Ovum at the tipping point?

Is Ovum, one of the most successful European-headquartered analyst firms, at a tipping point? Its new owners, Datamonitor, have a few months in which to decide whether to renew Ovum’s reputation for broad and distinctive research, or whether to stay on the road that will lead to Ovums development into a simple diffusion brand, which aims to extend Datamonitor’s content platform up into higher price points.

Yesterday Ovum staff joined others in the Datamonitor group at an internal conference to hear their management’s high level strategic overview on the way forward. There have been some changes in Datamonitor, with an ex-Forrester general manager leaving, and a slick business developer taking the helm. Ovum didn’t figure much in the discussion there, which stressed some commonalities between the ‘business units’, such as Butler Group and Ovum.

A long time ago, in a 2002 client advisory note, we wrote about Datamonitor’s small shopkeeper mentality. There was a threadbare atmosphere on Finchely Road of self-defeating cost controls and a modest air of an Oxbridge sweatshop. Door handles were wobbly, and the shabbiness gave staff a feeling of how they were valued. It was the kind of place where folk joked about bringing in their own pens. Ovum was very different; free fruit, air-conditioning, and almost happy clappy. Despite many changes over the years that have passed, these two pasts still reflect on the current cultures.

Ovum’s continuing staff turnover is, it seems to us, not really accepted by the management as being anything of concern. Mike Cansfield, still listed as Telecoms Strategy Practice Leader, is off to Forrester. Martin Garner, Ovum’s Director of Telecoms Products and Services, has left. Nelson Hall recruited a number of Ovum services experts, including Dominique Raviart, Eamonn Kennedy. Katja Grimme and Katy Ring. The outflow on the IT and Services side has been huge, and only recently made deeper by the exit of David Bradshaw, who has joined IDC, and Bola Rotibi, who is still listed as Senior Analyst. Rotibi has joined Ovum’s expanding network of freelance adjunct associates, but a just-in-time business model will not allow Ovum to centralise insight or own intellectual property.

At a meeting of the IIAR last week, Ovum aimed to present recent departures as good news: happy staff shareholders cashing in after the successful IPO, and long-term colleagues just needing a new challenge. Dr Pangloss could not do better. But this just came across to me like believing all the cliches in a ‘Dear John’ letter. This conceals the reality that many people leaving Ovum are heartbroken with that they perceive as the implosion of the firm they loved. It also underplays the mood of many valuable Ovum staff. The recent departures that we have seen are not the last and in half a year even more of Ovum’s analysts will have gone.

Managers at Ovum and Datamonitor should invite themselves to consider how far this trend was an avoidable and undesirable result of their own actions. Datamonitor is not the sort of organisation with a huge stockpile of the courage needed easily ask these sorts of difficult questions and, worst of all, the British stiff upper lip makes it seem terribly impolite to try. However, they have a real option to open this discussion, and they should take it.

Of course, all of this has to be put into perspective. Ovum is hiring great people, and has many vacancies to fill. Revenues, profits and influence are, in our opinion, all moving in the right direction. Delighted clients are available for comment. The technology platform is better than ever. The wraps are off the Ovum Navigator. Per aspera ad Astra, etc…

Nevertheless, the generality remains that current employee morale is one of strongest predictors of future client satisfaction (as the CEB have found). Datamontitor needs to stress people in its triple bottom line, and have the courage to use open and honest dialogue as a way to improve the climate in Ovum and the rest of the business.

P.S. Read the update here.

3 Comments

  • Reply April 14, 2008

    alan pelz-sharpe

    Well said. It’s been painful to watch Ovum go through this – I don’t know if Ovum was really all that happy clappy but it was incredibly elitist. When you worked there you understood that this was pretty much the best analyst house around and that you were privileged to play any part in it. The flip side was the editorial review and the infamous Beta Reviews could be truly brutal.
    But standards were very high and some of the best analyst in the industry worked there.
    Alan

  • Reply April 22, 2008

    Duncan Chapple

    I missed off John Delaney who’s joining IDC this month, and Chris Lewis who is also leaving. With Ovumites Douglas Hayward, Alys Woodward, David Bradshaw and Jonathan Arber in the same place, it should be an easy transition for John. However there are also some notable hires at Ovum. P.S. David has summarised the changes…

  • [...] was widespread support for our piece on “Ovum at the Tipping Point” when we posted it. At the time, even many of the more knowledgeable folk in and around the firm [...]

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