Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Power of OLAP Reporting

With the announcement, today, of WebTrends new OLAP reporting solution (Visitor Intelligence) which adds reporting capability to the evolving suite of tools built on top of WebTrends warehouse architecture, I can finally talk about the power that is coming to the world of web analytics.

If you're not familiar with OLAP, or multi-dimensional reporting tools, the first page and a half of this article are worth a read. It's a good introduction to what's coming.

Essentially, OLAP tools, and WebTrends Visitor Intelligence is no exception, allow you to do deep, ad-hoc drilling and re-arranging of data, on the fly while maintaining the proper relationships and correlations between the dimensional data. While there are pre-configured reports, called Starting Points, in Visitor Intelligence that will meet the needs of "just give me the data" end-users, curious analysts will find themselves in a playground of possibilities.

Don't like like the order of the dimensions in the report you're looking at? Rearrange them, and the relationships stay in tact (just like in a pivot table). Don't like the measures that are in this report? Grab any available measure and drop it in the report. No longer are you confined to defining your report view, and being stuck with that. Nor are you working in a cumbersome environment where the relationships between data are not clearly represented and easily manipulated. The real power is that with OLAP reporting, all you need to know is which dimensions you want to report on, and which measures you want to report. From there, you can construct whatever report you want, on-the-fly, or you can set up starting points that are essentially pre-built reports. Also, the ability to create custom measures on-the-fly is absolutely awesome. No processing time, no analyzing. It's just there.

Here's a real-life example from a customer I've been working with to develop a robust reporting solution using Visitor Intelligence. This customer has a globally distributed and decentralized online business, which is organized roughly by regions of the world (each country is a division), brands operated by each division, and customer groups serviced on each site. Of particular importance to the customer is understanding how much of each division's business comes from a country other than where that division operates, and what services those "out-of-country" customers are consuming. This insight will help the business better understand who their customers are, and how to market to them.

In this case, the customer has tagged each of their web sites with a single, universal meta-data model that describes each and every web page in the world, and how it fits into the global organization. The model passes values for the region, country, and division, in addition to descriptive data about product lines and the divisional business units offering the product lines. The result is that we collect a rich set of data easily turned into dimensions in an OLAP environment. The icing on the cake is visit and visitor geo-location data built in to WebTrends that allows us to determine who is "out-of-country" in a particular visit, and who is not.

Upon launch the business will have both default report views tailored to their specific needs, and the flexibility build exactly the right views of the available data. User A, a global business manager who wants to see Unique Visitors by Country, Division, Brand, and Product can easily create that view. User B, a product manager, can build a view that shows Visits and Unique Visitors by Product and Brand. And User C, an analyst, can build a view showing Visitors, Visits, and Visits per Visitor for "out-of-country" visits only broken down by Division, then Country of Visitor, then Product usage broken down to Business Units offering that product.

I've never before worked with a web analytics tool that is this powerful, and opens up so many possibilities -- and I've worked at three different analytics vendors. It still comes down to business results, though, and what a full-featured OLAP solution brings to the table is the ability to easily explore and manipulate the data to discover the insight needed to make business improvements with measurable impact.