It seems that Feb-Mar was a busy #measure conference “season”, and another is upon us! As harrying as it is to try to keep travel schedules straight, I must admit I’m really excited to attend and be involved in these upcoming events.
Keystone Solutions Speaker Series “Providing Relevant Experiences without Stalking”
September 26, 2011
Austin, TX Details
(“Analytics Career Development” panel)
October 21, 2011
New York City Details
This panel brings together folks from the small client, larger client and agency/consultancy perspective to talk about career development in analytics. What does a typical career path look like? What should you do to grow and develop, and find your next great opportunity? This session is all about YOU and your future!
Accelerate 2011 November 18, 2011
San Francisco Details
Web Analytics Demystified‘s one-day FREE (yes, FREE!) event in San Francisco sold out within one day! But don’t worry, wait list places are still available, so go sign up! Some amazing speakers have been announced already, and there’s an opportunity to present in the “Ten Tips in Twenty Minutes” segment and win a $500 Best Buy giftcard! (Now, hmmmm. What shall I fill five minutes with?)
What are you waiting for? Education is just a step away!
There has been some discussion of “Analytics” vs/accompanied by “Implementor” skills in the web analytics industry of late. Given I am far from an expert myself, I’ve enlisted the POV of some clever folks to through in their 5 cents about the need for, or benefits of, implementation and technical skills for web analysts.
To paraphrase the Cluetrain manifesto: “I am not a developer, or a programmer or a code monkey. I am an analyst.” That said I am a hell of a Geeky analyst, one that isn’t afraid of digging into some JS code, scraping page variables and utilizing server-side scripting. However I would be quite depressed if that is all I did. That said, the wonderful world of web analytics applies both to my left and right brain creating the dream correlation.
Web analytics tagging (ie. Implementation) is a fine art between assuring that data is passed to the reporting platform effectively but in a manner that will not shoot you in the foot later. I have worked with some of the most talented developers out there, however, explaining that the event tag needs to only fire off on the INITIAL hit seems to pass clear over their heads. The impact and significance of the matter might as well be the final Space Shuttle already in orbit. Making a page work well is much different than assuring data is collected well.
For that reason I love my trade. I get to discuss process management, KPI development and marketing scenarios with top brass at Fortune 100 companies during the day and staying up late assuring the landing page is using the correct eVars or doing server-side scripting to push initial cookie values out of a hit stream. It is with this duality that each day is different and usually more interesting than the one before it.
I do believe, like I suspect most people do, that ideally any analyst will have a good understanding of implementation and any implementer will have a good understanding of analysis. Do I expect an analyst to know the code? No. But a good analyst will know how cookies work and how they affect the data; what the difference is between the different types of variables and how to use them; what kind of configuration settings are available and when to change them. Since they are the ones IN the data, once they have an understanding of how things are set up, they are the most likely to come up with the kind of questions that make an implementation evolve into something better.
As for implementors- you can easily find implementers who have never done analysis. And it’s a shame, but that’s all the industry often expects of them: take a list of business requirements, turn it into a solution, see the code deployed, then wash your hands of it. But what the world needs is some sort of “uber-implementor”: a “tech guy” (or gal as the case may be) who can tell you the best practices as well as technology limitations as you map out requirements, and who is involved beyond just the deployment of the code, all the way until after the end-users have done their first deep-dives in the reports. No one is going to know how to use those reports better than the person who created them.
I tend to avoid absolutes such as “need” when referring to someone’s skills. I think everyone is different and has their own strengths and weaknesses, so saying someone needs to have implementation skills to be hired might mean you miss out on an excel wizard or just an overall brilliant analyst.
I think Web Analytics involves a full process that begins with measurement planning and moves on to a tagging strategy, an implementation, report building/configuration of the analytics tool, to data gathering, then analysis, onto reporting, presentation, and finally helping facilitate a discussion on recommendations or changes that need to happen.
Implementation is just a part of the analytics process, but it still is an important, crucial part of the overall whole that I think someone would benefit from knowing. At times there are issues with data or a conclusion that doesn’t make sense other than realizing there is an implementation issue (or pick any point along the process). Are you willing to do a lot of unnecessary investigation with just the data you have, wasting precious time, and then finally having to ask someone that knows more than you about how the tags are implemented and how the data is being captured? Or would it be better to be able to identify the issue yourself, know how to fix it, and get it moving towards a resolution immediately? The more you know about the overall process, the more you’ll know where the issues can be, how to fix them, and can ultimately spend more time doing the right kind of analysis.
I won’t deceive anyone. My experience and skills rest far more on the “business analytics” side than on the “technical” side. Would I love to have the mad tech and implementation skills that some folks have? Sure. Do I fare okay without it? Most of the time.
I do agree with Tim Wilson about Analyst/Implementor skills being more of a spectrum. And yes, having skills that span both can be very valuable. (It’s safe to say that the more skills you can have in your back pocket, the better.) However, that doesn’t mean that if you are more “business analyst” or more “implementor” (aka focus more on one than the other) that you can’t have a successful career.
If you do tend to skew more to one side or the other, you likely will have good opportunities in a company with a larger analytics team, where you’re able to focus on your strengths. Someone who falls more in the middle, with a balance of both skill sets, might suit a “jack of all trades” role, where both skill sets are needed in the one resource.
As our field grows, and teams get bigger, I think we’ll see more specialisation – people focused on more specific skills. (After all, doctors aren’t surgeons and anesthetists and cardiologists and general practitioners. They specialise, but they do all have the same basic knowledge at the core.) My overall advice would be to do what you’re interested in. Doing what interests you means you’re more likely to excel at it, and add value to your company. If you love the business side, focus there. If you’re a code geek, focus on the technical side. That doesn’t let you off the hook entirely – you should still be learning what you can. You’ll want to know enough to work with your implementation or business-focused folks, understand what they’re doing and make the (informed) decisions they need from you. But ultimately, your time is well spent honing your strengths.
Lee Isensee: Titles don’t matter – the team is responsible together for success
Having first started my career as an early practitioner, there really wasn’t the idea of implementation and it wasn’t until a couple years later that I understood why – I was consuming what I had in front of me and thought that it was the sky. Woah, information!
Since moving from a practitioner into the vendor realm I have changed my opinion substantially and believe that the solution is not as black and white as “analyst” or “implementer” but rather a unique combination of skills to meet the business requirements, technical requirements and on-going strategy of the customer.
Not once have I ever been in a situation, that resulted in true success, where the “implementer” did not have some level of engagement in the needs of the “analyst” and never have I seen the “analyst” truly believe that the “implementer” was not, at some level, invested in helping them get stuff done.
By creating isolated roles you are setting up your team for lots of finger pointing. Ultimately, your success will not be defined by who to staff on your team, but rather the building-out of your initial strategy, business requirements, technical requirements and phased expectations. It doesn’t matter what the titles, roles, experience, etc. are, rather it is the responsibility of the entire group to take ownership.
Kissmetrics and a variety of its clients have been center stage in the news lately for tracking unique visitor behaviour, despite a user clearing their cookies. Shortly after the story broke, a number of high profile clients removed Kissmetrics tracking, arguably “throwing them under the bus” in the process. Now, Kissmetrics and more than twenty of its customers are facing a class action lawsuit, claiming the tracking violates privacy laws. However, there was a similar lawsuit in 2009 over the use of “zombie cookies”, with some of the same businesses named as defendants.
This got me thinking, and into a rather lengthy debate/rant/conversation with fellow industry member Lee Isensee, which helped to shape (and refine somewhat!) a few thoughts around the responsibilities of the organisation tracking vs. the vendor providing tracking capabilities. While I find myself defensive of vendors and organisations that are being respectful of customers privacy, in line with the WAA Code of Ethics, the real question is:
Whose responsibility is it to protect consumer privacy – the business using the tracking, or the vendor providing a solution or product?
I can’t help but think – if you, as a company:
Choose a method of tracking that (many argue) violates users’ privacy and wishes
Don’t disclose the level of detail being collected, or how it will be used
Face legal action as a result of that tracking, and settle by agreeing not to use that technology again
Later, face accusations of similar tracking (similarly intentioned, though the mechanics perhaps differ)
But sever ties with the vendor, essentially blaming them, while claiming your company takes user privacy seriously
What conclusion is there to draw from that? Does it suggest that you, as a business, want to do that kind of tracking, and seek out vendors who provide those capabilities? (It’s a little hard to argue the “but we didn’t know” defense if you’ve faced legal action for this type of thing before.)
If that’s the case (and I understand this is a little difficult in the current climate) why not stand by this kind of tracking, disclose the approach and method, and explain the consumer benefits of it? Why claim to be privacy conscious and blame the vendor when your company has a major privacy backlash. You’ve previously chosen to engage in this kind of tracking (and faced the repercussions!) before? What leads you to do so again?
So if a business is inclined to this kind of tracking, what is the responsibility of the vendor providing it? Do they own a customer’s implentation (post initial engagement) or chosen use of the data? Do they owe a duty to the customers of their clients? What legal duty do they owe? Do they owe a duty to allow opt-out? Or is that in the hands of the company doing the tracking? What ethical duty do we impose? (And how far does that go? To the vendors that support the vendor? Ah, forget it. I’m hearing an Adam Carolla “slippery slope” rant starting as it is.)
I’d argue there’s one level of responsibility, that falls squarely to the company itself. A business decides what kind of tracking to do, and which vendors to use. They owe a duty to their customers. If a vendor is found to use “unsavoury” practices, actively recommending those practices in collusion with the business and disregards industry accepted practices, isn’t it the responsibility of the business to have thoroughly evaluated the vendor?
Something along the lines of: we don’t sue gun companies for homicides. The analytics vendor sells the gun, the implementation is the bullet, the business is the person holding the gun … who ultimately made the choice to shoot the customer?¹
Am I way off base? Where do you think this responsibility lies?
¹ I can’t take the credit for all of this. Thanks Lee for boiling it down to a simple analogy.