My old high school Cross-Country Coach, Wal­ter Miller, used to tell us (usu­ally around our 6th mile at 6:45 AM in the morn­ing), “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” While I did not always under­stand what Mr. Miller was yelling at me from the con­fines of his cushy mini­van on these tor­tur­ous early sum­mer morn­ing runs, when the fall sea­son would start, his point was clear. Every year, our team would be in prime shape to win each meet and defeat our chal­lengers with what appeared to be an ease and grace that came naturally.

Yeah, right. Trust me, there was noth­ing nat­ural about those 6 AM runs.

I think about this now, because in many ways, I have always con­tin­ued to hear the words of Mr. Miller some­where in the back of my head. And the words have def­i­nitely shaped my opin­ion on many things in life. I find that I am often skep­ti­cal when some­thing, any­thing, falls into my lap with­out me hav­ing to work for it. If it’s worth going after, it’s usu­ally some­thing that takes some amount of dis­ci­pline to accom­plish, or every­body else would be doing it. And not just doing it – but doing it right.

Excit­ing times, excit­ing measures

And there is a lot out there that is worth going after when it comes to ana­lyt­ics and under­stand­ing your cus­tomers. It’s an excit­ing time and we are see­ing our cus­tomers push­ing the enve­lope as they strive to gain new insights that can help re-shape and rev­o­lu­tion­ize their busi­nesses. Every day, ana­lyt­ics is expand­ing in def­i­n­i­tion and scope for many of these for­ward think­ing com­pa­nies. As orga­ni­za­tions mature in refin­ing their KBRs and mea­sure­ments, they are mov­ing beyond report­ing and dash­boards to adopt­ing sophis­ti­cated method­olo­gies for mul­ti­vari­ate test­ing and inte­gra­tion of offline cus­tomer data. Many cus­tomers even have their eye on a new fron­tier – cross-channel ana­lyt­ics. Those com­pa­nies who are forg­ing down this path are doing so with incred­i­ble rewards.

Embrace the Journey!

Com­pa­nies who are lead­ers in this area will acknowl­edge that they didn’t get from Point A to B overnight. And com­pa­nies should not find them­selves dis­cour­aged if some­times they stum­ble as they find them­selves at dif­fer­ent stages in this jour­ney. The most suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies have taken a fall or two, and they will admit it.

The dif­fer­en­tia­tor between com­pa­nies that suc­ceed and fail in these endeav­ors – is whether or not they are will­ing to learn from that fall and adapt to make the changes needed to be successful.

The jour­ney is one that could be more or less chal­leng­ing for you depend­ing on the cul­ture at your com­pany, and that is a fac­tor wholly inde­pen­dent of your ana­lyt­ics solu­tion – but one which has enor­mous impact on the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion and adop­tion of your selected tools. Like any tra­di­tional soft­ware devel­op­ment life cycle (SDLC), your ana­lyt­ics imple­men­ta­tion needs to be dri­ven with a sim­i­lar focus and atten­tion to good plan­ning.

There are also some very com­mon stum­bling points that com­pa­nies encounter on this jour­ney and how effec­tively they man­age and work towards devel­op­ing processes to con­trol and chan­nel these is crit­i­cal to suc­cess. I have man­aged a myr­iad of imple­men­ta­tions – from some smaller in scale to some of the largest, most com­plex ana­lyt­ics imple­men­ta­tions out there. In my expe­ri­ence, I have found that com­pa­nies who took a method­i­cal approach to their web ana­lyt­ics solu­tions and invested time, resources and a com­mit­ment to process devel­op­ment in the fol­low­ing areas, always man­aged to come out on top.

Clear under­stand­ing of busi­ness needs, key busi­ness require­ments – Sounds obvi­ous, right? Seems like a given, you may say. This is not so. I have walked into busi­ness kick­off meet­ings to be greeted by blank stares when I ask what core areas the com­pany would like to mea­sure. Most ana­lyt­ics ven­dors can pro­vide a blue­print, but it’s up to your com­pany to own and under­stand the nuances of your busi­ness and ensure you are imple­ment­ing your solu­tion towards that. Other times, I have found that the lack of busi­ness direc­tion is more orga­ni­za­tional in nature – mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers have not reached a quo­rum on how they would like to pro­ceed in cer­tain areas, so the com­pany may make com­pro­mises that ulti­mately please a minor­ity in the group or nobody in the group. These issues, if not ironed out before the ana­lyt­ics ven­dor is brought in for imple­men­ta­tion, serve as a rocky foun­da­tion to start off your imple­men­ta­tion.

You say Potato .… – Ana­lyt­ics means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. To some peo­ple it means easy access to some sim­ple pre-defined reports that they can make some imme­di­ate, insight­ful assump­tions on to drive busi­ness deci­sions. To oth­ers, ana­lyt­ics means being able to uncover through detailed ad-hoc drill­down analy­sis, crit­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies that are often hid­den in the data that can have big impact on the busi­ness. Some­times these dis­cov­er­ies require addi­tional inte­gra­tion of data sources or poten­tially the hire of a capa­ble resource with the abil­ity to do this. Iden­ti­fy­ing which endeav­ors and direc­tions are strate­gic for your com­pany to pur­sue and which will ulti­mately drive the most value for your busi­ness is some­thing you will be chal­lenged to pri­or­i­tize and eval­u­ate at many points, pre– and post-implementation.

Clear under­stand­ing from IT resources – It is crit­i­cal that the IT resources des­ig­nated to sup­port­ing your imple­men­ta­tion under­stand the impor­tance of clear and con­sis­tent tag­ging and per­form val­i­da­tion when imple­ment­ing. Web data is imper­fect in many ways and if you add to that addi­tional incon­sis­ten­cies because of incor­rect tag­ging or miss­ing code – you intro­duce even more ques­tions around data integrity.

Need for gov­er­nance and ongo­ing man­age­ment – As with any tech­nol­ogy solu­tion at your com­pany, there is a process to intro­duce and man­age change. Your web ana­lyt­ics solu­tion should NOT be an excep­tion and this is an area that many com­pa­nies strug­gle with. Because of the ease with which changes can be intro­duced to many ana­lyt­ics plat­forms, many com­pa­nies don’t stress clear change man­age­ment and doc­u­men­ta­tion processes and the ana­lyt­ics solu­tion can devolve into an envi­ron­ment that has not under­gone con­trol and val­i­da­tion processes and frankly, starts to scare peo­ple. And that’s never good.

I have seen many a sit­u­a­tion where crazy old Tom (every­one has one of these – and no offense if your name is Tom) decided to get a lit­tle change happy in the inter­face, tool, or plat­form and intro­duce change that made Tom happy. Half the time you don’t know whether to pat him on the back for being resource­ful or stran­gle him for mak­ing this envi­ron­ment a play­ground. Often times, Tom keeps doing what he does. Good for Tom!

Bad for you. And no way to run your organization.

Put a stake in the ground – With­out clear busi­ness and tech­ni­cal own­er­ship within an orga­ni­za­tion, the ana­lyt­ics solu­tion can quickly lose its lus­ter. Your vision should be dri­ven by a stake­holder who is com­mit­ted to the suc­cess of ana­lyt­ics for your com­pany and some­body who can com­mit to a plat­form or to a set of solu­tions and ensure that all of the above drive the imple­men­ta­tion and adop­tion of that tool. The real­ity is good lead­er­ship is hard to find and this is one of the biggest chal­lenges fac­ing many an orga­ni­za­tion. You can’t work towards a vision if lead­er­ship doesn’t have one or can’t con­vey it.

Face it, we can’t all be Mr. Millers. But we can try!

Com­pa­nies who want to make the most of this jour­ney will find that struc­tured method­ol­ogy, vision and stake­holder own­er­ship are crit­i­cal to keep­ing ana­lyt­ics rel­e­vant and valu­able. For some orga­ni­za­tions, man­ag­ing a strat­egy and process around these areas is par for the course. For oth­ers, focus­ing on devel­op­ing and main­tain­ing these is much more dif­fi­cult and is a cul­tural issue that expands beyond just imple­ment­ing an ana­lyt­ics solution.

Stay Tuned …

Over the course of the next few weeks, you will see me con­tribut­ing pieces about some of the best prac­tices that I have seen work suc­cess­fully for clients who have built thriv­ing ana­lyt­ics orga­ni­za­tions, and who over­came the chal­lenges iden­ti­fied above. These com­pa­nies have worked hard to find that bal­ance and build up their ana­lyt­ics orga­ni­za­tions through some trial and error, but mainly through a lot of per­se­ver­ance and atten­tion to process. And trust me, while in many ways they are run­ning smooth and seam­less oper­a­tions now, by no means did they get a free lunch tak­ing their orga­ni­za­tions there.

So, thanks for the wis­dom and the vision, Mr. Miller.

Now, any­one up for some pas­trami on rye?

3 comments
Shankar Mishra
Shankar Mishra

Great post, Kiran. Couldn't agree more with the content and organization. I look forward to more of these... Shankar.

Ahsina
Ahsina

Your comments are right on the money. Very insightful and helpful to me as being new in the field. I look forward to reading your future blogs.

deana fernandez
deana fernandez

This is such a witty post. Not only was this information informative but essential in today's business.