The end of HBX is not quite nigh

It’s all been happening recently. Well, if you live in the world of Analytics like we do then it has all been happening. Firstly there was news that Omniture and Visual Sciences have merged (more of that later), then suddenly the whole of the WebTrends board mysteriously stood down (more of that later as well). Now suddenly whilst we are contemplating the number of tools going down by one, Microsoft have made it go back up again with Project Gatineau. Wow, nothing happens in the field for months and then three come along at once (I won’t go on about London buses).

Well lets start with Visual Sciences and Omniture, because that was quite big, wasn’t it? Well $396m good if you believe the statistics (and I know we can do anything with statistics in this industry). But what does the outcome mean firstly for the web analytics industry and then for those VS and Omniture customers?

Well for the industry as a whole we have been talking for ages about consolidation so this whole thing shouldn’t come as a surprise. Are there too many different tools in the industry? Well yes (from a personal point of view), because every time I start working for a new company I have to work out how it works, why it is different, how it is implemented, how the interface works, which segments work best, etc. If it takes me ages to work out how to do it, imagine how long it takes someone who isn’t a Web Analyst to work it out if they move companies? Then think about what happens when some smart arsed Web Analyst comes along and tells them to change – you need a whole team of Web Analysts to tell them how to use it. Now we have a bunch of reluctant users even more reluctant to use the web analytics tools.

So consolidation is good for the industry. Although obviously not too much consolidation because if you don’t have competition then product development goes down the pan, as does support, etc. But this whole deal may not be the best thing for the customers of the aforementioned companies. Lets start with Omniture customers – everyone is assuming that they won’t generally be affected. So our SiteCatalyst friends will still get to use SiteCatalyst and their support will still be the same phone number (is that how it still all happens?). Assuming that their support centre’s number is clogged with HBX users who have migrated.

So these HBX users (and there may be more of them since VS is going to continue selling it until the deal goes through). What are their options? Well they could hang on for as long as possible in HBX if they weren’t thinking of changing their system. They’ll probably discover that as clients slowly move off HBX onto other tools (possibly SiteCatalyst if they give a good deal to ex HBX people), HBX stops moving forward product wise and support slows down and eventually there aren’t enough left for Omniture to continue support of the data centres and it gets closed down giving you no option. The trouble is that there are so many of these HBX users that this could take well up to three or four years to happen. The advantage of HBX had always been that it was relatively easy to use for the average users (this is why so many media companies use it).

So now we have to worry about the thing we were just talking about – moving to a new system and training your users how to use it. Do you go for SiteCatalyst which is a bit more complicated but more malleable for the Web Analyst? Do you go for WebTrends which is a little less malleable, but they reckon it is a viable alternative to HBX. Or hey – what if you are using the Visual Site upgrade on HBX? This uses HBX tags, but transports the data into a different data centre, what will they do with that. Maybe this is why they are taking 6 months to finalise the deal so that they can think about it.

Now the main challenge of changing tools is not the training of the new users (including yourself). Implementation is something so challenging that entire analytics consultants have made a living from it (and if they haven’t they could do). More to the point if you do it wrong, not only do you have a bad solution, half the time you are missing data for a period of time whilst you’ve taken the old solution off and started on the new one. I’ve also been through enough implementations to know that you’ll forget about something at some point that you’ll have to go back and do later, so this is an ongoing job. Keeping your HBX tags for as long as possible is suddenly sounding more appealing.

Well we’ve mentioned that WebTrends was a viable alternative. Everyone at some point in their life has used WebTrends. There is something that is quite satisfying about arriving at a new company and discovering that at some point in their past they have used it and nobody liked it. that’s a bit OTT – the reason that it generally gets bad press is that you don’t have a FTE to look after it and tell you what it means. However what is going to happen now that they have a new board and why did they do it? Is it because they want to have a fire sale now that they’ve lost out to VS in the sale? Is it because they want to change their direction given a slipping market share? Do we think that they were trying to get sold and the board didn’t manage it, so they’ve paid the price? I think this one might come out in the wash over the next couple of weeks.

As for Project Gatineau (can we please come up with a better name for this? It’s going to annoy the hell out of me because only the French will actually be able to pronounce it properly). This could be the dawn of a whole new level of Analytics. Demographic information in your WA tool? Conversion by age and sex? Acquisition sources by age and sex? Telling your boss that you’re missing Mosaic Group E and you need to focus on increasing your traffic from this high spending group could suddenly become very powerful.

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