Web Support Blog

January 27, 2007

Outsource systems, so you can put more focus on innovation

Filed under: General, Search, Web Analytics — Chris @ 10:51 pm

In an article by Jon Brodkin of NetworkWorld.com, he discusses a recent comment from Google’s Dave Girouard on how “insane” it is that companies spend 75% to 80% of their budget maintaining, instead of innovating. If you consider a company like Google, or even Amazon.com and eBay, they used innovative technologies to drive their businesses. So why don’t others learn from that?

In my current organization, we have solved some of this issue through outsourcing, while other systems have issues because there are too many owners for different parts within our organization. First let me share two short examples of successful outsourcing – a web analytics tool and a customer survey tool.

We use Omniture’s SiteCatalyst as our tool of choice to perform web analytics. Omniture takes care of the data collection and management – an area that has been a problem in organizations that I have been a part of in the past. In my last organization, log files needed to be joined from the various proxy servers and made available to a WebTrends installation. Occasionally the IT organization would change something in the proxy servers, and we might lose a day or two of data (until the problem was found and resolved).

Of course we are not completely free of responsibility with SiteCatalyst. We are responsible to tag our web pages, which then communicate web activity back to the Omniture environment. If we should make a mistake in our tagging, or forget to add tags to a new web page, then we would miss that data. The other thing we do is send additional data, via a batch load, to Omniture that further classifies our data. For example, the page tag will send a product id, then through the batch load, we will send a product name, which makes it much easier when creating and viewing reports.

The other outsourced example, our survey tool, is similar to Omniture SiteCatalyst, as the vendor manages the data for us. In both cases, we free up resources that would otherwise have to manage the data and the servers that host it. Of course in both cases, there are times where we want to join that data with data from other systems. Depending on the complexity, we can either load data into the vendor system, or extract it from the vendor system to ours. We typically would only do that for ad-hoc data analysis, as routine reporting has the required data transfers automated.

So that’s the good news. But when it comes to search, it is quite the opposite. First, you could outsource your search engine, your entire web site, or perhaps just the knowledge management portion. For example, RightNow Technologies provides the knowledge base infrastructure for companies such as IBM, Nvidia, and RealNetworks.

In my organization, and in many others, search itself takes many different specialized skills to make it work.

  1. Managing the network and security access
  2. Maintaining the OS on the servers
  3. Maintaining the search application, including indexing, and its custom code
  4. Develop and maintaining the user interface, including passing the appropriate data to the engine
  5. Develop and manage the ontology and dictionary rules
  6. Content maintenance (e.g. have the appropriate meta tags)

If we were to outsource, we could have someone else worry about the first three (1 – 3), but the last three (4 – 6) will always require people from our organization (4 could be outsourced, if we outsourced the web site development and maintenance). The missing element on the list is someone to have oversight; someone to keep all the various parties in contact with each other. The same resource would also be required if you outsource, though again the first three would be replaced my managing a vendor relationship.

So whether we are talking about outsourcing security, as Mr. Brodkin mentions in his article, or applications within your environment, your company can free up resources for innovation, while paying experts to maintain a system for you.

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January 15, 2007

Web Analyst Recommendation

Filed under: Web Analytics — Chris @ 12:56 pm

My organization has been working with a Web Analyst in order to accelerate learning that otherwise would be very time consuming. Like many organizations, we do not have a mature toolset (it is coming), and so the effort to understand what the data is telling us is difficult.

Based on previous work with us some year or so ago, we asked Debora Geary of Fireweed Analytics to come back and work with us. Debora was able to merge and join disparate data sources and uncover some valuable information. For example, we couldn’t identify those who viewed our site that had not logged in — she matched ip addresses with previous logins and helped us realize that most of those visitors have logged in previously.

We also learned that most of the users that did not login had ran a search, but never clicked-through on any of the results. Another value was joining our customer survey data with our web data. Not surprisingly, the reported intentions from the survey did not always align with the behavior on the site.

Don’t just take my word for it, read Debora’s recent article Warming Up to Analytics. This five part series, which she completed on January 4th, 2007, provides a lot of insight to how she approaches her work. You can also catch her posting on the Web Analytics Forum on Yahoo.

So unless you are already an expert in the web analytics field, give Deobora a call — you will be an expert when she’s done.

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