Thoughts from XChange EMEA 2012
07/06/2012 | Written by | Categories: Conference Review

Promotional image for XChange Berlin

I spent half of last week in Berlin with 100 other people in the web digital analytics world discussing various topics during sessions and later in a more social environment.  It was my first XChange conference and the first time that XChange had come to Europe.  My experiences to date with digital conferences had left me underwhelmed, so I was excited to try something different.

The format of XChange was very appealing and I had heard good things of the whole experience.  The huddles sounded closer in principle to the unconference / barcamp format which I typically get a lot more out of.  Plus it was an opportunity to meet up with numerous leading practitioners at one time, some of whom I had only met on twitter previously.

Overall, I was not disappointed.  It was great to listen to, talk to and learn from so many other people doing similar work to me, particularly with the number there who clearly knew what they were talking about.  The format left plenty of time for discussions outside of huddles which was great, I met numerous people that I look forward to catching up with at future events / chatting with on Twitter.  It wasn’t perfect and I wish I had attended a more diverse range of huddles but definitely recommend XChange to anyone.

Thoughts, Ideas and Take-aways

The following are my key take-aways from the event, whether it was something I learnt for the first time or had my thinking solidified on through discussions (huddles and informal):

  • Analysts MUST be able to communicate their ideas in order to have an impact on an organisation
    • To do this, they need to be able to speak the language of their audience (which could be directors, marketers, developers, etc)
    • Ideas are communicated more effectively through the use of stories
  • Work (changes, tests, investigations) needs to be prioritised based on business impact and I need to beg, borrow (but hopefully not steal) the templates/criteria for this from various people I met at XChange
  • The development and implementation of templates and processes within an organisation is vital for that company to accept a data informed culture
  • The previous behaviour (past and current visits) of website visitors should be used to inform and guide tests, surveys and website content
    • I intend to spend more time focusing on this in the future
  • The difference between reporting and analysis cannot be emphasised strongly enough
    • Both add value but they serve different purposes
    • Combining the two or mistaking one for the other leads to trouble
  • The definition of what constitutes a KPI appears fairly fluid amongst attendees
    • My current belief is that it is any metric where a change automatically triggers action
  • One interesting discussion was around the need for analysts to spend time justifying other work performed (calculating ROI on changes made, attributing sales to different marketing channels, etc), taking time away from working to improving business performance
  • A WebDigital Analytics Maturity Model will become increasing useful for me as the framework for identifying and communicating required changes within an organisation to take full advantage of the intelligence available data informed decision making
  • Another interesting discussion was the impact of the natural curiosity of good analysts on the companies they choose to work for
    • Does it lead them naturally to work for consultancies with a wider variety of projects than directly for organisations?
  • The EU cookie laws are actually online privacy and data protection laws
    • The discussion changes when you frame it in those terms
    • We can start thinking about using similar principles to the data privacy used for other company data (customer databases, sales data, etc)

Optimising Performance in Large vs Small Organisations

Most end users who attended XChange were from large to very large organisations and we all really appreciated the insights they provided.  But many of my clients are smaller companies.  So I tried to learn as much as possible about how to apply the ideas from the larger companies to my clients.  What I learnt was…

Similarities

  • Limited resources
  • Need to obtain management buy-in to programs
  • Difficulties with managing optimisation processes
  • Numerous competing priorities

Differences

  • Large companies have a requirement to calculate and prove ROI
  • Small companies are less likely to have dedicated resources or specific skill sets
  • Lead times are generally shorter for smaller companies with simpler sign-off processes
  • Large companies have more potential resources to throw at a program

So smaller companies have the ability to get things done faster but they struggle with the skills/knowledge/experience of how to do these “things”.  But most issues are common to all organisations.  Everyone working to optimise performance needs

  • more resources
  • better ways of streamlining processes
  • some understanding/appreciation from management of how they are going to change the world

Feedback on XChange

So my feedback to Semphonic on XChange (oops, I still need to complete the official survey).

Many huddles felt too large but that might be because I felt the size hindered the participation of all attendees.  Smaller groups would force everyone to contribute and I wanted to hear from more people.

I was fine with large numbers of consultants (as one myself) and vendors attending but only if they participate in discussions – everyone has experiences they can share and people can tell the difference between a sales pitch and a practical example.  At the same time, I do wish there was a much higher proportion of end users there.

I would also like more people to disagree with comments made, I find it forces people to really examine their own views, make their arguments stronger, if they need to defend them.  And in the process, we all learn more.  But I understand this can cause issues as well.

Final Points

My biggest regret was not pushing myself to approach Gary Angel and take the opportunity to pick his brains.  I find his blog posts provoke me to think and provide me with new ideas, speaking to him in person could only be more useful.  Must stop being so shy next time…

I could give more feedback but for every suggestion I make, I also want to make the counter suggestion – London/not London, more consultants/less consultants, more structure/less structure, disagree/be nice, etc.  It is fine balancing act to get the event to work and I think Semphonic, Matthias, Michael and anyone else involved did a great job.

Finally, my apologies to the non native English speakers for the speed at which I sometimes talk and my accent.  I enjoyed your perspectives during huddles and the rest of the event.

Oh, and look out for announcements soon of web analytics conferences to be held in London in September…

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