Friday, September 29, 2006

Changing someone's world

Yesterday I had an opportunity to explain to our Digital Marketing department (and project managers, and an engineer) about an alternative way to get some complicated statistics out of the relatively simple ODBC output of one of our web analytics tools, WebTrends 8. Actually the statistics are fairly simple - function-based quality measures for six categories of events. But the current process of getting them from multiple WT reports and profiles and into deliverable form is tedious.

So I explained what DataLinks can do (http://www.bidata.net). Or, rather, what we can do with DataLinks. This tool creates a refreshable conduit between an Excel workbook and WebTrends. Implementing requires configuring WebTrends, creating the conduit with DataLinks, then adding programmed layers to the Excel output, with the top layer being the deliverable sheet. It's too simple, really. And it's 'way overdue in the WebTrends-user world.

Within two hours of our meeting, two people - an engineer and a Digital Marketing person - separately told me that if I could do this it would "change their whole world" and I could "name my reward." They're pretty fed up with the tedious and lengthy and, frankly, broken MS Access process they are using now to process the output from WebTrends.

There are only two slightly out of the ordinary things here that are going to "change their world." One is that there's a person involved (me) who knows WebTrends AND Excel AND their measurement objectives. The other is the DataLinks tool, which we didn't have last year.

I'm not surprised that the above two things are going to make things easier. What I'm surprised about is that WebTrends (and its competitors) just don't get that this kind of front end (made possible in my case by the indispensable DataLinks tool) is the future of their products. WebTrends sorta knows it --- it has made a few attempts in the past to shift computational and data management responsibility to Excel via WebTrends tools like SmartReports and ol' Export. But there's been no visible, on-purpose progress from WebTrends since SmartReports a couple versions ago. Then a few months ago WebTrends accidentally opened a door with version 8 which had a 75% complete ODBC driver connecting to the reports (not to the databases). DataLinks has pushed that door open a lot wider. WebTrends still doesn't get it, though.

HBX may be ahead of WebTrends with their Report Builder tool. But from what I have seen, the tool is a little on the complicated side. DataLinks can be used in a very simpified way, which is what I'm doing now. I'm using my existing Excel knowledge to do the funky parts. And if I used the more advanced abilities of DL, DL also holds my hand for more complicated things --- dropdown menus, drag and drop stuff. I'm not a HBX Report Builder user but its interface seems to ask for a lot of knowledge (and a four-hour training session at the recent HBX conference). I may come back and retract this statement later ...

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