In this “Seven Keys to Cre­at­ing a Data-Driven Orga­ni­za­tion” series, I’ve cov­ered dif­fer­ent aspects such as secur­ing an exec­u­tive spon­sor, ensur­ing you have a mea­sure­ment strat­egy, and hav­ing ade­quate staffing and train­ing in place. Now we’re going to focus on the next key prin­ci­ple: estab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing cor­po­rate stan­dards.

In the past, I’ve com­pared hav­ing cor­po­rate stan­dards to the rules of the school play­ground. Whether you were play­ing soc­cer, foot­ball, or some other game at recess or lunch break, if every­one adheres to the agreed upon rules of the game, all of the stu­dents play­ing have fun. How­ever, when one or more of the stu­dents decide to do their own thing and ignore the rules or cheat, the game can be quickly ruined for everyone.

As web ana­lyt­ics was begin­ning to take off, early-adopter teams often oper­ated inde­pen­dently from other groups at their com­pany. They took full advan­tage of the flex­i­bil­ity and fea­tures of the tools for their spe­cific needs, and they tracked what­ever they wanted in what­ever man­ner they felt was appro­pri­ate. How­ever, as the usage of web ana­lyt­ics has spread within these com­pa­nies, they have come to real­ize it makes sense to coor­di­nate or stan­dard­ize what is mea­sured for the greater good of the organization.

Are we play­ing the same game?

Stan­dards are eas­ier to intro­duce and main­tain within your part of the orga­ni­za­tion. How­ever, if you need to report on busi­ness per­for­mance across dif­fer­ent busi­ness units or groups, how con­fi­dent are you in the num­bers? When you say “pass me the ball”, will you receive the antic­i­pated ball in your base­ball glove or might they just as eas­ily pass you a soc­cer ball, foot­ball, or golf ball instead? When you say “what’s the score?” will you hear vastly dif­fer­ent scores from var­i­ous parts of the busi­ness (e.g., “298”, “30-Love”, “4–3″). In other words, if you ask for a spe­cific report or met­ric, will you get what you expected? Can you trust the data across your business?

What level of cor­po­rate over­sight is required?

In gen­eral, larger orga­ni­za­tions (e.g., large multi­na­tion­als = mul­ti­ple web­sites + mul­ti­ple teams) require more coor­di­na­tion and stan­dard­iza­tion than smaller com­pa­nies (e.g., small online retailer = one web­site + one team). The orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture of your com­pany will be a key fac­tor in deter­min­ing how much cor­po­rate over­sight is required.

Typ­i­cally, com­pa­nies have geo­graphic– (e.g., coun­try, region, etc.) and product/function-based sites (e.g., brand sites, part­ner sites, online store, sup­port, etc.). Over­sight can get fairly com­plex when var­i­ous geo­graphic and product/function struc­tures con­verge. For exam­ple, Elec­tronic Arts’ web ana­lyt­ics team has to nav­i­gate and man­age sev­eral dif­fer­ent structures:

  • 80+ game sites
  • 15 dif­fer­ent game studios
  • 3 pub­lish­ing labels
  • 35 coun­tries
  • 13 online stores
  • 3 regions

Another fac­tor in deter­min­ing the right level of over­sight is cor­po­rate cul­ture. If your com­pany has a more decen­tral­ized struc­ture where indi­vid­ual busi­ness units are more autonomous, a rigid set of stan­dards may not fly. How­ever, even decen­tral­ized com­pa­nies like to com­pare and bench­mark dif­fer­ent parts of the busi­ness, and this can only hap­pen with some level of imple­men­ta­tion and report­ing stan­dard­iza­tion. As a result, it can become a del­i­cate bal­ance between the needs of indi­vid­ual busi­ness units and those of the over­all orga­ni­za­tion. The more stan­dard­iza­tion there is, the more the over­all enter­prise ben­e­fits. How­ever, too much stan­dard­iza­tion can limit the value of web ana­lyt­ics to indi­vid­ual parts of the busi­ness, which are often the key stake­hold­ers in cre­at­ing a data-driven organization.

Going back to the school­yard anal­ogy, just like ignor­ing the rules ruins the fun, hav­ing too many rules can also ruin the fun and over­all par­tic­i­pa­tion. When peo­ple aren’t enjoy­ing the game (i.e., not see­ing enough ben­e­fits for their team), they’ll walk away from the game and do their own thing. On the other hand, the indi­vid­ual play­ers may need to rec­og­nize who orga­nized the game and under­stand that a few extra rules won’t nec­es­sar­ily ruin all their fun.

A more cen­tral­ized orga­ni­za­tion might be able to more eas­ily stan­dard­ize its imple­men­ta­tions and report­ing, but it is still impor­tant to bal­ance the needs of the over­all orga­ni­za­tion with the needs of the indi­vid­ual busi­ness units. In some cases, your com­pany may set­tle on being coor­di­nated rather than com­pletely stan­dard­ized. The appro­pri­ate level of stan­dard­iza­tion will depend on the company’s orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture, cor­po­rate cul­ture, web ana­lyt­ics matu­rity level, and level of effort the com­pany is will­ing to invest.

Five rea­sons why cor­po­rate stan­dards are important

Intro­duc­ing cor­po­rate stan­dards can face some inter­nal resis­tance and can be dif­fi­cult to main­tain. Why is it worth all the effort? I’ve iden­ti­fied five reasons:

  1. Cre­ates a shared set of KPIs and reports: Orga­ni­za­tions need a com­mon cur­rency of met­rics and reports in order to bench­mark and com­pare dif­fer­ent parts of the busi­ness. With­out shared KPIs, no use­ful com­par­isons are possible.
  2. Enhances data integrity: When data is mea­sured and col­lected in the same man­ner, man­age­ment and users are more con­fi­dent that met­rics can be accu­rately com­pared across coun­tries, divi­sions, or products.
  3. Reduces sup­port time and costs: When the report­ing and met­rics are more stan­dard­ized, then sup­port mate­ri­als and resources can be shared across more busi­ness units. In addi­tion, the web ana­lyt­ics com­mu­nity within the com­pany can sup­port indi­vid­u­als more read­ily because they have more in common.
  4. Facil­i­tates best prac­tices shar­ing: When the inter­nal web ana­lyt­ics com­mu­nity have more in com­mon, it can facil­i­tate more data dis­cus­sions and best prac­tices shar­ing between dif­fer­ent teams, which raises the bar through­out the business.
  5. Accel­er­ates user adop­tion:  Cor­po­rate stan­dards will help to ensure the reports are clean and more user friendly, which will accel­er­ate user adop­tion of the tools and reporting.

“Build-it-and-they-will-come” fal­lacy

One final thought on cor­po­rate stan­dards is the mis­con­cep­tion that once they have been intro­duced, every­thing will take care of itself. In terms of the famous quote “Build it and they will come” from the 1989 Kevin Cost­ner film “The Field of Dreams”, it doesn’t work that way with cor­po­rate stan­dards. Orga­ni­za­tions are no bet­ter off if cor­po­rate stan­dards are com­mu­ni­cated and ini­tially adopted, but then later on not followed.

Ongo­ing mon­i­tor­ing and com­pli­ance is just as impor­tant as estab­lish­ing work­able cor­po­rate stan­dards. In order to make sure that stan­dards are being fol­lowed, a num­ber of the pre­vi­ously dis­cussed key areas come into play:

  1. An exec­u­tive spon­sor can empha­size and rein­force the impor­tance of adher­ing to the standards.
  2. A mea­sure­ment strat­egy serves as an ongo­ing guide­line and ref­er­ence for what needs to be mea­sured and how.
  3. Ade­quate staffing is impor­tant when you need a cen­tral­ized core team of ana­lysts to mon­i­tor and man­age ongo­ing stan­dards com­pli­ance through­out the organization.
  4. Train­ing rein­forces the cor­po­rate stan­dards and ensures they are more read­ily under­stood and followed.

All of these fac­tors are inter­twined in sup­port­ing the main­te­nance of cor­po­rate stan­dards. Build it and they will come. Main­tain it and they will come again.

In my next blog post, I’ll cover the impor­tance of deliv­er­ing quick wins to the organization.

Simon Iddings
Simon Iddings

As the article implied, “…Ongoing monitoring and compliance is just as important as establishing workable corporate standards...” and especially so for corporations. The need to adapt to changes in a rapidly changing world and demands but be taken into account first, instead of forcing consumers and the organization itself to stagnancy. Once a goal is streamlined the types of corporate standards to adhere to will be in place effortlessly.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Stéphane, thanks for your comments. I agree with you that creating a culture or mindset of continuous improvement (I coin it as 'data-driven') is critical to the success of web analytics at any company. In terms of my thoughts on web analytics maturity models, I'm familiar with some of the existing models such as Eric's from his JupiterResearch days. I'm looking forward to reviewing your new WAMM model in more detail (you probably noticed that I recently downloaded it). I see there has been a fair amount of debate about the value of models. I will look forward to a lively discussion with you and Eric on this topic at this year's Summit.

Stephane Hamel
Stephane Hamel

Very interesting posts Brent, Omniture offers great tools and from my experience, changing the organizational culture to adopt a continuous improvement mindset is often an issue. By providing a framework that encompass training, staffing, strategy and executive sponsorship you demonstrate the critical role of analytics for business improvement that goes far beyond the tool. Since Eric raised the question of web analytics maturity models and said in the past this is not something he believes in, I would like to share the results of an 18 months study of why some companies fail and some others succeed, a synthesis of several other "models" from various fields (including the old one from Eric, which still has some good foundations but isn't at par with the current state of the industry) , and over 20 years of experience. The result is a proposition for a "Web Analytics Maturity Model" (WAMM) which is generally very well accepted, pending, of course, one accept the idea that a framework/model might be useful. I would also love to hear your thoughts about models in general, and the proposed WAMM in particular. More info is available at Stéphane Hamel Immeria consulting services WAA Director & treasurer UBC Award of achivement tutor, ULaval teacher

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Rudi, that would be an interesting poll. Obviously shared KPIs (#1) is one of the main goals of introducing corporate standards. If those shared KPIs are not consistent/accurate across the business, then #2 can undermine #1. #3-5 are about the internal web analytics community you're trying to build. I feel they're all important, but you're right that they may be perceived differently depending on your role and level.

Rudi Shumpert
Rudi Shumpert

Brent, Great post here! I especially like the "Five reasons why corporate standards are important" Coming from a more technical background I am all about the standards. It would be interesting to put those 5 items out on a poll and see how people at different levels in a company ranked those 5 items. -Rudi

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Adam, thanks for the encouragement on the blog and the great suggestion to set up alerts and scheduled reports to help with standards monitoring.

Adam Greco
Adam Greco

Great post!! This is definitely an underrated area of focus. It is also possible to use alerts and scheduled reports to find instances where standards are not being followed (i.e. Pages beginning with http:). Keep these posts coming!

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Eric, I'm glad you've enjoyed my blog posts. I want to help organizations to become more data-driven and ensure they get the most from their web analytics investment. You're right about my "Gather, Refine, Align" approach -- it's mainly a consulting framework used to establish a well-defined web measurement strategy. It's not intended to be a scoring model for analytics usage within organizations. I'd love to discuss my thoughts on the value of "models" at Summit in March. That would be great, and I look forward to seeing you in SLC.

Eric T. Peterson
Eric T. Peterson

Brent, Again I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised to read your work. As I mentioned to Matt Langie last we talked it is refreshing to see Omniture talk about the whole package required to be successful with an investment in digital measurement. Some in your organization have historically disagreed with a lot of what you're saying so good for you for standing up for what is right and true. I'd be interested in your thoughts/position on the value of "models" (e.g., the Web Analytics Maturity Model I created back in 2004 at JupiterResearch and those that have emerged since.) I looked at your Gather, Refine, Align approach which appears to be more of a consulting framework than a structure to score analytics usage within the business. Maybe we can discuss in Salt Lake City in March? Anyway, nice work. I'm a fan. Eric T. Peterson Web Analytics Demystified, Inc.