Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Will the industry analyst business be dead by 2016?

Horses for Sources, an IT research firm has written an incisive essay about the fate of the role of the industry analyst in decision making. If you read one thing this week, it had better be this.

This firm sees the traditional industry analyst becoming increasingly irrelevant to decisions any smart leader ought to be making. They are nominally talking about big analyst firms such as Gartner and IDC, but these indictments cover, I believe, all of the consulting world, especially strategic and competitive intelligence.

The piece presents five main points:

  • Short-term attention-span theater has taken over, and some analyst firms are oblivious.
  • There’s too much “research” being produced that’s not telling us anything new.
  • Too many analysts are following the hype and avoiding reality.
  • Buyers don’t read research these days.
  • The large analyst firms lack rock-star visionaries.

I resonated with this immediately because I thought of how useless I find the majority of "serious" industry research. Sure, the big groups can get companies to open their kimonos and reveal (largely distorted) hard numbers about their operations. But the strategic implications of such work are almost always about the status quo. The scenarios are classically dull, almost always along the lines of "Well, we'll either have 1%, 3% or 5% growth." Such work often described the past quarter perfunctorily, and halfheartedly refers to a similar future.

This type of work is losing relevance because so few people look at the implosion of the real estate market, the explosive rise of social media, the impending doom of the Euro currency, or the destabilization of the bond markets and want to hear, "Hey, business as usual: expect 3% growth for the near future!" Something else is clearly afoot.

I think the entire consulting world had better be on its collective toes.

What do you think? Are the Horses guys being a little harsh? Do they see the future with clarity? What does it mean for intelligence?

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Couldn't agree more with your perspective. You are right.



Thank you for appreciating it in the right context Monica. My intention was not to ruffle feathers. I was simply concerned for finding the USP for Competitive Intelligence to take care of parallel competitors called Managing Consulting firms.


Thank you once again Monica.

Read anything by Tom Peters from the last 15 years. Re-Imagine , even though slightly dated, addresses the same idea: Markets are changing rapidly, the rate of change of change is increasing! The new business models?--are invented as they are created.  If you want to compete you have to understand what is going on--what is the alternative? guessing?  Who wants to be held responsible for guessing when a billion dollars are at stake?  Want to rely on luck? Gut feel?  Guessing is for losers.  It's not that market research is dead, it's that it reinvents itself so quick you have to be creative.  


I can tell you I am not going to recommend any decision without doing my homework first, if that means reinventing my approaches every other week, that's fine with me. This business is for the creative and bold not for thoes tied to old world methods.  Its exciting.  Just watch Jim Cramer for 5 min and you will understand.

I believe one of the fundamental flaws of the analyst community is the paradigmatic emphasis on analyst information-push over decision-maker knowledge-pull.  In other words, we fail to adequately understand the bottom-line knowledge the decision-maker needs to make or improve their decision-making, and thus fail to adequately meet their needs (instead, pushing far too much information-level material at them requiring them to do the heavy-lifting synthesis and comparative cost-benefit analyses).


Instead, when viewed as a support function for economic decision-making within a profit-maximizing context, analysis and intelligence are only valuable if they provide sufficient additional decision-making power to offset the cost and time of obtaining them.  This is the "Value of Information" approach to decision analysis (drawing heavily from Bayesian Information Theory) and, if one thinks about gathering data and providing analysis itself in an analytic framework in which the potential decision-making value of the analysis to the decision-maker is compared to the costs of the analysis... then we are extremely more likely to appropriately triage and prioritize our activities and provide meaningful and effective value to our consumers.  We should always be assessing the Net Value of Information to determine the overall value (if any) of adding additional knowledge to a decision or action and to determine what the most valuable information and analysis to provide decision-makers might be.  For example, we can assess the additional value of providing information by:

  • Enabling the quantification of the probability of an event on the basis of a prior estimate of its probability and new observations. In other words, the Bayes rule updates subjective beliefs on the occurrence of an event based on new data. If the resulting posterior probabilities give a different optimal action than the prior probabilities, then the value of that particular information equals the change in the expected monetary value
    • Belief revision is one of updating the probabilities of events when new information becomes available. The probability p of some proposition after the receipt of information that some proposition q has occurred is called its conditional probability. It is written as Pr(p|q) and read as the probability of p given that q has occurred and captures the degree to which knowing q makes p more or less predictable relative to a baseline. For example, the probability of 'a fire in the Empire State Building' may be some small value.  And the probability of 'smoke in the Empire State Building' may also be some small value.  But if smoke has been observed then it may be appropriate to update or revise our estimate of  'a fire in the Empire State Building.'  Thus, information about a parameter is only valuable if it changes our decisions.

By providing even the most barebones attempt at trying to determine the ability of an analysis to change decisions and the value of such a change, we can begin to prioritize and assess the value of our activities in a manner of direct relevance to our consumers, the decision-makers.


Just my $.02.


Max Nelson



Thank you for this document. Critical thinking is without question, paramount to the success of an intelligence analyst. However, having spent 13 years as a Strategic Intelligence analyst in Corporate America, the experience of those of us gifted with this ability is quite mixed and particularly as of late, pretty miserable because the majority of the corporatocracy/populace wants to believe that things are going back to being wine and roses without dealing with all the elements that got us here economically/socially/politically. Hence, if we start delving into the facts and figures of how dire various problems really are and how policy responses have exacerbated myriad issues,  it makes people scared to death so therefore we must stop. Rather, lets keep up the propaganda that we're in a recovery, that the banks are solvent, that long term unemployment isn't skyrocketing, that we didn't just experience the greatest fraud the world has ever seen, households and governments can take on more debt, growth is possible in this climate, etc. Stick our heads in the sand, baby!

That said, on one hand, as analysts we are heralded and praised for our crisp insights, depth and ability to dissect the marketing spin and get down to the truth of the matter when things are going relatively well. On the other, we are "negative" if we say anything that goes against the company line when things tend to be more turbulent and/or when certain truths are being swept under the proverbial rug as they irrefutably are at present. (Yes, yes just ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the corner)

So at the end of the day do I really buy that HR Depts today  want "critical thinkers"?  Perhaps in some roles that don't actually require critically assessing the company itself and its strategies/tactics/ethics/position/performance, which CI is ultimately supposed to do. Rather, they want the CI division anymore to simply be an extension of the PR Department. Sad, very very sad.....


Monica Nixon




I spent the last 11 years of my career in the Market/Competitive Intelligence department of a major IT vendor.  It's over two years since I left, but I gather the department has shrunk significantly since then, with most of my former colleagues now pursuing different careers inside or outside the company.  Based on my perceptions while I was there, the likely factors involved would be:

  1. Discarding the responsibility that the Intelligence function should monitor competitive products for speeds and feeds.  This decision was taken before I arrived.  The labs were left to do the detailed product comparisons, which meant that we tended to do the more aggregate economic analyses, as per Gartner, IDC etc.
  2. The discovery that much of the analyst job can be done more cheaply from India, Eastern Europe etc.  We didn't really help our own case by demonstrating how feasibly the job could be done from home.  And it didn't take management too long to realise that if the job can be done from home, it can also be done from far away.
  3. The department becoming subordinate to its internal clients.  In the early days, there was talk of the Intelligence function become part of Finance.  This would have helped nurture our audit capability and develop our independence.  As it was, we became firmely ensconced in the Marketing department, so the sales/marketing businesses we were helping became our clients, and their end-of-year evaluations of us became central to our annual performance assessment and ultimately our survival. So we became very vulnerable to the tendency to produce outputs that our clients wanted to hear, and not to criticise our clients, however much they might have merited it.  In short, we lost our objectivity.
  4. The difficulty in proving the worth of market/competitive intelligence.  In these harsh times, everyone tries to claim as much credit as possible for each sales victory.  Because it's so hard for anyone to answer the hypothetical question of what they would have decided to do if they HADN'T had the report from the Intelligence function, we often got squeezed out when the praise was being distributed.  It also gets difficult if your approach is merely to digest reports from Gartner, IDC etc and simply triangulate between their assessments.  One of your internal clients is bound to subscribe to an external service themselves, and they then regard themselves as cutting out the middleman.
  5. An unfortunate switch to internal consultancy.  I think the boss of worldwide Intelligence was harangued by the CEO to prove the worth of his department, and decided on a grand change of strategy: we would all become internal consultants.  It wasn't a bad idea to give us all some consultancy training even had we retained our previous roles.  The problem was the switch to consulting was total.  No longer were we missioned to monitor the market segments or competitors we had previously specialised in.  Internal newsletters and market reports -- which I always found very useful to write to crystallise my own understanding and thoughts -- were explicitly banned.  I guess in the end we were never going to be great consultants -- our company has its own external consultancy wing, and if had really wanted to be consultants, we would have joined that external wing instead.  Indeed some of my colleagues were refugees from that external wing.  I think part of the problem stems from the historical perspective in which most analysts had been long-term employees of the firm, had gained a lot of experience of their speciality.  The new boss at the top of the Intelligence function decided instead that the department should be a mini-McKinsey instead, with lots of new hires fresh out of college with zero industry experience.  Mostly the department couldn't afford MBAs.  The consultancy approach was intended to obscure that lack of wisdom through the use of a consulting method.

That's essentially the end of my story of one corporation.  I guess in these harsh economic times, it comes down to the financial question of whether a company with $100k a year suddenly to spend would prefer to spend it on one sales rep, two junior analysts in the West, or maybe five in India.  (Sorry, I have no idea of pay scales -- I don't mean to insult anyone with this generalisation.)  I think many companies are deciding they can do without much market intelligence for a few years. 


You'd think that these firms would have been hit or at least implicated when the bubble popped and financial firms were forced to separate sales from analysts from brokers. But they weren't. 

Given the blogosphere and million minds commentating on the state of the environment, industry analyst firms still survive. In fact, they may be as strong as ever. The issue is that the blogosphere (and twitter and all our nuevo info sources) are built upon a solid base of info that is "built-in" to the net (e.g. wikipedia) and new information provided by newspapers and analysts. There is a ripple reaction that builds off of what the analysts say - so their influence carries through. 

Burton Group, whose slogan was "fiercely independent" was bought by Gartner, rather than the other way around. If this is any sign of the trend, analyst firms are getting bigger and are not shedding the vendors they cover from their own client lists. 

First off, this is an extremely interesting discussion. I recently finished my thesis on this topic, although in a parallel intel application - Avoiding Intelligence Irrelevance in Law Enforcement. I can't help but notice how many times the responses reference "need" in context of intel. From my experience and research this is a significant assumption, if not bias. Many if not most executives can certainly function, survive, and often thrive without intel support. And if executives choose to fund an intel function then, as Sun Tzu recommends, they should (and more often than not do) manage it with an intuitive sagacity - in other words, recognize that intel can provide critical opportunities to them, but it can also easily (maybe more likely) be a significant or strategic threat to their decision making, strategy and policy. This is good reason to often keep intel analysts out of the loop, thus causing their analyses to be off the mark (irrelevant to strategy, but possibly valuable for PR, politicking, etc.). 


The tone of the responses also seems to emphasize the value of 'what is' i.e. objective truth. Deep objective truth, maybe more accurately (to reflect "perspective"). But who's to say that's what executives should value? Or is this another bias? A retired CIA analyst recently stated that time is the most valuable commodity in Washington. Maybe truth is the greatest strategic threat to executives, strategy, and policy. Maybe executives already know the objective truth and what they don't know is how to maintain falsehood. Neitzsche suggests that's what this effeminate Christian-Democratic age is about - falsehood, denial. If true, this also suggests the intel field is misguided - unless truth about others helps develop strategies/policies to disguise our fiction. Still, introspective truth (inherent in strategic intel) is not clearly valuable. Point being: 1) let's not become the Holden Caulfields of the world trying to save others from becoming "phonies" (see Catcher in the Rye) 2) the wise convince others they are dependent when in fact they are independent. Just maybe policymakers are the wise and we are the others.


Lastly, I agree with whoever said (sorry I forgot which post stated this) the value of intel will never go away completely. But I do think the intel bubble will burst - like all others. Won't it be the ultimate irony if intel analysts fail to foresee this????


I'm interested to hear more.






By 2016 I don't know, but by 2019 I'm sure it will dead:


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