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Insights from Xchange: We may not need more data, but we could use more trust.


I’ve just returned from  Xchange, Semphonic and Web Analytics Demystified annual summit for top web analytics professionals to huddle together and have meaningful conversations about industry issues and trends. It was an incredible summit, and I had inspiring chats with Eric Peterson, WAA‘s and eMetrics‘  Jim Sterne, and Forrester’s John Lovett. It was also great to meet super (duper!) smart people from Best Buy, Intuit, HP, Cisco, Yahoo! and Nike.

Here are some of my key takeaways from this event:

Web analytics data is the crucial link between customer experience, corporate strategy, and all future decision making, but serious organizational design and software design barriers still exist.

It’s very exciting to see what is becoming possible with web analytics and how we’re really starting to be able to use data to develop a 360 degree view of the customer. Despite the possibilities, I rarely see large organizations actually  USING the data to drive their decisions at the highest level. Why is this? Two reasons:

  1. It is not because of the limitations in technology or budget, but because organizations have been slow to incorporate web analytics teams into their decision making structure at a deep enough level to have an impact. At Xchange, Eric Peterson talked about a ‘hub and spoke’ model of web analytics integration as the current best way to create a data-driven organization.
  2. Data hasn’t made it’s way up the corporate ladder because of current state of web analytics platform design. For example, Omniture has emerged as the leading web analytics platform, but its complexity, intimidation and scale may be keeping data from becoming accessible  and  usable enough to make it really useful across the organization. In addition, the demand for the data, but the widespread lack of training is limiting the web analytics teams to just “report monkeys” rather than spend their time drawing actionable insights.

Trust is a recurring theme in all conversations I attended: trusting data, trust between organizational silos, trust between the consumer and company.

The second takeaway from this event is that Trust is still a big big issue when it comes to data. Sometimes, there is too much trust in relying on data  in decision making (especially in the wrong hands). Other times, the lack of trust in accuracy is keeping the company from applying data. This issue is aggravated by the lack of web standards, which lead to mismatched (unreliable?) datasets. In addition, the aforementioned organizational structure leads to poor goal alignment and conflicts of interest across silos. Since it’s still fairly easy to present data to support any story you want, there hasn’t been a lot of trust building going on.

Another dimension of trust is that between the company and the consumer. Consumers are also distrustful of how their privacy is being protected and used. Bob Page, the Head of Analytics at Yahoo! brought up some of his concerns about the lack of an official industry stance on ethics, and how the consumer should trust their data to be protected. According to Bob, the industry should’ve established a code of ethics  a long time ago.

The Web Analytics industry is so exciting to be a part of. Even though it’s around 15 years old now, it’s really still in its infancy. I predict that in 10 more years, Web Analytics will be the core driver of all online customer experience decisions, and I am very excited to see that happen.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations next month at eMetrics Washington DC!