Monday, January 25, 2010

Web Analytics Maturity Model Q&A

This post is a translation/adaptation of 
Questions à Stéphane Hamel, concepteur du "Web Analytics Maturity Model" (WAMM), where I was interviewed by Nicolas Malo.
Stéphane Hamel is a leading voice for Web Analytics in North America and has recently published the Web Analytics Maturity Model (WAMM). The WAMM is the result of an 18 months study conducted as an MBA project at Université Laval in Québec-city. Stéphane is also a member of the board of the Web Analytics Association. As part of his European tour of the "Roadmap to online analytics success" he will be in Lille, France on March 18th and 19th (registration details for Lille are available on Hub'Sales site, other locations for the workshop are listed on the WAMM page).

Nicolas Malo: Bonjour Stéphane. Can you explain what is the WAMM for the uninitiated?

Stéphane Hamel : I love acronyms! Because I have extensive experience in e-business and measuring online performance, as an online tutor to UBC's Award of Achievement in Web Analytics and frequent conference speaker, Laval University suggested my final project for Master in Electronic Business Management (MBA ) be the creation of a full-semester, graduate level course on the topic of web analytics. I quickly realised such a course could not be a traditional approach of covering basic concepts or how to implement and use popular web analytics solutions. My practitioner and consulting experience with several clients as well as looking at the state of the industry also thought me there was obviously something wrong with the traditional approach since a majority of companies could not achieve the expected results. At the same time, throught years of MBA studies, it was clear companies were faced with many other difficult challenges. This led to a position that web analytics is primarily based on disciplines that have existed for a long time and that it can be easier.

Hence the essential questions: What are the success factors of web analytics? What are the critical process areas supporting such a success? How to determine if a company is on the right track to succeed, or rather at high risk of failing?

The WAMM proposes a maturity model based on Critical Success Factors leading to the effective use of analytics to make informed decisions and optimize online business processes.

Nicolas Malo: How did you come to the conclusion that it was necessary to formalize a model of maturity in Web Analytics?

Stéphane Hamel: Some of my colleagues in the industry doubt the merits of a maturity model on the basis that each company is so different that models simply do not work. A model is not a dogma, a model is not perfect ... for example, meteorological models can hardly predict the weekend weather! Yet, in most cases, they are very useful and continue to evolve to become more accurate. A model is a simplified representation of a more complex reality. What is included stems from hypothesis and observations of what we understand of a concept. It evolves in response to advancements and development of new theories, deeper understanding and validation in the field.

The element of "maturity" in the model describes the essential elements and relationship of various domains of expertise to gradually move from a rather chaotic and improvised approach to a mature, structured and disciplined one.

One of the major benefit of a maturity model is to spark discussion and reflection within the organization. It allows the team to put objectives against the current situation and act accordingly. Once convinced of the merits of measuring performance of its activities, the organization needs a road map to avoid the pitfalls that so many others before them have encountered.

Nicolas Malo: Is it just an academic exercise or you leveraged real life experience to define the different dimensions?
Stéphane Hamel: The academic side brought a structure and disciplined approach, but the WAMM is primarily a field study. When attending conferences, mostly in the United States, I was always a bit disappointed to hear great success stories then come back to reality and realize we were so archaic compared to the Amazon, eBay, Expedia, Dell and others flag ship.

I have the pleasure of working with several clients of various sizes and verticals in Quebec, Canada and abroad: automotive, insurance and finance, retail, travel, non-profit, etc. Each of them exhibit specific characteristics, yet they face very similar challenges when it comes to web analytics. The concept of maturity levels arose from a desire to understand the commonalities of those situations.

Key process areas, or dimensions, stems from the study of several models offered by various industry experts and vendors, other related fields such as business analysis and data warehousing, as well as academic concepts encountered throughout the MBA studies.

Nicolas Malo: If there was one strong idea to retain from WAMM, what would it be?

Stéphane Hamel: The first key process area, the one that will have the strongest influence on the success of your web analytics initiatives, is the management, governance and the degree of adoption of analytical practices in the organization. In second place comes the way objectives are defined and the scope of intervention. While it is interesting to debate about the tools and their multitudes of features, they actually have very little impact on success. Yet, such findings are not new and have been demonstrated numerous times in the past...

Nicolas Malo: You recently announced that you're writing a book out of the WAMM project. Can you tell us more?

Stéphane Hamel: The whole study project is quite big and I had to extract a summary in order to solicit feedback from the web analytics community. I invite you to take a look at to download the paper and provide feedback. My original plan, to design a full-semester, graduate level course for Université Laval, is available since January under the name "MRK-6005 - Analytiques Web". There are many books on the topic of web analytics, but few (none?) academic book with a the typical structure of text books. Unfortunately, it will take a while to write, but the course structure and material is complete, the workshop is ready and has already taken place in Ottawa, and soon in Montreal (Feb 10th).

Nicolas Malo : Thank you Stéphane for this interview! A final word?

Stéphane Hamel: Web analytics is a relatively young and in this regard, it often reminds me of the heyday of the early Web. The pace of innovation is impressive, but the most remarkable aspect is probably the collaboration, mutual support and friendship that comes from our interest for web analytics. As I often say, "social media" is cool, but there is nothing like meeting people in person. Therefore I will be in Lille in March (as well as several other cities in Europe, Canada and the US)!

Note : I will actually be in Lille for the European tour of my workshop "Roadmap to online analytics success". I will also participate in a panel on the theme "making the right technological choices in web Analytics" at the Nord IT Days conference and one of the main speakers at the "Rendez-vous des Web Analytics" in Lille Thursday, March 18, 2010.