Actionable Intelligence, Step One

Melaney Smith

Updated · Jun 25, 2003

Call it business intelligence, Web site analytics, customer experience measurement, statistical analysis, or just plain old reporting tools, most of us seek the same thing: actionable intelligence.

Data is often interesting even if it's not relevant, but who has time for that? These days, it's all about efficiency and optimization. We want to make the most of what we've got. Focus time and money where we'll get the biggest return. We want actionable intelligence.

How does one achieve this nirvana?

I wish I could end this column now, providing the name of a single vendor or solution and make your dreams come true. You know I can't. But I want to at least help you get started. There are so many vendors and even more hype. If you want actionable intelligence, you're going to have to work for it. And you're going to have to pay for it. It's more important than ever to do the homework before you choose a solution.

I just read “Web Site Analytics: From Reporting to Optimization” from Jupiter Research (a unit of this site's parent corporation). It presents Jupiter's perspective on what you want from a vendor/tool if you need actionable intelligence. A vendor/tool of choice should be able to:

  • Provide a broad range of meaningful segmentation capabilities as well as flexible scenario creation tools
  • Easily extract and download relevant data for further manipulation by the end user
  • Correlate traffic metrics (such as click streams) to specific business metrics (such as registration)

The report also cites vendor stability, a proven track record, and commitment to the industry as key consideration factors in a large purchase decision such as this one.

Excellent recommendations. But if you're just getting started, this may be putting the cart before the horse. There must be 20 or 30 vendors out there, each providing a piece of what we want, but probably not all of it. They have varying track records, funding, and client lists. All this assumes you're up to speed on the technology. How do you even get started?

A Few Simple Steps to Actionable Intelligence

Clearly identify needs. Before your eyes fill with the stars provided by vendor presentations and pie-in-the-sky hopes, try to clearly state your needs and objectives. Some think too big, some too small. Take stab at what you think you need. It's a good reality check for later in the process. Write it down as a mission statement, and save it.

Investigate technology, vendors, and products. Tech analysts review all three with depth you won't find anywhere else. The information is available for a fee. Jupiter's position is made clear in its report: “With very few exceptions, sites should seek an ASP-based solution with client-side tagging.”

Even with access to analyst's reports, there remains much work to do on your own. You can't get funding by quoting industry research. You have to know what you're talking about. What's tagging? Why is an ASP-based solution better than an in-house product?

Get up to speed on the technology, vendors, and products just as thoroughly as you would if you were conducting competitive research for your company. It's something you can do, today, to begin obtaining actionable intelligence.

Hit the search engines for resources. I searched “Web analytics” on Google. My results included the home pages of all the major players and some I'd never heard of. Visit those sites to learn about the technology each uses, and what each claims to do. Take notes. Look for demos that clearly show the user interface, and find case studies of real clients.

Learn the buzzwords for technology you're unfamiliar with. Keep searching. Talk to colleagues, coworkers, and friends. Become completely familiar with your technology choices, and you'll form an opinion about the route you should take. Chances are you'll have help making the decision, but you don't want to blindly accept someone else's recommendation.

As you narrow in on certain vendors or products, return to the search engines to find specific vendors' press releases, product reviews (favorable and unfavorable), client lists, and more. (Hint: I often add “lawsuit” after a vendor's name just to see what comes up.)‘s family of publications is another good place to look. Check out the bottom right section of ClickZ's home page for a list of links. I tried, again searching “Web analytics,” and found several relevant articles right away, including “Web Analytics Redux,” one writer's conclusions about who the major players are and their strengths and weaknesses. Enter a vendor name in eCRMGuide‘s search box for more relevant news articles and to bring yourself up to speed on the industry.

DMReview has a section of product reviews by vendor and product name. Reviews are often posted by end users. Press releases, available on PR Newswire and elsewhere, are good sources. Although press releases are usually issued by the vendors themselves, they can lead to more objective sources. For example, if a vendor issues a press release about winning an award or landing a major contract, you may be able to contact the other party for a more objective viewpoint.

Finally, don't forget to communicate internally. Think you can make this decision without consulting your IT department? Think again. Without buy-in and assistance from IT, you'll have a rough road (and possibly an expensive mistake) ahead. Input from other departments helps shape requirements before you speak to a vendor.

There's obviously much more involved in the process than a hefty dose of in-depth research. But these practical tips can get you started today, with or without any working knowledge of the technology that's currently available.

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