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Your career and the Gartner data & analytics summits

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje)

Pre-eminent industry analyst firm Gartner has evolved the Data & Analytics conference this year to capitalise on organisation’s focus to become more data-driven. What are the key takeaways from the event, and what could it mean to your career as a modern executive in the information age? 

Michael Hiskey, Chief Marketing Officer at Semarchy, encapsulates thinking from the US and UK conferences, in the context of being an industry veteran who has attended them over the past several years. He discusses the key trends and the potential benefits obtained by attendees, if they know where to look. 

This year, renowned industry analyst firm Gartner evolved various data management themes and past years’ conferences down to one event they called Gartner Data & Analytics Summit. The themes from this gathering had been part of the Business Intelligence and Analytics, Enterprise Integration, and Master Data Management Summits. 

Summit is Gartner’s term for director-/executive-level events, or those geared towards very specific areas. In this case the Data & Analytics Summit is rapidly evolving to become the Chief Data Officer (CDO) event (more on this later). Other events put on by Gartner include Symposiums, which are intended for CEO, CFO, CIO types and Catalyst Conferences, which attract technical leaders and those who influence IT decisions. 

Across the US and UK events, almost 5,000 dedicated Technorati and IT-Savvy Business Line Professionals sat through keynotes, analyst-led round tables, thought-leadership sessions, and vendor-driven presentations about a broad set of data topics. 

This past Gartner Data & Analytics Summit in London marked my 12th Gartner summit. What I have seen is that year-to-year, you can expect about 20 per cent of the conference to be net “new” information. That’s a fair ratio, given the evolution of the industry. 

The buzzword wrapping

Vendors in the Solutions Showcase seem to have an endless array of minorly differentiated offerings, wrapped with new buzzwords each year.  Last year marked the end of the Big Data era, at least as far as enterprise software-speak goes, and this year brought in the reign of new favourites: the CDO, Bots, Digital Experiences. And of course, with each conference comes Gartner’s recommended list of to-dos for the data professional. The complete set of Gartner Analysts’ Recommendations over the next year numbers a whopping 342—and that doesn’t include the suggested “further reading” material. Broken down into a timeline of to-do’s, your post-Gartner schedule could look like this:

As one of the lucky ones who gets to attend these thought-leadership conferences, and goes to more than one in the same year, I had the chance to make some interesting observations. Thanks to repeated content (~95 per cent) between the US and UK events, I was equipped to draw some more deeply nuanced thoughts on the proceedings. Even if you went to all 7 Data & Analytics Summits (Australia, US, Euro-UK, Tokyo, Mumbai, Brazil, Euro-Germany), it would be a stretch to make every session. It’s also doubtful that they would all be relevant. The merged conference favours analytics – which is probably 70 per cent of the discussion. Broadly relevant topics like Enterprise Information Management and Data Governance are threaded through the agenda.  To dig into more specific areas – like the re-emerging interest around Master Data Management — one could focus on a specific track, or seek out specific analysts. 

At the same time, merging the two conferences owns up to the concept that so much of the BI and Analytics world overlaps with data (big data, fast data, whatever). A number of key concepts – such as information governance, handling the data lake, and data security — are part of any organisation’s overall enterprise information management strategy. These sessions that cover broad-reaching issues likely would have been repeated across both conferences in years past. 

Analysts spend more than half of their time speaking with end-users of technology and executives making buying decisions. The remaining time is spent writing reports and meeting with technology vendors who want to understand the market more deeply. More than 65 different analysts covered almost 70 sessions. If you’ve not been to one of them, most sessions have a clear structure: start with a big idea, break down 2-3 questions or key ideas to be discussed, conclude with recommendations for further reading (mostly analyst reports available to Gartner clients). 

Of the 67 sessions documented in the materials attendees received, 22 included more sequential recommendations, which followed a familiar style Gartner:

  • What to do when you go back to work on Monday (36 items)
  • What to accomplish in the next 90 days (44 items)
  • What to have in place for your organisation in the next 12 months (262 items)

Analyst Sessions are uniformly represented with charts like the Dimensions of Enterprise Information Management/Master Data Management. Other favourites, like the ones used by Andrew White, Bill O’Kane and Simon Walker, which describe Information Governance, set the tone for the audience and show the correlation between the many topics across the Summit. 

More than ever, Gartner has become data driven in the advice they share with clients. Michael Moran was kind enough to explain the tagging process to me: every interaction a vendor or end user has with research staff is tagged. A conversation about Intelligent MDM and Semarchy, for example, would be tagged “MDM”, “Semarchy,” “Machine Learning,” “Vendor Inquiry,” and so on. This gives them a tremendous body of information to correlate on what’s happening in each area, even if only through the sheer connection of these tags. They also perform this analysis on the search function within their website.  Unsurprisingly, I’m told the term “magic quadrant” is the most-often searched word. 

During presentations, as they do in vendor inquiries, analysts use this data to inform their opinions. They can tell, for example, that more clients are asking about AI this year than last. They can further ascertain which vendors are mentioned more (or less), and which way the overall trend is moving. A vendor that may not be formally listed in a magic quadrant analysis, for example, who is mentioned more often when analysts ask “which vendors did you consider for this solution” in reference calls will be seen as trending positively. One who comes up less often in these considerations would be negatively trending. Gartner bakes these analysis into their thinking – both in reports and in their presentations like the ones at the conference. In this way, they offer a true leading indicator, one which would be almost impossible to obtain any other way.  

That analysis aside, one wonders if Gartner will survey the audience post-conference to see how many of the 342 actions their attendees put into practice? How many of the US and UK audience started the Monday after? How many will have the next tranche in play by the summer? Gartner isn’t a charity – their advice is expensive. 

In our own unscientific analysis, my team and several colleagues looked at Gartner Summit attendees, from over the past five years (both BI/Analytics & EI/MDM) . Often, the same individuals were attending again this year, only their titles and companies had changed. Perhaps those who “pay attention in class” are getting ahead in their data and analytics journey, and are thus helping own careers? 

This data is not peer reviewed, empirically correct, or statistically accurate; however, strong circumstantial evidence suggests that those who wrap their minds around what they can put into practice from a Gartner Summit will move from attendee to guest speaker, and move their career along as well. 

Business-as-usual will get in the way of adding 342 new things but for those that find a way to leverage the advice for which they paid, rewards as a Data & Analytics Champion await!

Michael Hiskey, CMO, Semarchy
Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje

Michael Hiskey
Michael Hiskey is a long-time data industry executive. An accomplished writer/speaker, he spends his time thinking about innovations impacting the chief data officer and related business functions in organizations globally.