The Web has become a critical online artery for many enterprise business activities, but the analytics applied to Web-based computing have not kept pace with the real world, multichannel environment of most companies.
To catch up, Web analytics vendors are moving beyond providing Web server log files and are looking to incorporate Web site activity and customer-related data. They are not alone in this pursuit.
Traditional BI (business intelligence) players are also expanding the reach of their products, enabling users to analyze more data sources and gain more complete insight into their operations.
Whether it's the old-guard BI guys or the new breed of Web analyzers, the vendors agree that the ultimate goal is to provide users with a wider reach of sources to analyze. Users want this broader sweep because they no longer want to sort through the analytical results from each business unit, say industry experts.
"There is clearly a need to understand more about what's happening in a company's delivery channel, and the Web is now an important delivery channel," says Chris George, a consultant at the New York-based iAnalytics division of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Customers with Web analytics programs already installed can use the latest software to build out from there and incorporate more data sources to analyze.
One of Fremont, Calif.-based Accrue Software Inc.'s customers that has used the software for more than two years to track how changes to the Web site affect visitor navigation, said that looking at the offline data accumulated about a given customer helps his company glean more from that customer's habits than just reviewing Web server logs.
To that end, earlier this month Web analytics vendor WebTrends Corp., acquired by San Jose, Calif.-based NetIQ Corp. this spring, announced WebTrends Reporting Center, a reporting tool, and hinted at a forthcoming new line of VRM (visitor relationship management) products.
In conjunction with two add-ons -- one for collecting and aggregating data, the other for connecting to BroadVision Inc., Vignette Corp., and Macromedia Inc. programs -- WebTrends Reporting Center expands the analytic capabilities beyond Web logs, says Colleen Carey, WebTrends' director of product management.
Also this month, Accrue Software shook hands with IBM Corp., in Armonk, N.Y., closing a deal that will pave the way for Accrue's software to work with Big Blue's DB2 relational database, thereby extending Accrue's reach to a broader range of data sources.
NetGenesis Corp. as well announced Version 5.5 of its platform, which hooks into additional new data sources to offer a more comprehensive picture of customer behavior.
Ann Estabrook, Cambridge, Mass.-based NetGenesis' vice president of corporate strategy and marketing, says that NetGenesis' goal is to help customers bring their Web site analytics into their mainstream operations and look at multiple touch points, so that Web data is not a relegated to a lone silo of information.
All three vendors are working toward a more integrated approach, where a company can track not just online and offline buying activity, but all the interactions with a specific customer, such as calls to customer service.
As the pure-play vendors reinvent themselves and fall into the best-of-breed category, most BI and database vendors have less mature Web log capabilities, says Doug Laney, an analyst at Meta Group, in Stamford, Conn. "There is more intelligence built into the software by the Web analytics vendors, particularly when it comes to Web farms and IP address resolution," Laney says.
That greater intelligence has come in handy at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), a high-energy physics lab operated at Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy. The center, which lays claim to having the first U.S. Web server, in December of 1991, runs NetGenesis software against roughly 200,000 Web pages, says Ruth McDunn, Web information manager at SLAC.
McDunn said she considers the results of analysis when designing the sites, which include data from a variety of systems including Windows NT, Unix, and legacy VAX/VMS minicomputers, so they are easier for visitors to navigate. "We have a very large mess of systems," she says. "One of my jobs is to figure out what resources we have and how to use them most efficiently."
Another part of her job is to run reports for a variety of other departments within the university; a task that given the vastness of Stanford's Web sites would be practically impossible without an analytical tool. "Using analysis software helped us get rid of the crud and got our logs into one place for better analysis," she adds. SLAC is expanding what it analyzes as the NetGenesis product grows, and is experimenting with running analyses of FTP and streaming media logs.
Whatever experiments users undertake with Web analytics, they clearly will need to incorporate Web analysis into overall operations, Meta's Laney says. "It's a multichannel world and anyone analyzing data within a single channel only is dead meat," he says.