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Four Questions
to Ask of Industry Analysts

Be sure to take advantage of this invaluable resource

Written by Eric Harper

Your job as a manager of IT cannot be done in a vacuum. Because there are so many variables to every decision, it’s nearly impossible to know everything you may need to know. You need information to help you with the decisions of your job, but getting the right information can be difficult.

A common approach, therefore, is usually to get as much information as possible. That creates problems of a different sort when you’re inundated with too much data and end up suffering from “analysis paralysis.” The best approach is to access information that’s already suited to your particular situation. Maybe even your particular type of business.

You can get this type of specialized information from a variety of sources: trade publications, vendor collateral, user groups, blogs, trade conferences, online communities, etc. But a resource you may rely on as much as any other is the industry analyst.

There are many different analyst groups out there—from the largest and most comprehensive firms to small, specialized boutiques. But if you or your company subscribes to the services of one or more analyst firms, ask yourself this: are you taking advantage of all the services and opportunities you’re paying for?

The most common product of most analyst firms is the subscription to publications. These groups produce a prodigious number of reports, and many are extremely useful. But when it comes to getting information from analysts, you may well have some additional options.

You can work one on one with the analysts of the firms to whose services you subscribe. That means you have the option, through a phone call or e-mail, to contact analysts directly and ask specific questions. This cost is usually included with the subscription you’re probably already paying for.

You can also invite analysts to visit your company. Or you can visit them by attending their sponsored events or conferences. These options, however, tend to be fairly expensive. You’ll have to balance the cost and reward for yourself, but if you’re facing a high-priced buying decision, the cost can easily pay for itself if it supports a solid IT decision.

Once you have the analyst’s attention, what kind of things can you ask about? The answer to that question is about as varied as the number of analysts out there, but the rest of this article will give you some ideas.

#1: Ask About Market Trends

If you’re trying to keep up with specific market or industry trends, the regular publications that analysts publish is a good place to start. The biggest challenge of any analyst is to be relevant. And staying on top of market information and what’s happening in the technology industry is something that all of the top firms do quite well.

Sometimes, however, you have a specific question about an industry trend that relates to a project your company is undertaking. Perhaps the last time you read an analyst report was two years ago, and you’re looking for information that’s a little more current. That’s when you need to contact the expert directly.

Find out the name of the analyst who specializes in the area you’re wondering about and shoot off a phone call or e-mail.This person will not only answer your question, but can also offer great advice if you’re facing a buying decision. Which brings us to . . .

#2: Ask For Help With a Purchase Decision

Most of the time, analysts are approached by their customers when money is on the line. And with good reason. These are the folks who live and breathe their area of specialty, and it’s their job to know the strengths and weaknesses of a particular solution.

Your questions can range from the general to the specific. For example, maybe you’re looking for a new way to manage multiple hypervisors from different vendors. Ask the analyst who the top vendors are.

Or maybe you narrowed it down to three vendors already. Ask the expert about the relative merits of each–especially for your specific infrastructure and industry. They’re great with competitive analysis.

And if you’ve already chosen a specific product or solution, you can ask the analyst about that as well. For example, “I’m looking at vendor XYZ. What do you know about them? What are other customers saying about their product?” You can reap the benefit of the collective knowledge that analysts have about the vendors they’ve researched as well as the clients they’ve talked to. And once you’ve made your decision, don’t forget to . . .

#3: Ask About ROI

Any cost incurred by IT these days is expected to show a return on the initial investment. ROI information is often provided by vendors, but those numbers usually show how returns compare to costs if the product is used in an ideal environment.

If your infrastructure is a little tricky (and whose isn’t?) you might need some clarification that only an analyst, who has been talking to customers in the same boat as you, can provide. With some effort, you should be able to get an answer that measures the probabilities of different ROI outcomes. And when it comes time to put your plan in action, be sure to . . .

#4: Ask For Help With Implementation

Remember, analysts spend a lot of time talking to customers just like you who are facing the same technology decisions you’re facing. And since they have a wide variety of real-life information at their disposal, they can usually provide implementation guidance in two ways.

The first is through case studies. Many analyst reports include real-life case studies about organizations who have gone through the same things as you. And unlike many vendor success stories, these case studies talk about all the hiccups that happened along the way. With luck and the right questions, you might be able to avoid some of those same snags.

The other area of guidance analysts can provide is though best practices they’ve observed from scores of installations and implementations. Best practices are like travel guidebooks that show you the areas to plan for and the areas to avoid on a trip. Looking to migrate your company to Windows 7? Why not take advantage of the wisdom shared by those who went before.

Conclusion

Analysts can provide a particular insight to the decisions you’re facing, and it’s a mistake not to take advantage of their wisdom. It’s their job to stay current on IT markets, including the technologies and products that are meeting the needs of customers just like you.

However, analysts are just one source of good information. Keep getting your information from the trade publications, vendor collateral, user groups, blogs, trade conferences and online communities. Do your own due diligence, but use the analysts as a key source of expertise and experience. And you’ll never come close to making decisions in a vacuum.

Take our survey about your industry analyst subscription for a chance to win an Apple iPad.

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