Biz Intelligence and Web Data Harvesting Merge

SAN MATEO (03/10/2000) - IT'S AN IMPORTANT fact of doing e-business in the 21st century that collecting customer data from the Web and understanding your customers are not one and the same.

This distinction was highlighted by the announcement this week that WebTrends, which produces software for collecting Web-traffic data, will integrate business intelligence vendor Hyperion's OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) engine into its offerings.

According to analysts, corporate decision makers can use the Web's new tools to collect customer data and interact with customers.

The challenge is for a company to tie that Web data into its existing information to create a unified view of each customer, fueling better business decisions.

"One of the key trends in this whole area is understanding all the different ways customers are touching your organization, which at a big company can mean dozens if not hundreds of places, and then consolidating that data into a panoramic view of the customer," said David Folger, senior program director at the Meta Group, in Pleasanton, Calif.

"The next step is getting that information to the marketing folks so they can understand it and make decisions."

At WebTrends, that process is referred to as Visitor Relationship Management (VRM), which calls for a variety of ingredients ranging from enterprise applications to personalization engines and marketing automation.

A VRM system should create a customer relationship that mirrors the experience customers can get in the real world, said Bill Piwonka, product line manager at WebTrends in Portland, Ore.

"It's like when you go to the Gap and their salesperson is watching everything you do, and at some point they swoop in and say, 'Hey, try this belt,' or, 'That would look great with this sweater,' " Piwonka said.

The advantage the Web provides is that you have your best salesperson with every customer, Piwonka said. Conversely, the expedient nature of Web browsing can add time pressures to customer interactions.

"The Web mode of interacting has added a real-time component, meaning decisions must be made much faster," Folger said. "That's changing some of the technologies and architectures even to the extreme where sites can adapt themselves based on user interactions."

That is, of course, if you have the proper infrastructure in place to provide a comprehensive view of that customer's behavior and the related intelligence that will allow you to act on that profile.

Soon, having such tools may be an imperative, not an option, as economic expectations and competitive pressures force companies to go beyond counting clicks to identifying their best customers and offering appropriate products to them in a timely fashion, with the right pricing and promotions, Piwonka said.

Meta's Folger agreed.

"It's no longer possible to simply throw money at a Web site and put up what you can; it's getting into the mode like every other business initiative where it has to make money to continue to be supported," Folger said.

WebTrends, in Portland, Ore., can be reached at www.webtrends.com.

Recipe for Visitor Relationship ManagementThis recipe calls for off-the-shelf ingredients and existing Web infrastructure.

* Web data warehouse

* Content management system

* Personalization engine

* Marketing automation solution

* Decision-support engine

* Consumer profiling system

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