Datamonitor’s playbook offers Ovum a different future

Datamonitor CEO Mark Meek met us last week to explain to us his plans for Ovum. A touchstone in the conversation was the highly effective turn-around of Datamonitor’s once-struggling health-care business at the start of this decade. His direct involvement in that appears to have given him a well-formed and specific understanding of the needs of analysts and the need for quality in their product. It worked before and, with some adjustment, that’s the playbook he is taking with him into Ovum, where he is now also Managing Director.

There 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 agreed with the sentiments expressed pretty wholeheartedly. However, in the month since, a couple of things have happened which we think justify a follow-on piece. I’m telling you this stuff after discussions with some long-time Ovum and Datamonitor folk, including some who are still there, and have weathered a lot of the dispiriting stuff that’s happened over the last 18 months.

The first is that Mark Meek has given a series of presentations to Ovum staff which followed on from his presentation to the entire company that we mentioned in our post. In these presentations he’s put a lot more flesh on the bones he presented at that previous meeting, including a lot more stuff specific to his plans for Ovum, framed by a 20-point plan.

For me, the biggest single change for many Ovum people is one of corporate personality. Datamonitor founder Mike Danson treated his organisation partly as his baby but also as his personal plaything, and with it many of its employees. He appeared to care little for individual employees, and managers had to fit that culture. As a result there was little stability in research quality, which zigged and zagged over the years. The firm’s managers were encouraged to care only about maximising financial performance. As such Datamonitor made quite a number of decisions which went against the stability and equity of the Ovum brand and certainly against the interests of the staff. None of Ovum’s senior management – including seasoned executives like Anthony Parslow and Chris Lewis who had a better understanding of Ovum’s culture – were able to prevail against Datamonitor’s managers or change their mind once it was made up. My guess is that this could have contributed significantly to both of their departures.

Meek’s plan aims to use two levers, understandings of analysts’ needs and the roots of quality research, to address others. It has enough detail to give me confidence that he’s not only serious about it, but has already started to successfully implement this strategy. Meek brings an energy, dynamism and urgency to the role which is startling, and perhaps refreshing, He appears to want to move very quickly to turn things around; that is part of the reasoning for his choice to take up an additional role as MD of Ovum, a very internal role, alongside working as CEO of Datamonitor, which also involves the firm’s external stakeholders.

At the same time, Chris Lewis’s replacement as SVP Telecoms Research is Brett Azuma, who is bringing at least as much gusto and urgency to the role as Mark, if not more. He also seems to have a specific understanding of what’s gone wrong at Ovum and he’s keen to fix it. He’s been moving very quickly to start doing that. His commitment is reflected by his choice to journey back and forth from London and San Diego every few weeks.

Now, no-one is naive enough to think that Ovum is now past the tipping point we mentioned. But whereas we really didn’t know which way Ovum would go when we wrote that post, we now have a lot more confidence that Ovum can and will turn at this point and move in the direction that Mark and Brett have in mind.

However, we do not think that Ovum will return to how it was. It can start getting back to some of the things that have made it a great place to work and a great research firm for customers in the past. But it will be a very different Ovum, with a much greater focus on productivity and on turning analysts’ ideas into digital content rather than leaving it in their heads.

We have had very little hope that Ovum could turn around during the past 18 months. It’s going towards a different equilibrium – and certainly not back to the humanistic and collegial culture of the past. But now a number of people believe it can be saved from collapse, and a few ex-Ovum folk are excited enough to be a part of that that they are considering returning to the fold.

Ovum has begun replacing some of the headcount it lost over the past year or so, and they have requisitions out for several more hires. They need to rebuild a solid and experienced team and need to prove their research and advisory quality to the outside world, where competitors are doing a great job of feeding on the uncertainty and bad news that’s been coming out of Ovum lately.

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