The Development of Analytics

  |  May 11, 2009   |  Comments

Analytics and development are the peanut butter and jelly of an agency -- the two ingredients that go together to make a scrumptious digital sandwich.

Analytics and development are the peanut butter and jelly of our agency -- the two ingredients that go together to make a scrumptious digital sandwich. In my last few column, I've interviewed different team leaders in our company to provide a glimpse into how their disciplines interact with analytics. This week is no different, except that in focusing on development we're getting to the heart of the matter.

Two of our primary sandwich makers are chief technology officer Adam Wolf and senior analytics manager Dmitria Burby. Wolf manages the dev and quality assurance (QA) teams and oversees the implementation of analytics tagging in software code. Burby manages the strategic development of analytics tagging, which is critical to how we evaluate a site's performance. Because tagging exists at the code level, the two disciplines must interact fluidly to ensure site strategies are accurately deployed.

Shane Atchison: Besides the occasional foosball match on the fourth floor, when and how do developers and analysts work together?

Adam Wolf: The interaction typically starts as touch points early in a project cycle to make sure the scope of the analytics requirements are understood, so the development team can plan accordingly. Later in the project, as the shape and details manifest into something more concrete, the interaction is more tightly coupled. Often an analyst will sit with a developer to make sure the implementation of the tagging strategy is properly implemented.

SA: I love seeing that.

AW: Yeah, it's pretty special. This close interaction is paramount, as the data we collect often informs the rest of the project team about trends and behaviors. Miscommunication on the implementation of the analytics strategy can be a major setback in code deployment.

SA: From the analytics side, what is it like to work with developers?

Dmitria Burby: It's great. Development allows for analytics data to exist, so of course we're always eager to work with them! And it's really nice to work with developers who truly understand the importance of collecting data based on business goals. They are able to think beyond the specific technical requests and ask key questions based on technical limitations to get the best end result for the client.

SA: So what are the specific areas of collaboration?

DB: There are several points where developers and analysts get together during a project: when dev is working on a content management system (CMS); when analytics develops the tagging specification; throughout the entire implementation process (to ensure all information is collected and that it is done within reasonable technical constraints); and also during the QA of tags.

AW: Yeah, the QA step is really important. The implementation has to be checked for accuracy with regards to data collection. Again, it is not uncommon for an analyst to provide extensive support to QA to make sure it the implementation has been done accurately.

SA: Besides tagging, in what ways do analytics data affect the development of a site?

AW: Data drives decisions made by the UX [user experience] and creative teams (how the site will look and function), which in turn determines how we develop a site. Typically the dev team won't be engaged in a hands-on way until those decisions are made. Of course, the dev team has some intrinsic knowledge of the functionalities and limitations of the experience, so our input into the process is of great value to the project team during the entire life of a project.

DB: Analytics typically changes the course of a project before the point of dev/implementation. However, considerations are made along the way in regards to development.

SA: The hands-on dev often occurs toward the end of a project, not at the beginning. Does this ever create a disconnect between dev and analytics?

AW: Our methodology is set up to handle this. We always make sure our lead developer is engaged in the process from the start. Early interaction with the senior analytics manager helps us succeed later on, as well as properly scope the project's budget. The site structure has to support the analytics strategy, otherwise we end up trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

SA: Our agency is about the intersection of creative and logic. That seems like a good way to describe development: creative and logic. Do you agree?

AW: Yes. For the agency as a whole, the premise is that the user experience and design of the site are informed through data, hence creating logical decisions. However, the dev team's notion of creativity and logic is a little different; it's more about problem solving. The team's creativity stems from a unique approach to finding solutions. When you talk about logic in software, there is a key area where analytics and dev meet; the more rules there are (logic) in an application, the more exceptions to the rules there could be, specifically where human behavior is concerned. Analytics helps us understand human behavior and optimize the site or application we're developing.

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Shane Atchison

In 1998, Shane co-founded ZAAZ to advocate a different approach to Web services — one that respects and delivers on the power of the individual and the promise of Web technologies. As CEO, Shane leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, non-profits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its meaningful impact on their business.

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