What Good Is Information If Nobody Sees It?
Geller and M. Reed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
also sells its software directly to Global 2000 companies, large e-businesses,
and the ASP market.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?