The Return on Investing in Training and Education

Across different companies, there are differing attitudes towards the value of conferences, training and industry events. Sometimes (more commonly on the agency or consulting side) attendance at conferences is considered to be of benefit to the business, as it is considered marketing, and may lead to new clients. However, an employee’s desire to attend events and up-skill often goes unsupported. Or, if education is begrudgingly permitted, the time is almost treated as if the employee is “on vacation.”

In my humble opinion, the best digital analytics professionals want to attend conferences or training, be constantly learning and growing. It’s a sign that you hired well! These are the analysts who will go the extra mile, and do more than you even thought of.

But companies do the wrong math. They think about the price of a conference plus travel and accommodation, and think, “What’s in it for me?”

Here’s what’s in it for you. Think of the cost of conferences and training for your employees. Now think of the cost of employee turnover, recruiting, time spent understaffed, and retraining. Now add in the number of times you’ll do this, as you continue to lose great people (in an industry where 51% have changed jobs in the last 12 months!) – people to whom continual growth and education is critical to their job satisfaction.

The math seems pretty simple to me.

The Year of the Analyst

[Originally published in Colorado Biz]

The advent of digital brought with it the incredible measurability of the online channel. When coupled with a recession, where every dollar counts and profitability of every move is questioned, data-informed decisions have become critical to many companies. Analytics is not just reserved for companies at the top, but is becoming a cost of successfully doing business.

It’s not just about the collection of copious amounts of data, but on the integration and use of it. Ultimately, companies need the right resources in place to analyze, interpret and recommend new courses of action. A heavy investment in tools, without investment in people, is seldom successful.

Welcome to the new breed of analysts. Whether companies are hiring a “web”, “digital”, “cross-channel”, “marketing” or “business” analyst, there’s no doubt that it’s a great time to be a data geek.

Increased demand

The demand for analysts is directly related to the growth of online business, aided by the proliferation of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. The responsibility of the “Web Analyst”, whose role was initially focused just on behavior on a company’s website, has already expanded in scope, evolving to include online, mobile, social and traditional channels, as well as the integration of online and offline.

Those already working in digital analytics can attest to the barrage of recruiter calls to coax experienced analysts over to a new company, as the demand exceeds the number of analytics professionals available in the market.

Greater awareness at the college level

Growing awareness of the profession at the college level will help to (slowly) fill some of this demand. Educational institutions are starting to introduce courses tailored specifically at this new field. The University of British Columbia began offering an award program in web analytics in 2005, and other schools are following suit, with certificate programs or course work within marketing focusing on digital analytics.

The existence of these programs can help make students aware of a career in digital analytics. Programs such as Marketing, IT, Business, Economics, Mathematics and Statistics continue to lay a great foundation for a career in digital analytics, and still represent the majority of the entry points into the field, but these new dedicated courses allow students to learn enough to hit the ground running in a junior role.

An abundance of resources

For someone interested in joining this growing field, there are a number of ways to get involved. The Digital Analytics Association (DAA) has chapters across the U.S. and provides local events, education, conference discounts, research, standards, training, awards, certification and great professional networking opportunities.

The Analysis Exchange is a program that provides a “student” of analytics with hands-on experience tackling the analytics challenges of a non-profit, supported by an experienced mentor. Another option to gain experience is to volunteer your services to a local charity or small business. The availability of free tools means anyone can get their feet wet in this industry.

For professional networking and to talk to those already in the industry, attend a Web Analytics Wednesdays or DAA local symposium, or getting involved via social media. There are digital analytics groups on Twitter via the #measure hashtag, Facebook, Linked In and Yahoo. Ask questions, and you’ll be surprised at who will take the time to answer them.

In addition, companies are creating more opportunities for those looking to break into the field. For example, Red Door Interactive created an internship program that helps students get hands on experience in a variety of areas, including analytics. The interns not only help collect and analyse data, but they learn how an agency works and how to be a part of a cross-functional team.

For companies needing to hire analytics professionals, it can be tough, and it’s not likely to change soon. Good analysts are typically happily employed and frequently recruited, so companies need to be open to developing entry-level or junior analysts on the job, consider internal candidates with compatible skill sets, allow flexible working arrangements (like remote employees) or make an offer too good to refuse. As long as demand continues to exceed the availability of resources, it will continue to be an analyst’s market.

Career Development for Digital Analysts: WAA Resource Available

Are you a new analyst looking for a way into the digital analytics industry? An analyst looking for advice on how to grow in your role or be promoted? Looking for a new opportunity?

For the past year, the WAA Membership Committee has been working on an initiative to provide WAA members with information regarding careers in the digital measurement industry.

Now available is the WAA’s Career Guide for Digital Analysts, an overview of careers in the digital measurement industry, including:

  • The types of companies analysts can work for;
  • Typical hierarchy and responsibilities for each role;
  • Educational and skill set requirements, including the importance of emerging skill sets; and
  • Advice for those looking to break into the field, be promoted or find a new opportunity.

This was compiled from the insight of a variety of industry members kind enough to spend some time giving an overview of careers in their area – client, vendor, agency and consulting side.

If you are a WAA member, please use this link to download the Career Guide:
Download the WAA Career Guide for Digital Analysts

You will need your WAA website username or password.

If you have forgotten your WAA website username or password, click here to reset your password.

Not a member yet? Join the WAA here.

If you’d like to read more about the WAA initiatives around career development and encouraging careers in Analytics, please read more at the WAA Blog.

Business Analysis and Technical/Implementation skills

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.

Thomas Bosilevac: I love it all
Mashable Metrics
@Bosilytics on Twitter

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.

Jenn Kunz: Know enough to work with each other
@Jenn_Kunz on Twitter

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.

Bryan Cristina:  The knowledge will benefit you
@BigBryC on Twitter

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.

Michele Hinojosa:  Focus on your strengths
@michelehinojosa on Twitter

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
@OMLee on Twitter

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.

Choosing the right conference

It’s no secret that I’m a conference junkie. I love all aspects of them: Learning new things, and being inspired by what others are achieving. Networking with smart people and getting to discuss our successes and challenges. (Aka “talking geek”. Love, love, LOVE!) Getting to reunite with people who, I feel, are now becoming good friends. Coming home re-energised, and ready to do more great things. (And getting to travel somewhere new is just an added benefit, even if I inevitably don’t see much besides the conference venue!

Given I do enjoy attending conferences, people have asked me what I would recommend to analysts at different stages of their careers.

So, for what it’s worth, here is my little 1.5 cents.

If you’re brand new to digital measurement … I would encourage a focus on training, rather than conferences. At this stage of your career, you want to figure out which buttons to push to get to the data you want. Yes, you definitely need to keep in mind the bigger picture, but first and foremost, you need to know how to dive on in. If you’re looking to get into the field, try Google Analytics training. If you’re employed and use an enterprise solution, see if your employer will help you attend your vendor’s training, whether it be  Omniture, Coremetrics or Webtrends.

If you’ve already gotten your feet wet … Once you know how to navigate the solution you use, you have two options. One is to seek out further training in another (relevant) toolset. For example, if you’re an Omniture user, you might want to learn Test & Target. Alternatively (or better yet, in addition!) you may want to attend your vendor’s own conference (for example, Omniture Summit or Webtrends Engage.) You’ll take away tips, tricks and new ideas for how to best use the solution you already have.

If you’ve been around for some time … Expand your horizons by attending a more general analytics conference. eMetrics can be a great one for web analytics professionals. When you attend a conference like eMetrics, you’ll have an opportunity to hear from, and network with, other practitioners who may use different toolsets. This gives you an opportunity to hear, think about and discuss analytics more generally, rather than buried in the minutia of Solution X does this in THIS way.

If you’ve been there and done that … Attend an event where analytics is merely a small piece of the conference opportunity. (For example, I was fortunate enough to attend part of Internet Retailer this year, which has a much broader focus than just web analytics.) Sure, you need to make sure that it has enough value for you to justify your attendance. But the truth is, analysts can get somewhat myopic, and forget that many business folks don’t care about the details of analytics as we do. Truly taking a step back, and seeing analytics as a part of the bigger picture of the business, can be incredibly helpful, and allow you to take that same step back in your day to day life.

Apart from that, here are a few of my other, more general conference tips.

1.  Actually experience it. I know we are all swamped, all the time. But traveling to an event, paying an (often) hefty sum to attend, only to sit there on your laptop working doesn’t benefit anyone. Plan your attendance around busy times, but once you’re there, try to use the time to learn.

2. Talk to people. The network you build can not only make conferences more enjoyable, but  also helps you develop a group of people you can reach out to as needed. The web analytics community is a wonderful group, and most don’t bite!

3. Think in advance about what you want to get from the experience. Is there a new challenge you’re struggling with? Look for sessions that will help you tackle it. Planning, at least roughly, what sessions you want to attend can help you ensure that you don’t later regret ones you missed.

4. Share your knowledge. Take notes, or capture your tweets, and bring them back to share with others in your organisation. It’s a great way to make sure a budget travels further.

We work in an ever-changing field, and keeping your sense of curiosity and desire to learn is crucial to your success. So go out there and enjoy the process!

What analysts can learn from group fitness instructors

Les Mills RPM

I am an analyst and a certified Les Mills group fitness instructor for BodyPump (weight training), RPM (indoor cycling), BodyCombat (mixed martial arts based group fitness) and BodyJam (dance based group fitness.)

While analyst and group fitness instructor seem very different, there’s actually a lot that analysts can learn from instructors.

When we are trained as instructors, we spend a lot of time thinking about how different people learn, and how to teach to all of them.

Visual learners need to see it to understand. In group fitness, these participants need you to demonstrate a move, not explain it. In analytics, this may mean visually displaying data, using diagrams, graphs and flow charts instead of data tables – and perhaps even hitting up the whiteboard from time to time.

Auditory learners need to hear it. In group fitness, they rely on verbal cues from the instructor. In analytics, you may have a thousand beautiful visual displays or PowerPoint slides, but it’s your commentary and explanation that will help these people understand.

Kinesthetic learners need to feel it to understand, to experience what you’re talking about. In group fitness, you can show them and tell them, but what they need is to feel the difference between “the right way” and “the wrong way” (for example, “Oh, now I can feel how muscle x engages when I turn my heel!”) This is the same group that tend to need repetition to perfect what they’re doing. In analytics, these are often the people that need to be led through your logic. It’s not enough to show them your findings, and to display the final results. They need to see the steps along the way that you used to answer your questions.

Now here’s where it gets trickier. When you are presenting to a group, they won’t all be the same type of learner. Which means that a good group fitness instructor and a good analyst needs to explain the same thing in different ways to ensure that everyone understands. For an analyst, this may mean using visual displays of information on your slides, talking through the explanation, and giving a step-by-step example to put everyone on the same page.

Keep in mind that you too have your own learning style. Your analysis and presentation style will likely match your learning style. (If you are a visual learner, a visual presentation will come easy to you.) It may take a more conscious effort to make sure you incorporate the learning styles you do not share. However, by tailoring your message to ensure you hit all learning styles, you stand the best chance of getting everyone to the same understanding.

Are you an expert?

Guru. Ninja. Rockstar. Expert. These descriptions are all over the place. (*cough* Twitter bios *cough cough*)

Done learning. This is what I hear.

Here’s the deal. Calling yourself an expert sounds like you think you’ve got nothing left to learn. How can you be an expert in web analytics, or social media? These fields have been around for all of about forty-five seconds. (And they’ve changed twenty-seven times since then!)

My $0.015:  Don’t ever call yourself an expert, a guru, a rockstar. (And don’t just replace it with samurai or swami. You get my point.) Someone else may call you that, but let’s be honest, even then you should shrug it off.

The most appealing trait is a desire to learn, improve, to continue honing your skills. Focus on that. Let your work and development prove yourself. Not a self-appointed noun.

How to grow your web analytics skills (within your current role)

If you are an analyst looking to further develop your skills, what can you do (within your current role) to further grow and develop? Here are a few of my thoughts, though I am certain there are many others.

In no particular order …

1. Interact with others in the industry

  • Join Twitter, follow your web analytics peers. Twitter can be an amazing educational resource if you use it for something other than “I ate a ham sandwich today.” You get to hear about the challenges that analysts working with different business models or analytics tools face, what is going on in the industry, what the vendors are saying and perhaps new functionality they’re releasing.
  • But more importantly than reading what others say on Twitter: contribute. Voicing your views will force you to think them through. And everyone disagreeing with you (it will happen one day!) will be a great learning experience to see those other viewpoints.
  • Go to Web Analytics Wednesdays
  • Take the time to go to lunch/happy hour/etc with your peers within your company and “geek out”. While you may work in the same company, your responsibilities and experiences may still differ, and you can learn from the experiences, thoughts and views of others.

2. Take advantage of free learning opportunities

  • Attend free webinars. There are so many out there (you’ll find out about them through Twitter, blogs etc) and they can be a great resource
  • Attend free trainings (yes, they do exist. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from MicroStrategy about free one-day trainings.)

3. Attend conferences

  • This one can be tougher if your employer doesn’t support this. However, make an argument for why it is of benefit to the business. Trust me, the vendors give you plenty of information about how to sell their conference to your company!
  • If you can swing the cost, you do have the option to pay for it without your company’s support (or “financial assistance”) …!

4. Volunteer

  • Join the Analysis Exchange, a program that brings web analytics students, mentors and non-profit organisations together, to give more web analytics experience to the student and analytics assistance to the organisation.
  • Know a friend/family member/co-worker with their own site? Blog? Small business site? Volunteer your time to help them set up a free web analytics solution, and take time out of your schedule to analyse their site on a regular basis. Don’t know anyone? Why not start your own site? It doesn’t have to be big. It also doesn’t have to be about web analytics. But it will certainly give you a taste of analysing a different type of site, as well as some of the challenges of getting traffic!
  • Volunteer to work on things outside the scope of your standard role within your company. Is there a project out there that you think analytics could help with, but no one is asking for help? Volunteer it!

5. Read
6. Read
7. And then read some more

  • There are a lot of great books out there. Start with one. (A hint: If this sounds completely dull to you, and you can’t imagine anything worse than reading about analytics in your spare time, really take a look at whether you are in the right field …)
  • Read both corporate blogs (e.g. web analytics vendors: Omniture, Google Analytics, etc) and those of your peers
  • Ask your peers for their recommendations of books, blogs, journals, magazines, articles, etc
  • But don’t stop just at web analytics books. Start reading about related fields. Product development. Design. Usability. Marketing. Social media. Statistics. Even cognitive psychology!

8. Keep your eyes open to what employers are hiring for

  • Sure, maybe you’re happy where you are at your current company. Maybe you don’t feel you’ve extracted all the learnings you can from your current role. (That’s a great position to be in!) But keep your eyes open for what positions are out there.
  • Why? Seeing what employers want will allow you to keep a mental checklist of what skills you need to improve on, prior to your next promotion or job change. Better yet, think about what you want your next move to be, and monitor the companies that are hiring for that type of role. What are the requirements and responsibilities they have for it? This ensures you’re working towards filling those requirements in the future. You can’t grow into a position if you don’t even understand what it involves!

I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this. Please comment if you can think of any further advice.