Good business intelligence software is designed from the top down. It answers the question: "What do we need to know?" instead of "What can you tell us?" The main problem with most business intelligence software is that it provides too much information to executives, who are frequently confused rather than enlightened by the reports.
Business Intelligence Via ASP
MuchoInfo has clearly built its business intelligence solution from the top down, asking what marketing executives need to know before generating any reports. Offered as an ASP, ThinkStream 2.0 is available for Internet content sites, Internet merchants, wireless activity, digital/interactive TV activity, companies running the major CRM packages, and even for traditional direct marketers.
One need only look at the kind of intelligence provided in the reports that ThinkStream generates to see that this is definitely a best-of-breed solution. Reports available include purchase intent by income, visitor demographics, and brand awareness, to name a few.
A Well-kept Secret
MuchoInfo has been around for over four years, but was completely unknown to me until I heard from Nick Weiser, their vice president of business development. Why was it, I asked, that I had never seen an ad for them on any of the many e-business sites I visit? "We don't do any online advertising. Our strategy is to grow through partnerships. For example, we have a partnership with Belden Associates, which provides media measurement for newspapers."
Their lack of advertising may mean that MuchoInfo is not on any short list of business intelligence solutions you're considering, along with E.piphany, Coremetrics, Keylime, and WebTrends. It should be.
These impressive and actionable reports are available in close to real time - there's a four to seven minute delay on access to reports - from the MuchoInfo servers on a 24/7 basis. MuchoInfo relies on two different methods for collecting the data it needs: clickstream analysis and user surveys.
Clickstream analysis is the term for keeping track of where a visitor to a site clicks, how long the visitor stays on a page, how long a visit lasts, where the visitor comes from, and where he goes once he's left your site. All commercial Web servers provide some level of clickstream data in their server log files. Most commercial solutions don't use the log files, though, since so much information that is of questionable value is collected in such an inefficient way. In most server log files, every click records the same information, which is 90% redundant after the first click by a visitor. For example, why record the browser version again every time the visitor visits another page?
One big problem with Web site intelligence, particularly with Web server logs, is that they can't distinguish between human traffic and bots and spiders, which can represent up to a third of your traffic. MuchoInfo is able to distinguish between customer data and spiders and bots by running software that spiders and bots can't digest. Spiders and bots ignore the ThinkStream code, and ThinkStream ignores them.
More sophisticated business intelligence solutions can track mouse movements on a page while the visitor is browsing, so you can see whether a visitor actually scrolled to the bottom of the page, whether the visitor engaged in an interactive game or banner, and whether a visitor scrolled through text in a text box or frame. This kind of information can be incredibly useful if you know in advance what questions you want answered. It can also be useful if you want to make a unique offer to visitors who demonstrate some interest in a particular product or promotion.
Getting from Data to Intelligence
On the continuum from data to intelligence (see WebTrends Delivers Web Site Intelligence), a lot of data usually has to be discarded. Most business intelligence solutions collect an incredible volume of data knowing that they can filter out the valuable stuff later. They also let you design your own reports using any of the many values they've collected. MuchoInfo doesn't take that approach at all.
"We built a system that allows us to capture and obtain insight much more quickly using much less data. We capture a small piece of data continuously over time. It allows us to provide deep insight with very little data. We collect only a small amount of very accurate information," explains Mr. Weiser.
In fact, once you've implemented ThinkStream, you can turn your server log files off, which will likely speed up your servers.
Does Anyone Still Do Online Surveys?
The second component to the intelligence that MuchoInfo provides is the result of strategically querying only a small percentage of visitors about their purchase intent and other factors. "Our predictive model based on statistics allows us to query typically as few as .2% of visitors [or two out of 1,000]. We observe a lot of people, then query very few. The combination of observation and query gives better than 95% accuracy, without being intrusive."
ASP = Quick Implementation
By taking advantage of an ASP model, MuchoInfo is able to implement their solution in less than an hour on most sites. Site administrators install a small amount of code onto their Web pages, which allows the visitors' computers to "talk" directly with MuchoInfo. Therefore, there is no additional load on your server. MuchoInfo reports an implementation time of under an hour for most customers.
ThinkStream is competitively priced for medium-sized businesses or enterprise-level businesses, but probably out of the range of small businesses. Pricing is on a subscription basis and ranges from $2,500 per month to more than $10,000 per month. The variables that dictate pricing include traffic, the number of Web sites, and the amount of consulting that MuchoInfo provides. In some cases, clients want MuchoInfo to act as the internal analysts.
Over the next couple months, I'll continue to write about business intelligence solutions in this space. If you have any you'd like to see included, please let me know.
Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12 Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena, was named one of the 30 best business books of this year. For more information on her upcoming speaking engagements, please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.