Sunday, April 18, 2010

WAA Certification - three advices and why I'm doin it

If you are in the web analytics industry, you certainly heard of the Web Analytics Association Certified Web Analyst Exam launched a few days ago. Applications are now being accepted and I'm enrolled to take the test at the upcoming eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in San Jose.

I did "test the test" in San Jose last year and again in Toronto this month. I registered as soon as the application process became available. The confirmation email I received stated: Congratulations, you were the first individual to submit an application so you have an opportunity to receive the first certification that is awarded!

Here's why I'm doin it!

Advice #1: don't put fancy suffixes to your job title

You can't pretend to be an expert, you can only be recognized as such. And to be recognized as an expert, Malcolm Gladwell states in his best seller Outliers, you need at least 10,000 of real experience - over 5 years full time! Guru is so... v1.0, while "ninja" is v2.0 but so over rated...

The only title that should accompany your role is "WAA Certified Web Analyst" - the only professional certification specifically addressing our field.

Advice #2: develop critical thinking

Let's take an example: I have utmost respect for Avinash. In his unique, exuberant and bold theatrical style, Avinash is amazing and probably the only one who can get away with “puke”, “sucks” and God in the same speech. However, being on such a pedestal is also dangerous - some "newbies" will simply “drink the words of wisdom” and run away saying “bounce rate - I came, I puked, I left”... “It depends” isn’t such a bad thing after all!

Regardless of the tool, regardless of the "web analytics is hard" or "web analytics is easy" approaches, regardless of your background and years of experience, there is one universal truth to analytics: how an entity (i.e., business) arrives at an optimal or realistic decision based on existing data. This requires "critical thinking" - determining the meaning and significance of what is observed or expressed ... whether there is adequate justification to accept the conclusion as valid.

The WAA Certification is exactly that: critical thinking in the field of online analytics. Take a look at the sample questions - they are not about the tools and they are not easy - they basically reflect a real business environment. It is your job, if you claim to be a real analyst, to understand complex issues, understand them and make sound recommendations.

Advice #3: mix training, education and experience

Jim Novo was the lead behind the Certification project and explains the numerous considerations that went into developing the WAA Certification: tools, the "book smart" phenomenon, the role of vendor-specific certification and who should apply for it.

The Certified Web Analyst designation is open to any qualified practitioner with at least four years of online business experience, with three of those specifically in the web analytics field. Check out the knowledge required for Certification for further details and "Where did the Requirements to take the Test Come From?" in Jim's post.

My take

The biggest benefits of the Web Analytics Association come when you get involved with a committee or a project that contributes shaping industry standards, education and best practices. That's why I volunteered to the Board, why I got actively involved in Web Analytics Without Borders, served as a jury for the Championship, tutor UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics courses and serve on the Certification Board.

In "should you change job?" I stated one of the three important questions you should ask yourself is "Am I increasing my value in the market?". One of the best way to actually prove your value is through Certification.

Are you up for the challenge?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Web Analytics, IT and Business Intelligence: friend or foe?

This article was published in the IT World Canada magazine, Volume 3, Issue 3, March 2010.
I'm speaking about web analytics and business intelligence at the Salon Business Intelligence of Montréal, April 14th. 

As more organizations are using web analytics to measure online marketing performance and optimize their websites, those experienced in business intelligence are increasingly looking at  web analytics with a mix of awe and suspicion. The Web Analytics Association official definition of web analytics is "the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage" while Wikipedia defines business intelligence as "the skills, processes, technologies, applications and practices used to support decision making". Two definitions that can be competing, interchangeable or complementary - the confusion and misunderstandings are easy.

What's the role of IT in web analytics?

IT responsibilities traditionally include listening to business requirements and objectives and coming up with sound recommendations and solutions to optimize business processes. IT is often the guardian of data integrity and security. Single handedly giving the reign of web analytics to marketing is uncomfortable, especially when data is freely flowing out of the business walls and safeguard to be stored and accessed using SAS (Software As a Service) solutions. Fears of abuse and misuse of corporate data, confidentiality and lack of integration with other corporate data sources are often cited by IT as reasons to hold back and look carefully at web analytics projects. This often leads organizations to address web analytics as a business intelligence project. On the marketing side, we hear over and over about IT's lack of understanding, entrenched mentality and strict rules which impair their ability to act.

What should IT do?

Even if marketing campaigns could be optimized to the extreme, eventually, prospects and customers will have to go through business processes for registration, purchase or support requests. Coincidentally, while marketing can optimize the brand, bring people to the site and improve the customer relationship, those processes necessarily rely on back end systems which reinforce data quality, integrity and security. As with other processes, IT's role in this context shouldn't be different: support the business by providing the most appropriate solutions - including support for web analytics and business intelligence.

The goals of web analytics are slightly different from traditional business intelligence objectives: web analytics aims to measure user interactions from online marketing awareness, social media, mobile, video interactions, and of course, the web itself. Those are non-personally identifiable activities, largely non-transactional (in classic IT terminology), they have a relatively short lifespan and are much closer to the realm of statistics - with implications of sampling and margin of error. On the other end, business intelligence relies heavily on historical transactional data where integrity is reinforced, customers are identified and the timespan require longer, more thorough analysis which will lead to improved business process and better strategies.

Who should be the champion of web analytics?

In "Analytics at work", author Tom Davenport, a leading authority in analytics, suggests IT is better skilled at building data infrastructures and installing and maintaining application that generate transaction data, and less oriented to help the organization use data in reporting and analytical processes. However, no one would think of challenging IT's crucial role in a Business Intelligence Competency Center. The Online Analytics Maturity Model, which address the six critical process areas to succeed in online analytics, also recommends empowering a multi-disciplinary team where IT, business/marketing and analysts work hand in hand to grow the online analytics skills and maturity. As it stands today, and because of its focus on the overall user experience, marketing is usually the best home for online analytics - but IT should definitely have a seat at the table.

What's easy, what should be done now?

One of the most common issues in web analytics is the distinction between the "informational" part of the site and the "transactional" side. The necessary instrumentation, called "tagging", is often more easily done and more flexible in the former, while the later suffers from long delays and stricter IT rules. In a multi-tier approach, the presentation layer is de-coupled from the logic and data layers. A simple mindset change is required: web analytics should be considered a presentation-layer responsibility. Front-end web developers are usually much better equipped to deal with it, with the agility to make changes and increase velocity. Techniques exists to ensure the "tags" will not interfere or break the user experience, the logic or business data. Given that agility and velocity are essential ingredients to become truly analytical competitors in the online world, IT should empower marketing and support their desire to use web analytics - for the benefit of the whole organization.

What's the future of web analytics?

The history of web analytics tracks that of the web itself. We went from logs to tags, from IT-centricity to marketing-centricity. Organizations with a competitive edge today succeeded in naturally blending the online channel in all functions of the business. Online analytics isn't a matter of IT versus marketing, nor a matter of web analytics versuss business intelligence. It's a matter of cultural changes leading to the use of the most appropriate data, at the most appropriate time, that will lead to the most optimal and realistic decision in a given context.

Eventually, as web analytics grows and integrates with business data, and as marketing eventually wants to optimize the online representation of business processes, we will necessarily enter the world of business analysis and business intelligence. Today’s web analytics should be viewed as a smaller, narrower and more agile little brother of business intelligence - and as a little brother, web analytics might need some guidance and a reality check from time to time.

Additional info:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Online Analytics Maturity self-assessment tool (beta)

I'm happy to share a new tool to help you make your web analytics life easier: the free Online Analytics Maturity self-assessment survey. Basically, trough a couple of very simple questions - I like when things are easy - you will get an idea of why web analytics might be hard for you.

But first, let's start with a couple of definitions...
"the science of analysis - or how an entity (i.e., business) arrives at an optimal or realistic decision based on existing data". Source: Wikipedia
"The process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it". Source: Wikipedia
"the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs". Source: Wikipedia

Why this survey?

We keep hearing "web analytics is hard". From the definitions above, we can see "analysis" primary objective is to make things easier. Nobody's job is supposed to be easy - if you really claim to be an analyst, stop complaining: your job IS to break apart complex topics and processes, understand them, and make them easier!

The Online Analytics Maturity assessment survey

I have received tremendous level of constructive feedback from practitioners, agencies, vendors, academics, business analysts and others since I drafted and proposed the first version of the Web Analytics Maturity Model. This survey will help you, and me, pursue the work on making web analytics easier by documenting best practices and helping you, your stakeholders and colleagues understand a bit more about online analytics.
  • Any self-assessment is necessarily biased - but this is a start - as with any tool, exercise your judgement.
  • Note this survey represents a subset of a full maturity assessment exercice. Should you want an independent, professional evaluation and specific recommendations for improvement, please contact me.
Your benefits
  • This survey will assist you in evaluating your current online analytics maturity and point out what are the key process areas at risk. It is based on the first version of the Web Analytics Maturity Model (WAMM).
  • The collected data will be analyzed and will contribute to the Online Analytics Maturity Model (OAMM) future releases.
  • Once sufficient data is collected, it will be the first such study of online analytics practices within organizations of various industries, sizes, geographies and organizational structures.
Get started! Fill out the OAMM survey and please, spread the word!