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Taking Digital Analytics to the Limit

Taking Digital Analytics to the Limit

Considering the large number of tools and wide range of skills necessary to be an effective digital analyst, managers are opting to hire "the best athlete" rather than looking for analysts that have deep skills in a narrow set of tools. The fast-learning, intellectually curious analyst who can understand the business will better serve the needs of the company than an analyst hired simply for specific tool knowledge.

By David Nelson
04/17/12 5:00 AM PT

Managers must overcome several complex issues to build successful digital analytics teams that can deliver on the high expectations placed on them by upper management. Just a few of these challenges:

  • There is currently a significant supply/demand imbalance in the digital analytics talent pool.
  • A wide range of skills are necessary in the end-to-end process of online analytics and optimization, from basic reporting and data management skills, to general marketing and customer behavior understanding, to the highly technical skills required for Web development and implementation, and tagging management.
  • The scope of activities considered to be part of the digital analytics domain continues to expand, leading to an ever-increasing requirement for technical and analytical expertise.

Inside Job

In the early days of Web analytics, organizations staffed their teams almost exclusively with internal resources, often building new Web analysts by providing training for employees with a related business intelligence background.

Companies that lacked an internal supply of high-quality analysts to train, or who lacked the knowledge and discipline to provide the training, built their teams by hiring Web analysts from other companies. As a result of the continuing evolution of the digital analytics practice, many companies are finding that it is no longer sufficient, and certainly not optimal, to build a digital analytics team using only internal resources.

The digital analytics ecosystem has responded to this challenge. A wide range of third party analytics providers have emerged to help analytics managers navigate the increasingly complex environment in which they operate. This development has fundamentally changed the way managers think about building a successful team.

No longer do managers simply identify a needed skill and attempt to find a qualified external candidate who is willing to change jobs (in exchange for a sizable increase in salary). Instead, these managers seek to build a team of both internal and external resources, putting the various pieces together in a way that it benefits from the distinct advantages of each resource type.

The In-house Analytics Team

Once managers embrace the option of augmenting their digital analytics team with external resources, it changes the assumptions for what is needed in building their internal teams. One of the primary shifts taking place in the industry is a move away from purely technical and analytical capabilities toward a softer skill set with more general understanding of marketing and online behavior.

Considering the large number of tools and wide range of skills necessary to be an effective digital analyst, managers are opting to hire "the best athlete" rather than looking for analysts that have deep skills in a narrow set of tools. The fast-learning, intellectually curious analyst who can understand the business will better serve the needs of the company than an analyst hired simply for specific tool knowledge.

The primary skills and abilities desired for an internal Web analyst:

  • The ability to interpret data
  • The ability to understand both company and industry-specific information
  • Partnership and influence skills
  • Ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences
  • Project management skills

The above skills will allow the internal analysts to serve as the nucleus of the broader digital analytics organization, which includes external service providers, some of which can bring unique skills, while others bring cost savings and organizational simplicity.

Consultative Service Providers

Partnering with consultative service providers (CSPs) enables companies to benefit from industry best practices, which the consultancy has been exposed to by virtue of its work with many companies. Typically, companies will work with a CSP to benefit from strategic consulting, platform expertise or domain expertise.

Strategic consultants can help assess the current state of a Web analytics organization and build a plan (with actionable steps) to help achieve stated objectives. This is especially helpful for companies that are in transition or planning a significant expansion of analytics and optimization activities.

The recommendations of a well-respected industry consultant can be instrumental in achieving buy-in from the broader organization and management team, which can ease the processes of securing the necessary resources for expanding the Web analytics team and its potential impact.

A second type of consultant can provide technical expertise on a specific analytics platform. A consultant with expert platform knowledge can impart power-user tips and tricks, and optimize the implementation of a digital analytics platform. The best way to learn a tool is to see it in action. Internal analysts will fast-track their tool specific capabilities by partnering with and observing the experts in action.

A third type of consultant can be hired to bring expertise in a particular domain area. This can be especially effective when commencing a new area of discipline within a Web analytics team. For example, when a firm first sets out to begin online testing and optimization, there are not only new tools to be learned, but also new processes to be defined.

The experts can demonstrate process excellence in opportunity assessment, test planning and road map management, test design, test setup, test quality assurance, test launch, test reporting and analysis, and so on.

Each of these steps involves detailed processes and expertise for effective management of a testing program. In just a few months with an experienced agency, your team can absorb industry best practices that could otherwise take several years to learn through trial and error alone.

Outsourced Service Providers

Consultative service providers can dramatically accelerate the learning curve of an organization. However, due to the high cost and low supply of industry experts, these solutions are not practical for the ongoing challenges that are faced by analytics organizations. Outsourced Service Providers (OSPs) can be used to solve a separate set of challenges faced by digital analytics teams.

OSPs can provide an ongoing solution for the cost and complexity challenges that analytics managers face. They can provide analysts at or below the cost of the typical internal resource. The analysts are typically staffed in locations that have relatively low labor costs, yet an abundance of technical and analytical professionals.

There are three primary advantages of working with an OSP. First, OSPs can effectively manage the very time consuming, yet less strategic, aspects of a Web analytics program. Examples include reporting and automation of dashboards, data integration across multiple systems, management of processes related to request intake and report distribution, and quality assurance activities.

Second, the best OSPs can provide large teams of analysts, which can enable a company to easily scale its operations. This is particularly effective for organizations that have several analysts working on low-level activities (reporting and process work) and would like to free them up to work on more advanced activities.

Third, working with an OSP can significantly reduce the managerial burden placed on those who manage Web analytics teams. Ideally, Web analytics leaders should be focused on strategy, expansion of capabilities, and driving insights, rather than on managerial work such as staffing and resource allocation. A good OSP will handle all of the administrative and process details.

Putting the Pieces Together

The best-evolved digital analytics teams will be the ones that can best leverage talent and expertise through the most optimized sources.

This includes building an internal team with the correct skillsets for coordinating activities and identifying insights, CSPs for industry-leading expertise, and OSPs for augmenting an in-house team with a scalable, flexible, and cost-effective solution for the "heavy lifting" of the digital analytics process.


David Nelson is the practice lead for Web analytics and competitive intelligence at eClerx.


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