potential elements of a definition:

Business model – Does the individual (or his/her firm) sell subscription market research, consulting services, retainer-based advisory, or white papers? Other business model elements?

Publishing model – Does the individual (or his/her firm) publish commentary only via blog, white papers, market research databases, other or some combination?

Visibility – Does the individual (or his/her firm) get quoted in the press, linked to by blogs, speak at firm events or speak at industry events or some combination?

Reading list:

 Tekrati The rough cut: what is an analyst blog?


0 thoughts on “What is the definition of “analyst”?

  • Carter,
    For me it’s quite simple: an analys is someone who has a formal research agenda on some topics (for IT analysts, usually the intersection of a technology and business issue), does peer and vendor reviews before publication. But more importantly, there should be, well, some analysis. Not just opinion, but some primary or secondary detailed research.

  • I was having a conversation yesterday with Evan Quinn, who just joined HP as leader of Corporate Analyst Relations, a bit about this.

    One point that came up was “old school” vs. “new school” analysts – many analysts cut their teeth in IT as software developers, hardware designers, IT managers, etc. for 10-20 years before becoming an analyst. The analyst phase of their careers often almost happened without planning to do so — it was an opportunity that came up unexpectedly, and something they’d not previously considered.

    These decades of experience gives these analysts a really deep understanding of the real-world challenges that customers and vendors face.

    Today you see more analysts who “become” analysts right out of college, or who become analysts after being journalists focusing on a particular area. Being an analyst is more of a “career path/choice” than ever before.

    As far as what actually makes an analyst — I think this is very hard to define past a certain point. And the definition has definitely gotten foggier in the past 10 years.

    I think there are personal traits as well as “output” related things that make a true analyst. Objectivity, ability to communicate effectively with a broad variety of audiences, research agenda or interest on specific topics/issues (as Ludovic mentions), and value add.

    I think it’s the “value add” that’s changed the most, because this is what is most closely related to the analyst him/herself. How research is done (methdology), how it’s compiled and written, presented, and distributed. There are many ways and combinations to do this, some more effective than others.

  • I think we need to inject something about “process” into the discussion. What does the analyst “analyze” and how do they do it? I always go back to a model taught me by a former analyst by the name of Doug Cayne. Doug talked about the need to balance three processes:

    – Input: Do you have the requisite data and information upon which to draw insightful conclusions? Anyone can throw out an opinion; an analyst has done “survey” work to give some standing to their insights.

    – Process: What do you do with that input. Merely turning it around and saying “here’s the input I gathered” is not being an analyst. An analyst looks at the data to identify trends and discontinuities. The good analyst is able to do more than just extrapolate straight line continuiations.

    – Output: The analyst has to deliver that content in a way that impacts their clients. A blogger says “here’s something I’m thinking about.” The analyst usually adds in written and spoken fashion the elements of “here’s what it means for you” and “here’s what you should do about it.”

    We should also think about leverage. Consultants do these things, but for a few or even just one client. To the business model discussion, analysts do it in leveraged fashion to many.

  • I am going to add some of the Tweets to this discussion:

    dale_vile: some journalists qualify, most do not, as the need to provide entertainment and drive traffic undermines objectivity

    carterlusher: @dale_vile OK, but how does one distinguish between analyst, journalist, pundit, etc in your model? Contribute http://tinyurl.com/66m563

    dale_vile: someone who analyses the industry objectively to provide insight/advice, and whose interests are transparent

    bmichelson: or by type of coverage? i provide context so folks can attain value from their it investments; b/c people don’t buy everyday

    Suki_MHC05: yes, we do need definition of analyst & what if someone is an analyst but is not identified as such on twitter?

    aakelley: analyst (noun): someone who gets paid for telling you what time it is with someone else’s watch 😉

    monkchips: @bmichelson++ an analyst business that only focuses on purchasing decisions is less than useless

    bmichelson: @JonnyBentwood certainly procurement (& advice) is important; but from buyer side, that’s only part of lifecycle (adventure)

    JonnyBentwood: @monkchips @bmichelson many analyst firms have made a fortune advising companies on procurement. Ovum expect to save £1bn for firms this FY

    JonnyBentwood: @carterlusher agreed – stowe is one of those hybrids. He classifies himself as an analyst and looking how he gets paid, he does have a point

  • Hi Carter,

    I think it’s also worth addressing the premise: is a definition of analysts the correct basis on which to allocate influencers between analyst relations and the public relations team? There are some reasons why that might not be effective.

    I encourage clients to identify the minority of analysts who are influential on sales. Analysts that are influential on sales tend to follow an independent research agenda, and that marks them off well from many consultants. Less than influential analysts need not be served by the analyst relations team.

    Furthermore, some analysts may have media profile that far outstrips their impact on sales and, especially if their goal is to build their media profile, it may be better to base their relationship with the media relations team.

    When constructing a definition, don’t focus on what an ideal analyst would be like. Most analysts do not have transparent interests, do not do peer reviews, some do not conduct structured primary research, some do not advice on procurement…

  • Considering the output is important:
    – Is it market share? (fits into my books as a “number cruncher” analyst)
    – Is it procurement advice (the “prescribers”)?
    – Or is it just opinions?

    It’s for the latter part, typically the Vendor Facing analysts that people have most difficulties separating out pundits from analysts. I guess it’s a continuum, but for me having an advance research agenda and reports containing analysis are two key differentiating factors.

    But even then, it is really tricky because some guys who only do white papers are damn good analysts. Conversely, some have a research agenda but their research notes are just rehashed vendor marketing brochures.

  • Another point to make about the “research” is its shelf-life. Reporters and those that “only” blog wind up with transient information that is hard to locate or validate.

    Most analysts have a process that makes the research long-tern accessible and able to be easily cross-checked. While the opinion is probably valuable (you can get a lot of worthless ones for free), it is the underlying data forming the opinion that is important.

  • Analysis is a thought process, applied to a set of issues, and that tries to go up a level in its thinking. “What happens if this happens” is the starting point, as opposed to the normal “when this happens you get that”. Ideally the analyst also goes through a peer review to tighten the position up — this used to require a firm; today, it can be done (if you’re disciplined enough) by gathering peers together electronically. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. are helpful here.

    Management, of course, is also a technology (if you doubt this, read Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology”), but it’s a technology without a vendor associated with it. As a result, management analysts tend to be overlooked because they don’t seem to have much influence.

    There I think sharp vendors would do well (yes, I know this is self-serving) to engage periodically with management analysts as well. Where they think the structure of organizations, the flows of monies, etc. are going would be helpful in product design and marketing issues. In return, the management analyst needs insight into how that vendor sees the market and its response to them to find suitable places to talk to. (There are also few-to-no conferences organized around management per se.)

    Finally, the analyst will, of course, publish. The failure to publish is indicative of the desire not to be held to account.

  • This is one of your best discussions, Carter. If everyone is willing, this group can help improve the world’s view of what an analyst is by integrating these ideas into the wikipedia page. Much of that entry is based on my answer to Carter’s question, submitted in 2006.

    Hit the “discussion” tab to see my latest proposal for cleaning it up.

    Also, the wikipedia editors in 2007 reclassified the page under “financial analyst.” Within wikipedia, this has some interesting implications.

  • Hi Guys

    I will leave you vendor types to determine the difference between analysts and others at a firm level as I think it really depends on your culture and objectives. If you only focus on direct sales involvement, then you will have one view, if you have a broader focus and look at influence in the round, you will draw the lines in a different place. I guess we have Lighthouse and Oracle at one extreme, and Microsoft, IBM, SageCircle, Sunesis, etc at the other, with a continuum in the middle. There is no right and wrong here, it is simply a question of scope and perspective.

    In terms of specific definitions, I am not sure if this is of any help, but I can give you some insights into how we view things at an individual analyst level. At Freeform, we monitor and assess our analyst’s performance (and qualify potential new analysts) according to the following high level criteria:

    1. Mindset/attitude
    2. Industry knowledge/insight
    3. Reputation/visibility
    4. Analysis/writing skills
    5. Responsiveness
    6. Proactivity

    It is rare to find an analyst that scores top of the range on all of these, but if someone is scoring very highly on at least four of them, then they are a valuable contributor to the team in the way we are set up (which is a supportive and synergistic team model).

    We are very open and transparent in terms of who we are, how we operate, our culture, values, etc so I am happy to expand on the above and discuss why and how these attributes are important to us. I’ll call out some things now that I think are particularly important though.

    On mindset and attitude, we do not define our role around sales/procurement only, but helping organisations achieve value from IT across the whole technology lifecycle. This translates to a focus on win/win from a analyst mindset perspective (rather than helping suppliers to get one over on customers or vice versa), which in turn means we end up with ‘intrinsically motivated’ analysts – i.e. people who care about getting things right more than kudos, money, status, etc. Interestingly, all of the latter come quite naturally if you have a vocational analyst that really does care – which applies to everyone in the Freeform team.

    From our perspective, the ‘insight’ part of attribute 2 is particularly important, which is not the same as knowledge, and usually stems from experience.

    Criteria 3, 4 and 5 should be self explanatory, and 6 relates to the issue that Ludo cares passionately about – having your own agenda and using this as your point of reference rather than taking your lead from vendors.

    Looking around me at some other firms, it is clear that if you do take your lead from vendors, even if you talk to a lot of them in your domain, you simply end up as an aggregate mouth piece for the IT industry agenda. You end up, for example, comparing SaaS offerings as if everyone needs one, rather than helping people on the buyer/user side of the equation figure out if and where SaaS fits into their world, and what is most important to think about in terms of practicalities, value, etc, which may not suit the vendor community, but is actually what their customers find most valuable.

    To be honest, the risk of our analysts falling into the trap of acting as vendor mouthpieces is minimal given our culture and the fact that we engage so heavily with the user/buyer community. At a tactical level, we also have a key media partnership that helps here with The Register, whose readership will simply not tolerate vendor centric analysis. This is quite handy for us when bringing new analysts on board as a couple of engagements with that readership usually beats any supplier bias out of them pretty quickly.

    Coming back up to a firm level, I have to say that we don’t actually care that much what you guys call us, so long as it doesn’t interfere with our access to key people in your organisations/clients. Despite what I said about not taking our lead from vendors, it is still important for us to be tuned into vendor strategies and solutions. Fortunately, with one exception (I’ll let you guess who that is), access has not been a problem for us – and more to the point, relationship building becomes pretty natural as senior managers and other talent within the vendor community actually like talking to people that fit the criteria I have outlined above.

  • It’s hard to disagree with any of these points. But much of the discussion focuses on the process behind the analyst activities, or the way in which the analysis reaches an audience.

    How about the actual track record of the analysis, regardless of the process or distribution, even regardless of the business model?

    An analyst could well simply be defined as one who provides value and produces a strong and lasting record of defining IT trends, identifying technology shifts and aiding those needing guidance on strategic directions for IT use. Early and often success at providing valuable insights on these issues should be part of the definition of the role.

    In the end, a baseball player is judged by their statistics, not their stance, use of pine tar or by which team they play on. An IT industry analyst is someone who produces valued IT industry analysis results consistently over time.

  • Hi Carter,

    Not much I can add to Dale’s post I’m afraid! Having said this, you might be able to pull some nuggets from here: http://www.joncollins.net/wordpress/2006/02/27/whats-an-it-analyst-anyway – in particular: “End-user organisations of all sizes frequently need help, both in deciding what to buy, and what impact their procurement choices may have on their business. That’s where IT analysts fit in.”

    Over the past couple of years we have spent a long time understanding where we can best add value to both vendors and end-users, and we have decided to focus very much on the “impact” side of the equation, for the reasons Dale gives. All the same, as an introduction to analysts in general, what I said would still appear to hold true – its particularly interesting to revisit the topics of “credibility, relevance and independence” after all this time!

  • I’m joining this late and there are a lot of good comments.

    For me, the analyst is the product.

    That said here are my criteria:

    1. Credibility by association. You work at a known company. Like an employee, credibility comes with their company association. I have yet to know of a breakout analyst that wasn’t associated with a reputable firm. You can me smart as shit but if you don’t have a name to put with yourself, it’s harder to be taken as seriously. This may change in the next few years if a breakout personality can offer up valuable analysis that people pay for (which brings me to my second point).

    2. You make a living. People pay you for your work.

    3. You produce shit people reference. I guess you could still technically be an analyst but if your market doesn’t care what you say, you’re not relevant. If your output doesn’t get passed around like hot potatoes, something’s wrong.

    Other than that, I could probably name a lot of stuff that makes a GOOD analyst but to just *be* an analyst, I’d say those are the bare minimum.

  • Not sure if Robin was serious with his suggestion, but he has highlighted something which is a classic marker of an extrinsically motivated individual – an obsession with attention seeking. Other indicators of extrinsic motivation are an obsession with making money, an absession with gaining approval, etc – it manifests itself in different ways in different people (and depending on their custumstances/situation).

    In my experience, extrinsically motivated people make very good new business sales people but it is not an ideal trait in an analyst.

    Regarding attention seeking in particular, any analyst needs to get attention, but the vocational analyst (the one who care primarily about doing the a good job and making a difference because that is they way they are built) sees it as a means to and end and not an end in its own right.

  • For me the question is what purpose the analyst is serving. If it is to act as a pseudo- independent marketing department for the vendors, then that to me has limited scope to be objective and is not my idea of an analyst. Whereas, if the purpose is to ensure that technology is contextualised and evaluated so that information is made available that would not in its self be provided by a vendor, whether that be good or bad.

    On the individual front, I believe it less about the experience (although having done the job is a help), and more about the person, are they inquisitive, can assimilate information and formulate ideas and concepts, able to communicate, and have the ability to produce work that can stand peer group scrutiny

  • Dana, that may be the logical approach, but keeping score on their track records would de-classify many “analysts” some even at top firms 😉 I like it though. The challenge is many analysts are savvy enough to put caveats around their statements that would get them around a false prediction… I can think of IDC’s forecasts for Itanium sales as an example…

    There’s also a side to analysts value that is not related to prediction, but understanding vendor strategies, directions and capabilities.

    Then there are issues where people with no IT background doing investigative reporting for local news are suddenly IT analysts…. where does their credibility come from? A business card?

    IMO an analyst has to be someone who does their own primary research and produces findings and conclusions about the industry or segments they cover. Their “stats” is more an indicator of whether they’re a good analyst or not. But any analyst should be producing “new information” or compiling existing information in a manner that tells a trend or story in a new way.

    Some analysts just cover the news or write papers dictated by vendors… perhaps in Redmond and that’s not of much value either. It’s the primary research output that adds value and distinguishes an analyst from a reporter or a marketing guy who knows a lot about the industry.

  • Lots of really great comments here. I’m late to the party (probably as usual) but I wanted to add a comment because at MWD we share a lot of traits and motivations with Freeform, and we work very closely with them. One of the things we share is a desire to add value to industry’s use of IT – maximising the business value of IT investments. As Dale has said this is about not only looking at procurement, but at all the stuff that happens afterwards. When a customer buys something, what they actually receive is either a box made of plastic, copper and silicon, or a fancy coffee coaster. The business value comes from transforming those inanimate things, through the right application of people, skills, processes, and culture.

    I think this “business value” perspective also fits with the perspective mentioned elsewhere about having one’s own agenda, rather than being driven solely by what vendors are doing. For us this is absolutely key. We have a vision and a mission, and it is born from our industry experience and our passion to help move industry forward.

    This cultural approach also fits, I think, with the intrinsic / extrinsic motivation question. The unfortunate truth is that it would be easier for us to earn a lot more money, at least for a while, if we just prostituted ourselves for vendors. We’ve chosen a more customer-aligned road to travel.

    So, onto the last point – and this is one that really fired us up when we started at MWD in 2005. As I think Dale pointed out above, it’s unfortunate that much of the IT media has been pressurised by industry changes to go for volume and sex, rather than insight. It’s all about the new angle, and the new tech, rather than about (again) really acting as a forum for genuine insight into what’s important as well as what’s new. A part of the blogging community (not all of it) follows this modus operandi, and this seeks to just raise the volume level. More heat than light is the result. It also creates issues for us as the blogging community rightly has a blurred boundary – but while we share traits with many bloggers, there’s an awful lot who don’t really have the same rigour, independence, etc.

    A result of this, we’ve come to realise, is that more and more the media-driven conversation out there is about “or”, not “and”. Memes assume that everyone needs and will use SaaS, for example; or that SOA is dead, WOA is the answer. The list is endless. Most commentators seem to be looking through one pair of glasses at everything. It’s always a question of “A *or* B”. But in our business value-centred world, though, we look through the eyes of the customer. And the customer doesn’t see a world of “or” choices. They’re stuck in the world of “and”. SaaS AND on-premise software. Mainframes AND blades. Linux AND Windows. SOA AND WOA. etc etc.

    I’m rambling. I guess what I’m saying is that when it comes to analysts purporting to be “user-facing” (there’s another type, which is the market-watching, like much of what IDC does), a key indicator of quality should be that you’re not just facing users; you’re sitting alongside them. This, for us, is the way that we’ll continue to compete in a world where “insight” and commentary is freely available. If all customers can get from the web is a set of views all through one pair of glasses, we’ll continue to play a role, helping them pull everything together.

  • I don’t think there is any being late to this discussion as this shall continue to rage.

    In order to be an analyst and provide an effective product the aforementioned must also present it in a manner that the “client/decisionmaker (dm)” would act upon it. Methodology is key. The process by which the analyst arrives at the conclusion (assessment, recommendation etc) is vital. Which brings us to the “actionable” piece of being an analyst or leverage as Jonathan points out “We should also think about leverage. Consultants do these things, but for a few or even just one client. To the business model discussion, analysts do it in leveraged fashion to many.”

    Also how does an analyst know which pieces of their evidence is key to their assessment (I prefer not to use the term prediction) and which structure assists in helping the analyst place these in the forefront so client/dm’s do not miss them.

    I come from the school of competitive intelligence analysis thus a generalist and while I could write many pages I prefer to go with The 14 Maxims (from my alma mater- I shall not divluge unless asked. Carter knows ask him) some of which are self explanatory.

    1.Options- Are you giving the client the full range of options and opportunities?
    2.Accuracy- Clients want accurate data
    3.Accountability –Analyst should bear personal responsibility
    4.Unbiased- Data should be un-manipulated, properly sourced and accurate with content tailored to the readers style

    Make sure your communication is user friendly:
    5.Packaging- is the document aesthetically pleasing?
    6.BLUF- Bottom Line Up Front
    8.Concision- be concise (I obviously broken with this comment)

    Make sure the assessment is based on the client/dm’s needs and wants:
    11.Client/DM focused
    12.Close relationships- Client/DM’s want this with analysts
    14.Informality- informal real time insights

    Those are just some thoughts for now…

  • Carter – excellent thread here!

    We should distinguish between a researcher and an analyst in today’s industry.

    Researcher: writes market reports, produces opinions based largely on quantitative data, disseminates industry information (vendor profiles, case studies).

    Analyst: a pivotal hub for information, speculation, opinion, networking, insight and opinion in certain niches. Produces tight, to-the-point research, some based on facts and data, but also based on real-world industry experience and (on occasion) pure gut-feel. Also generates a buzz around their industry sector by contributing to blogs and twittering inanely on occasion. Should be a validation point for users making tough selection decisions and vendors testing market messages. Needs to be a crucial port-of-call for jounalists, vendors, users, PR etc. And most of all needs to be respected, needs to add VALUE and needs to be trustworthy.

    Just a few cents there….


  • I’ll echo a few themes here:

    Experience counts – I didn’t mean to be an analyst when I “grew up” it just happened to turn out that way (I meant to be a rock star – that’s a separate conversation!)

    More to the point, and already mentioned, TECHNICAL experience counts – the world doesn’t need more ivory tower theory. If you want that, stay in college, and have at it. Businesses don’t run on theory, they work with reality. Keep it real, make it understandable, and now you’re talking.

    Raw numbers aren’t everything – look at the subprime mess. Quants and stats have their place, but it’s dangerous to be purely data-driven. If everybody waited until everybody else was already doing something (adopting the web for example), then nobody would be doing it! Completely speculation/opinion-driven is equally dangerous. Balance. Comes back to experience.

    And there is much more of course, but I’ve already typed myself into a coma today about this very issue, as it turns out.

    Beware the “wide-eyed wonder” of a novice analyst. Turns out that sometimes (rarely, I’m sure), suppliers don’t tell the whole truth, and the first solution you’ve ever seen might not be the only one.

    Good to see @samlawrence here – he has a great BS detector, and spoke his mind quiet well on the analyst experience he’s had this year. Not all bad, but certainly not all good either.

    I’ll close with – aggressive salespeople from analyst firms, combined with passive analysts… is not good. Customer service applies to professional services as much (or more) as it does to physical goods or software companies. We can all be replaced – deliver value!

  • There has been some really good analysis of what is an analyst here. Here is my sniff test:

    1) Does their company have a website that identifies research and anaysis as a primary focus?

    2) Is there a list of non-sponsored research publications with author(s) available on the website?

    3) Are the analysts (the plural is intentional) listed by name and coverage?

    4) Does Google turn up references to the analyst and their company in an appropriate context?

    These are not all black and white but If the person is an analyst they will pass all of these.

  • So chaps, this tells me that we need some form of self-regulation, accreditation, peer-review or otherwise to ensure that the ‘profession’ does not get itself a bad name.

    In recent years the increase in self-invented analysts, bloggers and as was highlighted graduates who decide to become an analyst with no experience are a threat to real experience-based analysts (of which I am not one).

    Dan makes a good point regarding agressive salepeople – I suffer from this regularly.

    So, is an analyst really a ‘wise old man’ who other people consult for guidance? Maybe it should be…

  • Hi Carter:

    This is a very good discussion. As you know, I take a broader view on this in that I see industry analysts as part of a larger group of IT influencers classified by their business and engagement models with IT decision makers (e.g. CIOs, developers, IT managers, etc.).

    An ‘industry analyst’ is distinct from other IT influencers based on their service and business model of making money by providing research, education and advice to support IT decisions. They do this through written research, presentations, 1:1 conversations, and through the media. Analysts tend to monetize their services through traditional subscription-based engagements, research sponsorships, events, etc.

    My two cents on the discussion…


  • Merrill’s solution seems like the right one here. Some of the replies here focus on respondents’ feelings about what a good analyst would be like. Many, if not most, analysts would fail such criteria. As a result, the definition would fail to be adopted.

  • Can I move the discssion on? I offer the perspective of an enterprise service user, rather than a vendor AR person or an analyst firm employee. It’s a different perspective and may spawn different comments, so please come on over to ITasITis

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