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Neil Raden

I hope that you will engage with me with your comments as we explore the future of business intelligence (BI), particularly its expanding role in the actual process of making decisions and running an organization. BI is poised for a great leap forward, but that will leave a lot of people and solutions behind so expect a bumpy ride. I also expect there will be a flurry of advice and methodologies for moving BI into a more active role, one that will widen the audience as BI meets more needs. But a lot of that advice will be thin and gratuitous, so hold on while we put it under the microscope. You can reach me directly if you prefer at nraden@hiredbrains.com.

About the author >

Neil Raden is an "industry influencer" – followed by technology providers, consultants and even industry analysts. His skill at devising information assets and decision services from mountains of data is the result of thirty years of intensive work. He is the founder of Hired Brains, a provider of consulting and implementation services in business intelligence and analytics to many Global 2000 companies. He began his career as a casualty actuary with AIG in New York before moving into predictive modeling services, software engineering and consulting, with experience in delivering environments for decision making in fields as diverse as health care to nuclear waste management to cosmetics marketing and many others in between. He is the co-author of the book Smart (Enough) Systems and is widely published in magazines and online media. He can be reached at nraden@hiredbrains.com.

I don't want to get in the middle of the argument going on between Stephen Few and Boris Evelson of Forrester, but Steve raised some very important points that deserve airing, independent of this particular skirmish. The large analysis firms serve up boatloads of information (most of it for sale at premium prices), but one might question how useful it is. Steve asks, "Far too often when relying on these services, however, we get advice from people whose range of topics is too broad to manage knowledgeably."


This is a problem with the business models of these firms. Analysts are very highly paid, but in order to produce enough revenue, they have to cover areas too broad and too quickly to master the nuance of each and report on it authentically. Don't blame the analysts themselves. In Boris' case, here is an extremely conscientious and articulate professional, who is very well-informed in his areas of primary focus, but he can't escape the pressure of the modern analyst firm to jump on the next big thing lest they fall behind the competition.


I don't provide "research" on products anymore, but when I did, I only published about those I had field experience with in real-life situations. An analyst does not have this opportunity and in fact, many of them never have, which rendered them, in my opinion, not much more credible than reporters. To make matters worse, it came to my attention that one of these firms said something favorable about one of my clients in a recent "research" report, only a paragraph, and included a note saying the client was free to use the quote for an entire year...for $15,000! Now how in the world can you provide objective analysis when your words are for sale?


Boris makes a suggestion that Few and Forrester "collaborate" as a means to improve the quality of the research. Few's response is predictable, and I would respond the same way. Basically, when you're an "indie" you have only your reputation, whereas a firm like Forrester has an entire infrastructure to advance its business. How could an arrangement like that ever work out?


I also seem to be the only person who agrees with Steve. Many argue that his words are too inflammatory and his tone too blunt or insulting. I don't find it so, but I believe these claims just avoid the real issue: Is he right? If you can't argue the case, attack the means by which it is delivered. A classic rhetorical technique. Lord knows I've been on the receiving end of that myself. But I for one find the large analyst firms' grip on decision-making in IT to be detrimental to our industry because it isn't sound. The business model disrupts it. It keeps the focus on the industry and product features to the detriment of good sound decisions. And the unholy relationship between the firms and the providers would be called racketeering in any other industry. Or at least collusion.


So I'll probably join with Steve in getting a chorus of boos and raspberries over this, but isn't the point of a blog, of social media in general, to raise the level of discourse to meaningful things, not just a recitation of the obvious? If Boris was offended by the way Steve dissected him in public, I don't blame him. I would cringe if someone did the same to me. In that sense, it was unfair, but in reality, Steve was pointing out a larger problem, and that needs airing.

And just in case your aren't sure about the messenger, I was referring to Steve Few.

Posted November 23, 2009 4:22 PM
Permalink | 3 Comments |


This is a very good post and I've often wondered (and asked, to little avail) what the real influence of analysts have on customer purchasing decisions. I am still convinced (purely intuitively) that the answer is very little _unless_ the customer and analyst have a personal relationship. I bet that word of mouth is still the top decision driver - But this is all speculation on my part and I'd love to get your take on that. Has anyone ever actually researched this in a scientific manner?

Neil, for what it's worth, I by-and-large agree with Steve, and I also understand Boris's perspective.

Regardless, thanks for coming out and making certain meta-points drawn from the dispute.



Thank you so much for your very thoughtful weighing in. Well said and quite true, in my opinion. With fear of some reading more into this than intended, here is a case of the prophet speaking truth to power.



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