Friday, September 19, 2008

Meeting of the Minds at X Change

The Web Analytics X Change conference hosted jointly this year by Semphonic and Web Analytics Demystified was by far the most thought provoking conference I’ve attended in 2008. To call it a conference is actually a misnomer, since it’s really more of an un-conference with the intentionally intimate group of 100 practitioners, industry leaders and analytics visionaries talking to each other rather than having presenters talking at them, We were encouraged to tackle the biggest issues facing Web analytics and identify key questions, challenges, and opportunities. I was invited to participate in the keynote presentation as well as lead two of the “Huddles” where our goal was to identify issues and work toward some level of resolve.

The keynote panel consisted of Megan Burns from Forrester Research, Bill Gassman from Gartner and me representing Jupiter Research. In atypical keynote style, we were asked to address questions submitted by the audience in advance which consisted of topics such as what impact will dynamic content have on measurement tactics and where’s the ROI in Web analytics. We each addressed topics based on our respective expertise and all managed to interject at least one take-away sound bite. Bill offered that analysts must "let chaos reign" within their organizations and leverage the mayhem to illustrate that analytics can resolve issues. Megan quipped that crediting Web analytics for solving an organization's problems was akin to congratulating the thermometer for curing the common cold. And I contributed that Web analytics are the gateway drug of marketing technologies because they are cheap, widely available and lead to harder stuff.

The Huddles that I led included Industry Standards or Lack Thereof… and Data Integration: Myths and Realities. Within the Standards session we acknowledged that no single set of standards exists nor do common definitions for basic metrics like page views or visits. We joked that the good thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. Some proposed a consistent schema that would enable coherent measurement and allow marketers to align metrics across disparate applications and mediums, Yet, others criticized that aligning metrics in attempt to achieve identical numbers is a fool’s game. We agreed that we exist in a time where change happens so rapidly that there is no latitude for waiting for standards to evolve. Metrics commonly used to track and report against such as the page view are now obsolete due to evolving technologies and presentation methods. Collectively we’re doing a better job of tracking than historic processes like panels used to measure television, yet we’re still attempting to fudge old metrics to fit a new world. If standards will emerge, they will provide financial benefit (or at minimum, incentive) for vendor compliance and will be native to digital solutions.

The second huddle I had the privilege to lead was on Data Integration and proved to be a lively discussion starting with concerns over obtaining a 360 degree view of customers using both qualitative and quantitative data sources; “joining” multiple data sets to glean insight that wasn’t available on an individual level; and mapping the flow and path of data (across different media) to place the “why” with the “what” of Web analytics information. Governance also surfaced as a key consideration factor because in many cases there is an implied assumption that it is acceptable to integrate data where regulatory and privacy concerns may actually not allow it. We identified an opportunity for a federated database approach that would enable a free flow of data into and out of applications used for data collection and analysis. Closing thoughts reflected that no single solution is ever going to meet all needs. While many instances call for integration, existing tools require complex integration or modified solutions to enable a fluid transfer of information required for collection, analysis, reporting and action.

Collectively, we didn’t solve the problems plaguing Web analytics during this two day event. We did however, push the envelope by asking the brightest minds in Web analytics to explore the possibilities for growth and acceleration into the most sophisticated recesses of data collection, analysis and actionability. By no means was this a conference for the casual user. If you’re looking to tap into mindshare that is intimately anointed with all things analytics, then I highly recommend X Change as a must attend event. Summaries from all huddles discussed this year should be available soon at no charge for all interested parties.

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