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What Good Is Information If Nobody Sees It?

Written By: D. Geller
Published On: June 16 2000

What Good Is Information If Nobody Sees It?
D. Geller and M. Reed - June 16, 2000

Event Summary

Smith-Gardner builds and sells software products that pull together data from all of a company's operational data channels. They recently announced a suite of products, collectively called Ecometry, which help online retailers collect and manage a wide range of customer and transaction data. The goal is to provide a single view of the customer data. Ecometry is XML-based and uses client-side (i.e., browser based) Java in its user interface.

There is, however, more to a business than its operational data. Useful historical data can be found in databases spread across the operation. For example, to examine the relationship between customer spending habits and the size of pictures of items that were looked at but not purchased pulls together transactions, clickstream data, and web content management data as well as historical customer data.

Enter nQuire Software, Inc., a maker of software that provides a powerful view into the vast amounts of data available throughout the enterprise. nQuire specializes in making data from diverse sources accessible in a uniform and efficient manner by end users and programs. In particular, when given a query that spans data marts and data warehouses their patent-pending processes develop optimized queries that minimize the amount of data that ultimately gets moved.

Reduction of data movement, a huge cost factor in data warehouse systems, and the ability to work with data in non-normalized and legacy schemas are some of the features that they suggest distinguish them from competitors. Another is thin-client delivery. That is, their system requires no Java or plug-ins on the browser, making it easy to share data within the enterprise and also with partners, suppliers and even customers.

The most powerful aspect of nQuire's offering is its real time analytic capabilities. Marketing personnel without technical training can easily develop tables and graphs that show up-to-the-minute relationships among a diverse collection of data. For example, a user can, with a few clicks on pull-down lists, develop a chart showing, for the day's top selling items, a breakdown by quarter of the ratio between first-time buyers and repeat buyers. Clicking on a quarter would automatically expand to show the breakdown by months within the quarter. If it seemed interesting the marketer could fold additional data about the products, the customers, the website or retail stores, or just about anything else, into the picture just as easily.

Smith-Gardner and nQuire have entered into a strategic partnership to integrate Ecometry and the nQuire Server Suite. The result will be an intranet-based solution called the Ecometry Knowledge Center that integrates real-time and historical data from across the enterprise through a combination of pre-built reports and flexible tools. The product is sold as a seamless addition to Ecometry. It will allow non-technical end-users to develop their own custom views of data from many sources, including the current data from the Internet. It will come with a number of pre-built analytic tools targeted for various business models and corporate needs.

nQuire also sells its software directly to Global 2000 companies, large e-businesses, and the ASP market.

Market Impact

Although companies like Smith-Gardner, Informix (see A Visionary of Loveliness), Informatica (see Informatica Morphs into Enterprise Decision Support Vendor) and SAS (see SAS Puts the "E" in "Data") and many others are developing tools to capture, analyze and report on e-commerce data, we think that there's a long way to go before integrated commerce information can be widely and productively used. The industry is just beginning to enter the second phase of data utilization.

The first phase, which will never be totally complete, involves recognizing that there is data to collect and beginning to collect it. In the second phase tools for slicing and dicing the data and distributing it throughout the company begin to appear. In this phase the industry is still discovering what is of interest within the data. In the third phase users will see not raw or aggregated data but higher-level tactical (and ultimately strategic) conclusions culled from the data. Reaching this point will require accumulating years of research and experience, as well as new technologies for modeling business processes.

The partnership between Smith-Gardner and nQuire is a necessary and productive step towards a more mature Phase 2 capability. Without some way to distribute data to corporate analysts and decision makers, much of the value of the data will be lost. Making data available through a piece of software or intranet application generally does not accomplish that distribution, because analysts are frequently unaware of the kinds of data that may be collected by other divisions and how to best integrate those data with their more familiar sources of information. Putting up a link and a software manual, or even sending out an e-mail memo, does not go very far toward getting information distributed. We believe that a tool like this is a necessary (and useful) step for companies that want to mine the wealth of information they are collecting.

User Recommendations

This is a slick product. Its ability to show views of current data and their relationship to historical data can be very powerful tools for marketers who need to monitor and respond to trends as they develop. Not everyone has such a need, but there are certainly some sites that can respond to real-time information by adjusting their campaigns. They will definitely want to consider this product.

A product like this raises a larger question. Whether you need to modify your marketing campaigns in minutes, as this product allows you to do, or with longer lag times, a product like this seems to be a necessity for almost every retail operation - and not necessarily only those that have an Internet component. The ability to view data in different ways - often in ways that are suggested by other views and which therefore can't be pre-packaged - probably needs to permeate across the corporation. Executives and production specialists as well as marketers need to see data on their terms, not as spreadsheets or columns of figures.

Ecometry Knowledge Center and a few similar products represent a future in which decisions will be increasingly made in Internet time, even within bricks-and-mortar businesses. Can you afford not to be prepared to make the kind of investment and change that will bring actionable data across the enterprise? How much will you lose in terms of differentiation, responsiveness and channel integration if this information is not made readily available? The leverage of information will be the keystone to retail success in this decade. Why isn't your organization willing to invest the resources and drive the changes that will put you ahead of the pack?

 
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