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Here’s why you should refuse requests for reports!


One of my favorite web analytics bloggers, Avinash Kaushik at Occam’s Razor had a great post recently – Rebel! Refuse Report Requests. Only Answer Business Questions, FTW. In this post he argues that web analytics professionals should refuse requests for reports like

  • How much traffic is coming to our website?
  • I want a conversion rate
  • I want a path analysis for our visitors
  • I want to the list of top exit pages on our website

And instead expect and desire to be asked business questions. These, he says, are open-ended and at a much higher level. As a result they require you to go outside your current systems and sources to look for data and to measure success and rarely include columns and rows your recognize immediately. He makes his case eloquently as always and is completely correct about this. He goes on to give some nice examples of business questions that he thinks are more interesting, more valuable and more appropriate.

I would go further however and say that even if your reports and analysis answer business questions, you may still not be adding value. Answering the kinds of questions that Avinash asks will deliver business insight, no question. But, as many others have said, you need actionable insight not just insight. And, furthermore, you need to actually ACT on this insight!

So even when you get someone to the point of asking business questions you should keep pushing – find the decisions they plan to make based on the insight. If they can’t tell you, or if they aren’t the person who makes the decisions that act on your insight then you aren’t going to add value to the company at the end of the day. Your company must be able to act on your insight, to make decisions using it, for it to add value.

For instance, using some of the questions Avinash uses in his examples, here are some sample decisions:

  • How can I improve revenue by 15 percent in the next three months from our website?
    • What offers should I make to which visitors to boost revenue?
    • What content could I display to which visitors to interest them in additional products
  • What are the most influential buckets of content on our website?
    • What content should I display to which visitor to maximize conversion?
  • Do fully featured trials or Flash demos work better on the website?
    • Which visitors should get demos and which should get trials?
  • What is the effect of our website on our offline sales?
    • What cross-sell offer should I make to minimize cannibalization?

Of course this also requires you to begin with the decision in mind – something I feel sure Avinash would say too. Don’t start with your web analytics data and see what you can learn, determine what you need to know to make better decisions and work backwards. Yes this will likely include your web analytics data but it will also include customer data, orders and shipments, social media data perhaps and much more.

All this advice applies to BI practitioners too – not just web analytics folks. Don’t allow a request for a report to stand unchallenged, figure out what decisions are being made and business questions asked.

I am giving a webinar on Decision analytics – more than BI and web analytics, on November 11 at 10am Pacific around this topic. This webinar will show you the range of meanings of analytics, contrast some of the common meanings and show how Decision Management and a focus on operational decisions can focus your analytic efforts for maximum value.


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