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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Q&A: Simpler Analytics Can Reach More Users

Driven by business demands, easy-to-use tools are pushing analytics deeper into the enterprise. By stressing ease of use, vendors strive to deliver more insights and reach more users.

With the continuing push for self-service data access, tools that make analytics easier to access, understand, and use are gaining traction. TapClicks is an example of that -- an analytics and marketing operations platform that strives to make it simpler to import, manage, and report on marketing data. In this interview, we talk with the company's CEO, Babak Hedayati, about how organizations are using analytics in new ways.

Hedayati has over 20 years of experience in technical marketing, ranging from design automation software to social, media, and marketing platforms -- including video solutions, gaming platforms, and social networking applications and software. He's a graduate of Harvard Business School and Stanford's Management and Entrepreneurship program.

Upside: How are organizations of all types using analytics in new ways?

Babak Hedayati: One of the top drivers behind the new use of analytics within organizations is the need to enable all business users with self-service analytics tools. The key phrase here is "self-service." IT professionals, data scientists, and analysts are critical resources, but their capacity is finite. Often, the need for data analysis can create delays that lead to serious inefficiencies.

By giving business users immediate access to powerful, simple-to-use data visualization, reporting, and analytics tools, you unlock the power of data-driven insights in the teams that so desperately need them in real time. To ensure that individuals at all levels can produce insights and take advantage of data-driven decisions and optimizations, these tools have to be easy to configure, easy to deploy, and easy to use.

Within organizations, teams are also using broader and more integrated access to data. Historically, integrated and native data access was available only from internal systems and platforms. With the ever-increasing pace of new media, as well as marketing and advertising solutions becoming available, organizations require more tightly integrated data sources and platforms. Those solutions, in turn, can leverage new technologies and analytics methodologies and quickly push those insights throughout organizations.

Native API integrations to these new and exciting platforms are easy to provision, and powerful data import tools have become key differentiators.

We also see organizations working to deliver deep cross-channel insights and comparisons. In a multichannel world, agencies, publishers, and brands can no longer analyze or report on data in silos. For example, there is little value in understanding and communicating your Facebook, Adwords, and display advertising performances separately.

Instead, organizations need to be able to compare every campaign within a source, every source in a channel, and how these channels are ultimately delivering. These insights allow operations and business teams to provide continual, real-time optimizations.

What's behind this push to use analytics in more ways? Is it largely technology-driven or is it coming from the business side?

Organizations recognize a need to be more data-savvy at all levels within the business, so this is a perfect example of business driving technology.

The key initiatives driving this trend come from smart organizations that want to optimize processes. They realize that in doing so they can create more reliable distribution of information, save money through automation, and maximize revenue and results. It's all about enabling your people to deliver better results faster.

For years we've talked about pervasive business intelligence -- BI that is designed for average business users. Are analytics becoming easy enough for business users to access? What's the challenge there?

It's critical that analytics be easy to set up, deploy, and use so that tools such as data visualization and reporting can be used at all levels within the business. The issue quickly becomes: Once you can deliver the right data at the right time to virtually everyone in the business, each stakeholder needs data relevant to them. To deliver, your system must be highly automated while still being configurable.

How should companies decide when they are ready for advanced analytics?

My advice is -- don't wait another second. You do not want users harboring fear or uncertainty about data. Get your feet wet now by starting with an easy-to-deploy, easy-to-use solution. Dig in and get your users knowledgeable, involved, and comfortable using data to make decisions. Once you do that, you can think about bringing in products that are geared for heavy lifting (by that I mean large, enterprise-level BI tools) if you need them.

It seems that there is an industry trend in which the enterprisewide BI platform providers want to teach users college-level calculus before addition and subtraction. Our view is that the masses (all members of your organization) need easy steps to learn to set up and deploy data to uncover insights and drive decisions.

Once your data is leveraged in this manner, adoption throughout the business is much easier, and you have the hearts and minds of stakeholders. Without this approach, you tend to run into all the troubles of data unification and integration, as well as exposing data to an analytics solution that is often expensive, complicated, and can only be managed by a data scientist and team of analysts.

How does the current interest in data scientists tie into analytics? Do companies need the expertise of a data scientist (perhaps as a consultant) to set up analytics effectively, if not to use it on a daily basis?

Data scientists are typically expensive and hard to come by because they are often Ph.D.-level consultants or staff members. Without normalized data, easily obtained data, or a deep understanding of the questions your stakeholders are trying to answer, it's hard for the data scientist to efficiently deliver value.

My view is that there is a need for data scientists. However, not only do they need to own the data science deliverables, but they also need to be able to train others in the organization to think analytically. Today's data scientist needs to be a teacher, an evangelist, a promoter of analytics thinking, and a nurturer of data-driven decision making.

Is advanced analytics something that mostly large companies are doing at this point?

No, we believe that advanced analytics should be for everyone. Our goal is to make all analytics and reporting simple, with easy to understand, actionable insights.

Your company, TapClicks, ties together analytics and marketing operations in one platform. Who are your typical customers and how do they use your product?

Our typical customers are media companies that are deploying both digital and traditional marketing as well as advertising solutions, agencies managing campaigns and providing services to multiple clients, and brands that are looking to unlock the power of analytics, reporting, order processing, and workflow within their organizations.

The TapClicks Marketing Operations Platform is an integrated solution that delivers value at every step in the media delivery life cycle, from presale through delivery and optimization to reporting and invoicing. We also offer TapAnalytics, TapReports, TapOrders, and TapWorkflow as part of the platform. The majority of our customers have chosen TapClicks as their partner because we offer incredible efficiencies and the ability for higher revenue and higher margins while enabling end-market differentiation.

Where do you see these sorts of user-friendly analytics applications heading in the near future?

With computing, we went from mainframe computers to the PC to laptops to smartphones. The trend has been to bring access, increased compute power, and advanced applications to the masses while making use simpler and expanding real-time, anywhere availability. We see the future of analytics and reporting following the same trend.

Delivering increased intelligence on top of the core analytics that organizations have already deployed is all about broadening and deepening insights. You do that by putting advanced capabilities in the palm of everyone's hand so that teams have tools to address any challenge and any situation from anywhere in the business.

About the Author

Linda L. Briggs is a contributing editor to Upside. She has covered the intersection of business and technology for over 20 years, including focuses on education, data and analytics, and small business. You can contact her at [email protected].

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