Monday, June 03, 2013

Ovum: New leader, enterprise growth - but what's next?


Thanks to Claire Booty, I had the opportunity of meeting Steve Hotham, the new Ovum MD at the recent Ovum Industry Congress

He gave a good performance (particularly for someone who’d only been in the job for 15 days at the time) and was ably supported by two of his key lieutenants, Ian Charlesworth, director of IT research and analysis, and Richard Mahony, director of Telecoms research and analysis.

Steve cleared up some obvious questions. He’s been brought in to run Ovum. It's business as usual. There will be no merger or integration of Ovum with other Informa businesses.

He also confirmed that Ovum’s Telecoms division and Informa Telecoms & Media will not be merged (although he acknowledged that some back-office administrative functions – not related to research and consulting - are being combined to take advantage of economies of scale). 

Steve comes across as a mature and experienced business leader.  Despite his low-key manner, he is obviously excited about the opportunity to get his teeth into Ovum and make it a success.

It's also very apparent he is an Informa man and for Ovum, that's no bad thing. 

Steve very clearly understands what is expected of him and of Ovum.  It’s the kind of clarity that comes when someone has worked for a company at senior levels for a lengthy period of time. There is deep trust and respect on both sides.  Having someone like this at the top is likely to pay dividends for Ovum in the longer term.

Judging by Richard and Ian's contributions to the conversation, they still have huge passion and commitment for their respective divisions.  There is no sense of disappointment at having missed out on the top job. (Nor from Eamonn Kennedy, director of tools & insights, who – in spite of having just flown in from India - was on good form when I bumped into him later). 

They spoke eloquently and at length about Ovum’s capabilities, the experience of their teams, product innovations, the way analysts work across teams and divisions, and the company’s agility.

Very interesting and positive to see was Ovum’s willingness to start sharing information on the scale of its work in the enterprise market (i.e. with technology buyers and users).

The company says the IT division now has 15,000 registered individuals, from 650 enterprise customers, on its IT Knowledge Centre (the research portal).  In 2012, it was carrying out about one consulting project a week for enterprise clients.

There is also a clear strategy to invest in growing the enterprise business. This is focused on key vertical markets including public sector, financial services and communications & media.

This is good news for Ovum. Having a substantial and growing enterprise base gives any analyst firm clout.  

Many analyst companies claim to influence buyers but very few have been successful at persuading technology buyers to actually purchase research and consulting.

Those which can prove they act as trusted advisors to technology buyers are much sought after (not least by technology providers who believe some of that insight will rub off and help them sell more products). 

So with a growing enterprise business, other basics in place and most things apparently working well, what else might we see from Ovum as Steve gets to move forward with the business?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Show some more ambition
Although Ovum still considers itself as small compared to many of its competitors, it’s not.

Based on the number of analysts it employs (about 120) the firm is certainly in the top five of general ICT analyst firms (three are obvious, we can debate who the fifth is if you wish).

Ovum has analysts and customers on four continents – Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. These aren’t associates or affiliates or partners.  They are real employees. Unlike some analyst firms which use smoke and mirrors to give the idea that they’re global players, Ovum’s actually there.  

The company has a powerful parent. Informa is a £1.2 billion GBP ($1.8 billion USD) business. If it chooses to flex its financial muscle, there are plenty of small and mid-tier analyst firms out there which could be brought together to really build out Ovum’s reach in technology areas, verticals and regions.

For instance, looking regionally, Ovum is still relatively unknown in North America, at least in the IT space.  There are surely growth opportunities in Brazil. China remains a powerhouse that is underserved by global analyst firms. And let’s not forget the next wave of emerging markets which include Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, Mexico, Turkey and Argentina.

Ovum has pretended to be a small company for too long. It may just be time now to capitalize on all the advantages that size can bring. 

Tell a compelling, credible story about why Ovum is better than the rest
Most analyst relations people will tell you some firms stick out while others blend together in a grey mush. Gartner advises end-users. IDC is the numbers specialist. Current Analysis provides quick and easy-to-digest competitor intelligence. 451 does emerging technologies. Forrester has roles. 

What about Ovum? The firm definitely thinks it has some clear advantages over rivals and can articulate these at a divisional level.

What’s still lacking is a single unifying theme. Without that, Ovum may as well be two separate organizations – one focused on IT and the other on Telecoms. 

We won’t know what’s going to happen for a while. A period of stability for Ovum will be good but firms also need to evolve and grow.  Vision and leadership are crucial.  Steve needs time to understand the business properly, establish himself as leader and build his vision. Let's see what he comes up with. 

Footnote:
Also in the meeting were IIAR (@IIAR) board members Ludovic Leforestier (@lludovic) and Caroline Dennington (@cdennington) as well as IIAR member Patricia Valuch.  I’d encourage you to go and take a read of the IIAR view.

4 comments:

analystrelations.org said...

David,
Nice post. Note that the LinkedIn links are wrong.

marcduke said...

Thanks David very insightful like the point on positioning I have always felt it's Ovum's grasp of technology and market dynamics. Will be interesting to see what happens.

David Rossiter said...

Thanks analystrelations.org - the links are now fixed (btw, don't feel the need to be shy @IIAR- I know there's a real organisation and real people behind the URL!)

David Rossiter said...

Hi Marc. I'd add the ability to bring vertical market expertise as well. Like you say, it'll be interesting to watch what happens.