Tips from a CEO: Why Analyst Firms Can Be a CIO's Most Valuable Resource

Principal Analyst

Top of Mind: Making the Right Call and Maximizing ROI
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

In my 20 years as CEO of The Tambellini Group, I’ve advised technology leaders from hundreds of colleges and universities across North America on projects large, small, and in between.

Regardless of their institution’s size, budget, or educational mission, the first question our prospective members usually ask me is “What’s the difference between analyst and consulting firms?” or “Why should we work with Tambellini rather than a consulting firm?”

The answer isn’t simple or short. Why? Because what CIOs and executives actually want to know is which type of engagement they need for their specific project. The right answer is rarely the same, as it depends on their desired outcomes and internal resources.

With that disclaimer, I can say that IT decision makers are far more likely to benefit the most from analyst and consultant engagements when they understand the roles and motivations of each and where they sometimes overlap.

I hope that by sharing my vast experience, I can demystify the distinctions between the two and help higher education CIOs and CBOs make the best decisions to reduce risk and maximize their ROI.

Why Use an Analyst Firm?

Analyst firms exist to represent the collective voice of buyers and advocate for their needs in the specific industry that sells to them. Technology industry analysts help buyers navigate their options by evaluating technology, publishing unbiased research, and driving outcomes for the buyer audience. Analysts also play the important role of quantifying trends and making technology market predictions.

In recent years, the higher education CIO’s role has varied widely depending on the institution. When buying is decentralized, as often is the case in higher education, it often leads to selecting solutions that IT doesn’t support. To prevent this from happening, both functional and IT leaders rely on unbiased analyst research to inform their decisions.

Analyst firms offer annual memberships that provide access to specialized analysts who offer varying combinations of the following products and services:

  • Industry white papers
  • Market research and analysis reports on spending, market growth projections, competitive analysis
  • RFP and contract review
  • Contract negotiations
  • Workshops and strategy sessions
  • Webinar participation and speaking engagements
  • Executive and board presentations

How do analysts drive outcomes and spur vendors to improve their offerings? By having what I call “courageous conversations” with vendors when their solutions seem to miss the mark for institutions. It’s an unenviable role, but it’s central to ensuring we are leveraging our expertise appropriately to advocate for colleges and universities.

A Consultant Calls an Analyst and … Says “No Thanks”

To illustrate the industry analyst’s value, take this example of a conversation I recently had with a consultant from a large national firm. The consultant called me for my advice regarding an IT selection assessment that their firm is conducting for a small, private institution with a very limited budget.

Though their consulting firm can implement various software solutions—including the leading vendor products—they wanted my recommendations for the ideal options that would include the institution’s requested core modules and cost significantly less than a typical third-party consulting firm implementation.

After asking a series of questions, I named two options that should be reviewed based on their criteria—or so I thought. The consultant rejected my suggestions because they didn’t meet the third, and often hidden, requirement: Neither selection would give their firm additional business after selection to implement the solution.

The result? Neither option would be presented to the client institution. I see this happen frequently because the business models (and profitability) of consulting firms depend on long-term client engagements to remain sustainable.

Public institution procurements will often prohibit firms that win an assessment contract from bidding on any follow-on work after the institution makes its technology selection to prevent any conflict of interest.

But not every bid is public or has these protections built into the process. That’s why I advise Tambellini members to consider the following risks before opting to rely solely on consultant recommendations to inform their technology investments.

  • Limited Options: Clients’ choices may be limited to the areas the consultant can support and staff, instead of being aligned with their actual needs.
  • Jumbo-Sized Project Scope: When consultants devise a scope of work, it may include every possible need discussed, regardless of whether it aligns with the client’s budget and priorities. This can lead to the consultant recommending a scope that the client doesn’t need and can’t afford.
  • Vendor Alignment: Although many consulting firms claim independence, close examination will reveal that consulting firms are often partners of software companies. To be a vendor partner, consulting firms make various commitments to vendors, which can include revenue, number of consultants to train on the vendor products, and information sharing.  

Does that mean institutions shouldn’t engage consulting firms? Of course not. They tend to have broad subject-matter expertise in technology, including tools, processes, and methodologies. Furthermore, consulting firms are best suited for many types of long-term engagements that analyst firms don’t provide, including the following:

  • Implementing software solutions
  • Change management
  • Project management
  • Project team and end-user training
  • Post go-live support
  • Quality assurance testing
  • Temporary staffing or staff augmentation
  • Software support and customization
  • Managed services and hosting services

There are hundreds of specialized technology consulting firms serving higher education, and Tambellini tracks most of them. By offering research and insight on their services, we help our institutional members make best-fit consulting selections.   

Broad Vs. Specialized: What You Get from Each Type of Analyst Firm

Beyond the differences between analyst and consultant firms, there are also important distinctions to bear in mind when determining which type of technology analyst organization is best suited for your institution’s needs. The three reasons listed below are the ones I’ve found to be most significant for our higher education members. 

1. Focus and Price Tag

Higher education institutions with significant financial resources are likely to have a membership with Gartner, which employs more than a thousand analysts and provides the widest breadth of technology research—though their higher education team consists of three analysts. Their coverage is best consumed by IT, executive, and business teams.

Info-Tech Research Group employs approximately a hundred analysts covering IT leadership, strategy, processes, IT improvements, and IT projects. Info-Tech provides generic tools, templates, and benchmarking data that is not specific to higher education. IT and technical teams benefit most from their coverage.

Because of their significant overhead, buyers can expect to pay $10,000 or more for a single market research report. Senior analysts charge $25,000 per day for strategy sessions, and hourly rates for advisory services range from $250-$800, depending on the analyst, the expertise, and negotiated rates. 

While Gartner and others have a 30,000-foot view on the trends driving innovation across all industries, I’ve found that even when an institution can afford their membership, they often use Gartner in tandem with The Tambellini Group’s research.

The Tambellini Group is recognized and frequently leveraged because of the depth of our industry-specific research coverage in higher education. I am proud to say we have the largest team of any analyst firm devoted exclusively to technology in higher education. Many of our analysts have served for decades as CIOs, enterprise application managers, and technology leaders on campuses across the country.

Furthermore, institutions report that our memberships provide more relevant value at a fraction of the cost of other analyst subscriptions.

2. Primary Customers

Another significant difference between large analyst firms and specialized ones like The Tambellini Group is their primary customers. Other firms prioritize vendors, who often pay seven-figure annual membership fees and have dedicated teams to manage their analyst relationships.

To be clear, all analyst firms are entirely independent of vendors. They do not participate in partner programs or sell leads to vendors, though they can make introductions upon request. In other words, analysts have no financial stake in the outcome of any decision their member clients make.

Vendors care about Tambellini’s research because institutions trust our expertise and authority. The majority of Tambellini members are higher education institutions. CBOs, CIOs, Provosts, and technology leaders subscribe to research and pre-written reports which can be accessed on demand. 

3. Vendor-Driven Reports

Some analyst firms will also accept fees from vendors who request that their analysts write a specific case study or white paper focused on their solutions. The vendor will then distribute these reports to generate leads. However, Tambellini only writes case studies and white papers that our analysts deem relevant to higher education, and these are available to all of our members.

We continually update our resources, with an average of five new reports weekly, including Market Trends and Leaders Reports, vendor profiles and snapshots, guides, white papers, briefs, case studies, and infographics. With over 20 years of cumulative research and a comprehensive (searchable) database with over 70,000 higher education institutional technology selections, the depth and quality of the resources we offer are unmatched.

As the only analyst firm dedicated exclusively to higher education technology, we have a massive responsibility to the IT and executive community in academe, and we work tirelessly to ensure that CIOs and stakeholders have the unbiased, actionable information they need to make informed decisions that align with their goals, requirements, and budgets. That’s why our coverage spans academic and administrative technologies and thousands of vendor solutions. 

Having worked with colleges and universities for more than 30 years, I have a firsthand understanding of the risks inherent in making investments in technology systems and applications. Risks extend beyond the software solutions, because investments include people, business processes, and consulting fees. I also know how much time it takes to get up to speed on a vendor market that is increasingly complex and central to how every institution operates.

That’s why I founded The Tambellini Group: to help save our members time, reduce risk, and advocate for all higher education buyers. From strategy to implementation, our team is ready to support your institution through every phase of research and planning for the future. Tambellini can even help you narrow the selection of consultants that you may wish to engage.

If you’d like to learn more about our work and how we can amplify your expertise, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

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Principal Analyst
Vicki Tambellini, CEO and founder of the Tambellini Group, has more than 30 years of experience and is an award-winning software company executive, author, blogger, consultant, guest-speaker, and entrepreneur. She has received numerous awards and honors from companies including PeopleSoft, Oracle, and NCR. Vicki has been a guest speaker at SACUBO, the Oracle HEUG, ELearning! Summit Events, Smart Woman’s Network, Richmond Venture Forum, and numerous private venues. Vicki founded Tambellini Group in 2001.

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