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Article : Analytics Software

Last year it was CRM. Before that it was monitoring. Before that it was workforce management. And now it's analytics software that no contact center can supposedly live without. The number of vendors offering such packages is rapidly increasing and the marketing noise level is growing louder. If you haven't yet been sold one you can rest assured that someone out there is viewing you as a prospect.

The nice thing about the current push is that it makes a lot of sense. With CRM systems becoming operational and data warehousing packages installed, companies are accumulating vast quantities of data. It's no use collecting all that data if you don't intend to use it for decision-making.

Analytics packages offer exactly that promise: they'll transform those mountains of data into information that will make your business more successful. But will they really do that? Maybe. As always, it's more complicated than it first appears.

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What Information Do We Really Need?
In a perfect world (which, unfortunately, we do not inhabit), the process would move in something like this order: Decide upon our corporate strategy; determine what information is needed to advance that strategy; review the potential sources of the data; and provide the mechanisms to gather data and create the information.

In the real world, we often proceed in pretty much the reverse order. We come to the data analysis and information creation stage having had little or no influence on the data elements being collected. So we take what we can get in the way of raw data and do our best with it. Needless to say, this severely limits the quantity and quality of the information we can produce. And no analytics package is going to help us out of this mess once we're in it.

So before we rush out to buy the analytics package, it makes sense to step back and ask what information we want to produce and whether we are now gathering data that can conceivably yield that information. Or, if we're not currently collecting the needed data, can we potentially do so? If we have a problem here, we need to solve it first.

What's Inside An Analytics Software Package?
The real answer to this question is: As much or as little as the vendor wants to put in it. And there are probably good reasons why the marketplace needs a fairly broad spectrum of capabilities in such a product.

At the "low" end of the product sophistication scale, analytics software is little more than a fairly nifty reports package. It slices and dices the data in a variety of directions, allowing a convenient glimpse into what's going on with the contact center and its customers. Segmentation is a popular feature – dividing customers in such a way that individuals or subgroups can be offered goods or services that will appeal distinctly to them.

The information obtainable in such packages may be constrained in a couple of ways. First, there may be limitations on exactly how the data can be manipulated, which isn't necessarily a problem if your needs are relatively simple. Second, the tools available to actually perform the data manipulation may be cumbersome, at least for a non-computer whiz. More on this second issue later.

At the "high" end, it's pretty much no holds barred. You can set up the software to perform just about any analysis you can imagine. Here again, though, there are some limitations. For one, your imagination may outstrip your ability to manipulate the software. This is one of the big lessons that we should have learned from workforce management software – it is easy to produce features that are truly wondrous but are so difficult to use that only a tiny fraction of purchasers ever can use them. So, if you're smart enough to be a rocket scientist or, smarter still, to be an employer of rocket scientists, go ahead and shop at the high end.

The other big variable among packages is how information is displayed. Some packages offer periodic reports while others offer real-time displays. All have the ability to churn out more information than anyone can reasonably expect to absorb, but there seems to be a basic law of corporate physics that guarantees exponential growth of information. You can take a big step towards maintaining your sanity by striving to limit the amount of information you have to contend with each day. More is not necessarily better.

But Who Is Going To Figure Out What Information We Need?
We're back to one of the real questions. And it's a difficult one to answer. We're facing the issue of what is the company's strategy and what information is needed to optimally pursue that strategy. No off-the-shelf package is going to answer those questions.

What this means is that buying a high-end analytics package and hiring that rocket scientist will only get you just so far. Someone -- be it you, the rocket scientist, the CEO, a consultant – will need to formulate an information strategy. This means designing a process that bridges the gap between the vast quantities of available data and the company's information needs. A tall order indeed. If you're thinking about doing any reasonably sophisticated analysis, you need a reasonably sophisticated analyst.

Be realistic. If you don't have roughly the equivalent of an MBA and a degree in statistics along with a pretty good notion of where the business is headed, you could be getting in way over your head at this stage. If you are going to be the user and you're not yet in the "sophisticated analyst" category, it's more important to buy a relatively simple tool that you will feel comfortable using than a more complicated one whose intricacies you may never conquer.

But first, get the big picture right. That mountain of data that you've been building can be seductive, almost demanding to be exploited before you've devised a real information strategy. Don't get the cart before the horse. Figure out what you need and what you can manage (and what you can afford) before you start worrying about what package to buy. If your ambitions (and your budget) will support it, you'll probably want to get the analyst before you get the package. It may postpone slightly the point at which you'll see results, but the results you get should be several notches more impressive.

The Bottom Line
Reporting and analyzing are not the same thing. The term "analysis" covers a wide range of possibilities when employed by an imaginative marketer. As with any software product, it pays to exercise a fair degree of diligence in discovering exactly what it's capable of doing and what it's not capable of doing.

There are a lot of analytics software packages being offered. Optimally choosing one and getting it implemented depends on the answer to three big questions: (1) Do we understand our corporate strategy and what information needs are essential to pursuing that strategy? (2) Have we created a data acquisition process that provides the raw materials for information development? (3) Will we have a good fit between the software itself and the individuals who will be using it?

Our experience is that the expertise issue is the biggest hurdle for most companies. It's easy to underestimate the difficulty of implementing and using an analytics package. And it's embarrassing to be unable to fully utilize a package that's cost your company a small fortune.

About Carrefour:
Company LogoCarrefour Research is a consulting and software development firm founded in 2000 to provide products and services related to call center workforce management and call routing. We have a rich store of experience in call center optimization and a reputation for outstanding service.
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Published: Thursday, December 19, 2002

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