With great power comes great complexity
13/10/2012 | Written by | Categories: Analytics Philosophy

With great power, comes great responsibility

Digital Analytics vendors are constantly releasing new features, enhancing their tools, making them more powerful for end users.  Google Analytics alone has released Shortcuts, Real-Time, Multi-Channel Funnels, Experiments and Visitor Flow reports in the past year (or so).  Upgrading to SiteCatalyst v15 gives you access to a whole swath of improved features (not forgetting Processing Rules).  And apparently WebTrends is bringing the future to the present.

Tweet from Eric PetersonThis is a positive of course, the more features a digital analytics tool has, the more a good analyst can do with it.  And it is not just features but the level of customisation available with that tool, especially the number of custom variables that can be used.

A more powerful tool gives the analyst more power.  But, with great power comes great complexity.

One of the biggest barriers to the use of web analytics within an organisation (potentially the biggest) is not that there is not enough data but that there is too much data.  There are so many reports and features within web analytics tools now that using them is overwhelming for people who are not experienced analysts.  Most users don’t need that additional power, it just makes the tool more complex/overwhelming/scary.  And therefore less likely to be used/add value to an organisation.

Even for consultants who are experienced with a particular tool, they need to be working with that client the majority of the time.  Otherwise they will be constantly relearning the particular set-up, the combination of custom variables, reports and configuration.  Again, the end result is the tool is adding less value to an organisation due to the additional power, not more.

So what is the solution?

We want more powerful options but we also want simplicity of use.  What is more important/useful – a powerful tool or a tool that can be used throughout an organisation.  Is it possible to have both at the same time?

One option is to use two tools as suggested by Eric Peterson 2.5 years ago in his post on the Coming Bifurcation in Web Analytics Tools.  The basic idea here was that organisations would use two web analytics tools.  One would be a very powerful data warehousing tool for the top analysts who want to query anything for the hard questions and big investigations.  The other is a simpler tool for everyone to use on a day to day basis.

I would like a solution where both options are available within a single digital analytics tool.  For many users, a dashboard is sufficient to meet their business intelligence needs.  Particularly where it includes a level of segmentation and there are multiple dashboards covering different business questions and levels of detail.  Then if these users drill down and identify a point of interest, they pass on the details to the web analyst with access to the full tool who investigates further.

So a digital analytics tool that can be simplified for the majority of users, to just dashboards or a greatly reduced set of reports and features, would suddenly become incredibly more useful.  The complexity would be removed for these users.  This will reduce the power of the tool but increase the value of it.

I know that in SiteCatalyst v14, you could customise the menu to a limited degree.  I have not yet used SiteCatalyst v15 so this customisation feature may have been enhanced.  Potentially one of the other tools offers this feature, in which case I am impressed.

But what I am visualising is multiple user levels within the configuration of the digital analytics tool.  Not unlimited, just three or four levels.  At the top (or is that bottom) level, there is full access to all reports and features.  At the other end, the users will only have access to dashboards or a limited set of say three reports (trended KPIs, Traffic Sources and Pages reports) and minimal features e.g. cannot create their own segments.

There can be levels in between where users get access to say 20% of reports and limited other features.  Or access to all of a particular set of reports e.g. marketing reports or visitor flow / navigation reports.  Users get access to the information they need and no more.  They are not overwhelmed by choice and functionality, instead can focus on using the data available to them to inform their business decisions leading to improved business performance.

I admit to loving using the line – with great power comes great complexity.  I generally find an excuse to do so in every presentation or training course that I run.  But there is a purpose beyond getting a laugh and it is to define what makes digital analytics tools valuable.  It is not the power of them, nor the complexity, it is the impact they have on an organisation’s performance.

2 responses to “With great power comes great complexity”

  1. Rachael says:

    I definitely agree with you that people should have access to only the reports and dashboards that are relevant to them.

    In a previous role we used Coremetrics and took great care to customise users’ access so that they didn’t get overwhelmed by all the options available.

    I think that you can do the same in SC as well by setting up user groups with different permissions. However, we don’t utilise this where I am currently so I don’t know much about it.

    You can also customise the menus in SC15 to relabel and move variables around so that they naturally fit together. While we’ve done this I actually would advise against it as there seem to be a few bugs with things disappearing from menus and the only way it seems to be able to reinstate them is to return to the default menu, thus negating all the effort that’s been put into customising them in the first place!

    • Peter O'Neill says:

      Thanks for your comment Rachel and great to have your agreement on this. Hopefully vendors will start to add in this functionality.

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