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.