TECH PEOPLE

What does a tech industry analyst do, anyway? Take an inside at one of these little-known industry influencers

Posted June 30th, 2017

Imagine a job where the latest tech devices and gadgets arrive at your doorstep — for free.

You regularly fly to cities like London, Las Vegas and San Francisco, where half the time your hotel room is paid for by tech companies and so is the food.

In exchange, these companies demand two things from you: your attention and opinion.

The job is a reality for 49-year-old Patrick Moorhead, a former Austin tech executive who left his job at Advanced Micro Devices in 2011 to become a technology industry analyst.

“It took me a long time to figure out what I like and what I’m good at and I found it,” said Moorhead over breakfast at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas. He was there in early May for the Dell EMC World conference, one of two tech conferences he attended that week. 


RELATED: WHAT MICHAEL DELL SAID AT DELL EMC WORLD THIS YEAR


Though he’s based in Austin, Moorhead spends about half his time criss-crossing the world to attend tech trade shows or conferences and events put on by tech companies.

He gets paid to give advice to tech companies and produce research papers. Moorhead said he’s paid by several companies to be on retainers, particularly chipmakers such as AMD, Intel and Nvidia. They often send him short questions via email, he said.

“They key part is to get as many as you possibly can in the same sector so you’re not going to be biased externally,” Moorhead said.

But he’s also a tech influencer who has amassed a Twitter following of 25,000 and regularly contributes to Forbes magazine’s website. Moorhead also does occasional appearances on CNBC and local TV station KXAN, and is frequently quoted in the American-Statesman.

“I found Pat to be really savvy in terms of our industry,” said Dave Erskine, head of industry analyst relations for Advanced Micro Devices. “And he’s got really good insights in terms of markets, technologies, trends and strategies.”

Selling expertise

Industry analysts sell their in-depth expertise to companies who want advice on product development or to better understand the competitive landscape. They also produce research reports on specific topics that are sold to subscribers, or are sometimes commissioned directly from the companies themselves.

Some analysts also build credibility by having a public presence, doing media interviews and writing their own blogs or articles about the companies they cover.

How analysts are paid differs. Some are paid on a monthly or quarterly retainer. Others are paid to produce certain research papers on topics of high interest to the tech company. And other firms sell subscriptions to their research and expertise.

Industry analysts are distinctly different from financial analysts, who study a company’s financial performance and decide whether to recommend its stock to investors.

The biggest industry analyst firms are well-known names, such as Gartner, Forrester or IDC. 

These firms often send dozens of people to a single tech company’s event, and are able to specialize in niche areas, like a a specific kind of microprocessor built to run servers. They also produce detailed data and reports on the industries they cover.

Irene Mirageas, who is in charge of industry analyst relations for Round Rock-based Dell Technologies, said many of the large analyst firms wield influence over IT buyers.

“Gartner, for example, we have contracts with them because they give us access to their research and they inform us,” she said. “But they also have great influence with our buyers that are making buying decisions.”

Moorhead runs a boutique firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, that employs 15 people. Although there are other industry analysts in Austin, Moorhead is the most high-profile. Most analysts are based in major tech hubs such as Silicon Valley and New York.

At conferences like Dell EMC World, industry analysts are treated like employees, and typically given a free conference registration, a hotel room and catered breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are also given one-on-one time with top executives. This isn’t unique to Dell - all the major tech firms typically pay analysts’ expenses when they are invited to attend a conference.

The best analysts, tech companies say, tend to come from larger analyst firms or from the tech industry itself.

“I sometimes feel like if you get over 40 in high-tech you’re kind of done, right?” Moorhead said. “But as an analyst, it’s viewed as more wisdom. You’ve been there, done that.”

Earlier in his career Moorhead worked for companies like AT&T and Compaq, as well as Internet startup AltaVista before landing at AMD, where he worked for 11 years. “I had different jobs, anywhere from running corporate strategy to product marketing and management,” he said. Part of his work at AMD involved talking to industry analysts. “I was thinking ‘I like that job, ” he said.

At his own firm, Moorhead said he hires mostly people who have worked at tech companies, including Rackspace, AMD and Dell EMC.

“It’s a very hard business to get into,” Moorhead said. “A lot of people try. I think for every 10 people who try, maybe one does well.”

The tech life

When he’s in Austin, Moorhead works out of a modes office in his Tarrytown home. The rest of his staff also works remotely.

Part of his job involves trying out new tech products, so his entire home becomes a testing laboratory for every type of consumer tech device on the market.

His home office, for instance, has five computers and six monitors. In a nearby cabinet are dozens of laptops and smartphones. Propped against a wall, still in its box, is a brand-new 4K HDR TV made by LeEco.

Nick Wagner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFPatrick Moorhead explains one of several devices that effectively make his home "smart" during an interview in Austin, Texas, on Friday, June 23, 2017. 

All of this technology Moorhead only keeps for a few weeks, and returns it after he’s given feedback. Moorhead said the feedback isn’t always positive, citing a time a few years ago when he was asked to test a new Chromebook by Google.

“It was not a very good experience,” he said, adding that there were issues with getting the Android apps to operate smoothly.

Beyond the products he’s testing, Moorhead’s home is an early tech adopter’s sanctuary. A Ring doorbell syncs to his smartphone and shows an image of the person standing at his front door. He bought four different smarthome devices, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, and uses them all to orchestrate his thermostat’s settings or the music playing in the house. Two iRobot vacuums and a Dyson robot vacuum keep the floors clean.

Moorhead said his family has embraced online shopping or on-demand apps. He has three children, ages 19, 17 and 15. They get their groceries delivered through Instacart, do much of their shopping on Amazon or other retail stores, and even get their health care delivered through apps that send doctors to your home.

“I can’t even remember the last time I was in a store,” Moorhead said.

‘Like a marriage’

Successful industry analysts have to be good at keeping secrets. Analysts typically sign non-disclosure agreements with every company that work with, because they are often privy to confidential information about new products and business strategies. Still, analysts are able to give general advice to tech companies about marketing strategies, product launches or what consumers want.

There’s no formal association or code of ethics for tech industry analysts, though just this year a group in Houston founded the Association of Industry Analysts, which currently is more focused on the oil and gas industry. There is an association called the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations that is for people like Mirageas.

Tech companies said if an analyst ever broke one of these non-disclosure agreements, their career would be in jeopardy.

“If you’re working with an analyst or a firm and there is a breach of trust - that is huge, that would throw away their business,” said Erskine, who works for AMD.

Tech executives are also looking for advice that is frank, said Mirageas, who works with analysts for Dell Technologies.

“Our executives don’t want lip service,” she said. “They want an outside-in perspective.” She said analysts that just flatter executives won’t get very far.

“It’s a longer-term relationship,” she said. “It’s sort of like a marriage — some marriages work out well, others don’t.”

Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFAudience members listen to Michael Dell give the keynote speech at the Dell EMC World conference at the Austin Convention Center Wednesday morning October 19, 2016. Some of the attendees include tech industry analysts.

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