In the Sea of Analysis Tools, a Lifeboat?

  |  October 8, 2002   |  Comments

It's the perennial question: What reporting and analysis systems should I use?

I often get email from readers asking whether I have experience with or advice about any of the reporting tools that are available, and whether I can recommend one. And after 15 years, the answer is still no.

Some of you are struggling with log file data. Others have mastered the art of log file analysis but can't get reliable financial results. Or maybe you are having trouble sifting through mounds of email response data. The common thread is we all seem to be unhappy with the reporting tools we have (or don't have) at our disposal. Clearly we're all looking for better ways to evaluate our businesses, whether it's from a high-level financial perspective or down at the individual email level. And many of you are willing to spend money to do it, if you could only find the right tool.

We use the term "reporting tool" to cover numerous steps in the analysis process. Chances are you're actually using many tools, not just one. There's data collection, data cleansing and preparation, analysis (of many types of data at many levels of detail), modeling, forecasting.... And then, of course, there's financial or billing data, marketing data, customer profile data, customer behavioral information, online versus offline data... you get the picture. Some tools require a lot of setup and a big financial investment, others are quick, dirty, and seemingly free.

In my earliest days as an analyst, a billing programmer sent me a monthly text file that contained a copy of every customer invoice. It was the only information available to me -- financial, marketing, or otherwise. I used Lotus 1-2-3 macros to parse the text file into a monthly spreadsheet and more macros to compare data across months. Everything was done manually, with much sorting, sifting, and sighing involved.

Fast-forward to 2000. I had a lot more data and many more tools but longed for the simplicity of my Lotus 123 days. I had log file data that I used WebTrends to access, with varying degrees of success. An unfinished data warehouse captured email marketing and transactional data but could be accessed only by making special requests to the IT department. I had an Access database of customer invoice and financial data. Transaction tables in an Oracle database could be accessed using reporting software called Brio. Daily summary reports were calculated overnight and posted to an intranet. And, last but not least, I had dueling NetRatings and Media Metrix accounts, which were simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

So much data, so many tools, so little time. And so many departments involved in simply making the data available and keeping the various reporting tools operational!

I was happiest writing my own SQL code and pulling data myself because of the freedom it gave me. But it was time consuming and eventually inefficient as the size of the database grew. And I got really tired of arguing with database administrators about what data I could have access to.

And now in 2002, I'm asked for recommendations and feedback on the many tools out there. There are so many reporting tools in place in businesses today (predominantly homegrown) that wherever I go, I rarely encounter the same one twice.

So, I decided to turn this issue over to the readers. What tools do you use to access, manipulate, and interpret your data, so that it is useful for understanding your business and making decisions? I'd like to know. And I think our readers would, too, if my inbox is any indication (once I skip all the emails about how to earn a paycheck using my computer).

I want to hear from people who use the tools, not those who sell the tools. What has (or hasn't) worked for you? What are the pros and cons of the tools at your disposal? Winners and losers? Bargain workhorses and expensive mistakes? We want to know.

Let me know what tools you've tried and what kind of results you've achieved.

ClickZ Live Toronto Twitter Canada MD Kirstine Stewart to Keynote Toronto
ClickZ Live Toronto (May 14-16) is a new event addressing the rapidly changing landscape that digital marketers face. The agenda focuses on customer engagement and attaining maximum ROI through online marketing efforts across paid, owned & earned media. Register now and save!


Melaney Smith

Melaney Smith is a freelance marketer with more than ten years of experience in marketing, finance, and data mining. She evangelizes the need for businesses to mine their data and make it easily accessible for decision makers. She specializes in helping businesses utilize customer, transaction, and other data to improve or create sales and marketing programs.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Analytics newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

ion Interactive Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper

Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper
Marketing apps can elevate a formulaic landing page into a highly interactive user experience. Learn how to turn your static content into exciting marketing apps.

eMarketer: Redefining Mobile-Only Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop

Redefining 'Mobile-Only' Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop
A new breed of selective mobile-only consumers has emerged. What are the demos of these users and how and where can marketers reach them?


    • Contact Center Professional
      Contact Center Professional (TCC: The Contact Center) - Hunt ValleyLooking to join a workforce that prides themselves on being routine and keeping...
    • Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador
      Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreAgora,, continues to expand! In order to meet the needs of our...
    • Design and Publishing Specialist
      Design and Publishing Specialist (Bonner and Partners) - BaltimoreIf you’re a hungry self-starter, creative, organized and have an extreme...