Freeform Dynamics: Q&A with Dale Vile, Managing Director & Analyst

February 15, 2011

Q.  Tell us a bit about yourself.

First and foremost I’m a husband and dad. I live on the edge of the New Forest with the family and am generally happy with my lot.

I love working as an industry analyst and started Freeform Dynamics in 2005 with my wife, Helen, not so much to conquer the world, but more to allow us to do the analyst/research thing in the way we wanted, and surround ourselves with like-minded people such as Tony Lock and Andy Buss.

In terms of skills and interests, while a lot of my career in the IT industry has been business-oriented, I started out as an amateur computing enthusiast and remain a bit of geek and gadget head at heart.

Q. Tell us a little bit about Freeform Dynamics, the titles you write for and their interest in mobile technology.

Freeform Dynamics primarily exists to help IT and business professionals make sense of the latest developments in the technology arena, and figure out if and how they are relevant in their environment. Unlike a lot of other analysts, we focus less on early adopters and forward thinking risk takers, and more on those just getting on with business and IT in the mainstream. For this reason, a lot of our output is aimed at people who are not experts, but need to or want to get up to speed on how technology can help them.

With this in mind, we spend a lot of time considering the context in which people are trying to make decisions, as this has such a huge bearing on which technology options are likely to be most appropriate.  Our coverage of mobile solutions reflects this. We see advances in networks and devices as being part of the broader discussion around user empowerment and productivity, which also embraces domains such as desktop computing, unified comms and collaboration. To us, and generally to the people we advise, it doesn’t make sense to consider the mobile piece in isolation.

We find this style of analysis and output works really well for the publications we write for such as CIO Online, The Register, Computing, CRN, Silicon and others. These audiences respond particularly well when we make reference to the many primary research studies we conduct to really get under the skin of real world experiences and practicalities.

Q. What’s hot in mobiles this year?

Thinking of 2011, the biggest thing for me is that devices and data services are now extremely accessible, which means the highly interactive mobile experience is now an integral part of many of our personal lives. For those we advise in business, this means they are having to deal with both changing user expectations and the phenomenon of “consumerisation,” including employees bringing their own equipment and personal apps/services into the workplace to help them do their jobs. Meanwhile, the new slate/tablet/pad form factor is creating a lot of interest and additional options for rolling out mobile business solutions.

With this in mind, a big focus for us over the coming year is the business friendliness of devices (from an integration and management perspective), security of devices and services, and the overall cost/benefit equation for mobile comms and computing. Given that in business, much of the requirement is around enabling mobile access to existing business systems, things like middleware, standards, systems integration and the implementation of effective security and information management are also important to us when looking at mobile technology adoption.

Q. How many mobile events do you attend each year?

Probably only two or three on average. It used to be more in the past, but you tend to find it’s the same people and ideas you encounter at most of them, and even for this highly dynamic area, things don’t move quickly enough to justify more than that. We are a small and very busyfirm, so a day or two at a show is a big investment, hence we need to be pretty selective.

Q. How many MWCs have you been to? Any top tips for PRs or Companies planning to engage with you there?

I used to attend MWC (or 3GSM as was) every year in the early days, but got a bit fed up with it being so insular. The whole show was very mobile carrier centric, and to me, mobility has always been much broader than that, with operators only being one part of the equation. In recent years, I have therefore tended to go less frequently, and will not be attending this year.

If I am honest, there is another big factor that limits my enthusiasm. As an analyst, I am less interested in scoops than journalists, so that exclusive interview or hot quote from the MWC press conference, and the piece submitted within minutes thereafter, is not something I strive for.

The thing that really matters is quality conversations that provide real insights into solutions, thinking and strategy. Shows are actually the worst place to get this as spokespeople are typically on a tight schedule, and are usually a bit tired, stressed and preoccupied during the brief 20 minutes you get with them. The only real value to being at shows for me is therefore the informal networking side of things and cruising the stands of smaller vendors I would never normally spend time with to tune into what’s happening in the “long tail.”

If you really want to get to me in association with MWC or any other show, the best tactic is to arrange a post show briefing. This is invariably more relaxed and informative, and we can not only talk about the relevant announcement, but also how it was received at the show and reported in the media. What sometimes falls out of this is a more considered feature piece or research note that provides a bit more insight than the first wave of press coverage.

Q. Which shows are you most looking forward to?

I prefer the smaller local shows rather than the large ones, and I tend to select these as much on logistics (am I close by when they are happening) than anything else. Mostly what I am looking for is networking and gossip within the local community.

Q. What types of stories or companies are likely to attract your attention this year?

Stories that change the way people think or the way some aspect of the industry will work. I listen when people say that we have been trying to solve the wrong problem or that a problem we thought was uncrackable can now be dealt with. Also anything that makes the life of corporate IT people or SMB business people easier. Boring though it is, it’s not sexy device features or go-faster network performance that dictate how much businesses roll out mobile technology, but how easy it is to deploy, how predictable it is to pay for, and how effectively it can be secured and managed. Anyone who addresses these things will get my attention.

Q. How many interviews do you do per week?

It varies, but typically six to eight. A lot less than most journalists, I suspect, but analyst conversations tend to be more in depth. I’ll also take the opportunity here to point out that I much prefer interactive conversations, and am happy to talk under NDA if necessary.

Q. What’s the best way to pitch a story to you? Email? Phone? Twitter? By mail?

Email and Twitter are very “noisy,” so I am less likely to spot things of interest. Phone is best. If it’s a big influential vendor or service provider, I will always listen and/or refer to another member of the team as necessary. If it’s a little player, then I will go straight to their home page (while they are on the phone), and unless I see or hear something very convincing, I am likely to decline to offer of a briefing – simply for the reason I mentioned earlier, we are a small company with limited resources so cannot talk with everyone that approaches us.

My tip to smaller vendors is to get someone who I know already, and who knows my interests, to make the call and explain why they think it will be relevant (even if it isn’t that obvious from the vendor’s website). Good PR and AR people are therefore the key.

Q. Who is worth listening to?

For me, the people most worth listening to are the users. I can only get so much from talking to vendors and service providers. We learn more through our research by interviewing mainstream IT and business professionals on their experiences in the real world.

Q. What’s your favourite blog?

On mobile, it has to be Dean Bubley’s Disruptive Wireless. Dean is a great analyst who tells it how it is. Clear insight, strong opinion and no punches pulled.

Q. What is your favourite piece of technology?

My iPad. I was about to write a piece 6 months ago about how I couldn’t see its value or where it would fit. Before passing judgment, though, I thought should try one for a while, so went out and bought the 64Gb 3G version. Within an hour or so, I ‘got it’ and have been using it both enjoyably and productively for business and personal stuff ever since.

Q. What do you think is the most important development in mobiles to date?

The iPhone. I personally don’t like it, but I can’t argue with the impact it has had. It not only generated a step change in user demand for mobile services, but also changed the structure and dynamics of the mobile industry.

Q. What is the best piece of advice for companies pitching stories?

Focus on what you are trying to do for whom with whatever it is that you are pitching. My big question is always “Who should care and why?” As part of this, be original – tell me something I don’t already know. But also be accurate and honest. The worst thing you can do is base your pitch on a false assumption. Don’t try to tell an analyst (especially one who does a lot of primary research), what the market wants or what the market is doing unless you are really sure. There is nothing worse than an analyst quoting rigorous research back to a spokesperson that flatly contradicts what they are saying. Lastly, be open and conversational – enter into a dialogue rather than delivering a monologue. Analysts are more interested in understanding than rushing to press with a misspoken quote.

Q. What was the best press trip you’ve ever been on? Worst? Why?

Peoplesoft, Nice, circa 2003. Lots of good content, good access to customers, but the thing that really stands out in the memory is partying by the sea until – well let’s just say we didn’t get a lot of sleep that night!

I’ll also mention SAP SAPPHIRE when I was invited as a blogger rather than an analyst. The great thing about that was unstructured and unconstrained dialogue with execs in a round table format. Actually, the partying was pretty good there too 🙂

In terms of worst, there have been a few. Ratherthan name names, let’s just say that poor travel arrangements with lots of dead time, being pitched at for hours with interaction only via scripted Q&A, and having my intelligence insulted by people abusing market statistics, are usually the main factors that spoil things.

Q.  What’s your favourite restaurant?

Similan Thai, Highcliffe, Dorset (about 4 miles from where I live).

Q. Are you a social media lover? Which ones are you on? FB? LinkedIn? Twitter?

I am a pragmatic user of social media, though purely for business. I make regular use of blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, but not Facebook.

Q. Tell us something no-one knows about you? Do you have any unusual or unexpected hobbies/interests? Do you have a claim to fame?

In 1977/8, I played guitar in a rock band called “Retrospect” and we used to gig in youth clubs around Bristol. Our chosen genre was unfortunate as this was the height of the punk era. Our career sadly ended when we followed two punk bands one night and got pelted off stage for playing “Stairway to Heaven.” Nowadays, I still try to play the electric guitar, but my kids plead with me to do something else whenever I pick it up. When it comes to music though, I am still a legend in my own mind 🙂


One comment

  1. […] Tony Lock shares his views with the Countdown team in this Q&A. Our sister blog Countdown2MobileWorldCongress has published a Q&A with Dale Vile, Managing Director of Freeform Dynamics, available here. […]

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