Anti-Cloud Based Tools for Personal Intelligence

Creating a personal intelligence platform for self tracking has never been easier.  While technology continues to push us toward the “cloud” and SaaS as a strategy of revenue generation, we cannot overlook the tried and true platforms available to keep data on your computer and away from prying eyes of Analysts.

As a data visualization and KPI development guru, I love finding those interesting trends in my own life that drive smarter, better habits.  If you are like me, you don’t feel comfortable sharing your dirty underwear with Mark Zuckerberg and you really wonder what Google is doing with all of that data they keep acquiring.   By maintaining a self database on my desktop computer which I can add to and tweak at a whim, I am able to give myself peace of mind and control over MY data.  Curious, about what KPI’s I track?  Stay tuned, that is a topic of another post.

Without further ado, here are some tools that you can use to create your own personal intelligence platform on your local computer:

  • Microsoft Excel
    • A stunningly powerful tool to use for even the novice user.  Create your own tables, link them how you want and design your own graphs and dashboards at your own pace and complexity.  Available for both Windows and Mac.
  • Numbers
    • A Mac only platform designed to compete directly Microsoft Excel which offers much the same functionality, but lacks some advanced capability compared with Excel.  The simplicity and robust visual que are 2nd to none, but as the data set grows, you may be wishing you chose Excel in the beginning.
  • Qlikview Free
    • I have been a fan of Qlikview for years.  I love the ability to create charts and dashboards from Excel spreadsheets and the gnarly level of interactivity that it provides.  The learning curve isn’t as steep as one might think and well worth a few minutes reading their documentation.   The limitation here is the limited number of shared files you can open.  Windows only.
  • MySQL / Apache / PHP / HTML5 / HighCharts
    • Ok, if you are going with this option, you are a true geek with coding ability.  This isn’t for the lighthearted as configuring MySQL, Apache, etc etc will take time.  But the advantage is you are left with an enterprise class database and a truly blank slate in regards to dashboards.  You can even create your own forms in HTML to add data.  Mac/Linux/Windows
  • Microsoft Access
    • If you need something in between Excel and MySQL to store data, Access is a great option and can interface with Excel graphs and dashboards.  With a mild learning curve, the ability to store any kind of data, and the convenience of a query builder UI, Access makes for a very robust solution. But, it lacks more advanced visualization, so be prepared to connect Excel to Access. Windows only and available with Office Professional.

As you can see, creating a Personal Intelligence platform off the cloud is possible.  You can take full control of your data and keep it private at the same time.  As data becomes more and more of a commodity and SaaS business models continue to nickel and dime everything, home based data management will be more and more appealing.  Excel is the perfect anti-cloud.

Developing KPI’s: Accountability for Remote Workers

While Marissa Mayer’s decision to remove the privilege of remote work from Yahoo!’s culture was met with shock and bewilderment initially, the truth was that Yahoo!’s remote workforce have been slacking.  Since the company is only as good as its best slacker, putting an end to an easy pay check outside the office was the right move.

Since remote work is here to stay, companies need an objective way to monitor their employees.  Just like an employee sitting in office, a remote employee needs to guarantee a certain level of access to their co-workers.  So, how do you know your remote employees are actually working?

As an employee with a few years experience working remote and working with remote bosses, I’d like to discuss some of the data points I think are pertinent to measuring remote employee connectedness and availability.  As a former Citrix Online employee, I am all too familiar with using GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting as tools to enable a positive, productive remote work experience.

Lets take a look at some data points that could give any boss reason to reign in a slacking remote worker:

  • VPN Access – Timed Logged In
    • Most remote employees access company resources through a VPN for security.  Just like Mayer discovered a lack of VPN use at Yahoo!, tracking the amount of time an employee spends on the VPN is essential to understanding their connectedness.  One could also monitor GoToMyPC usage as an alternative to VPN access.
      • While the goal would be agreed upon between employer and employee as some employees may not need to be connected 8 hours a day, the employee should be accountable for at least 90% of the VPN requirement.
  • Phone/Skype Availability – Calls Answered or Callback Time
    • This is simple, if you call the employee, whether via phone or Skype, do they answer?  If they don’t answer, how long does it take for them to call you back?
      • The goal here is to have the employee answer the phone approximately 33% of random calls, with a response time of four hours for messages left.
  • Email Use – Messages Received/Response Time
    • This may or may not be for all employees but since email is taking over for phone calls, remote employees should expect to be in contact with their manager on a routine basis.  The KPI should focus on proactive emails during the period (i.e. did I receive an email from employee) and the response time for emails sent to the employee.
      • Goal is defined as receiving X number of emails from employee with a 24-hour response time for emails sent to the employee.
  • Meeting Attendance – Meetings Attended/Attendance Time
    • Is the employee actually attending team or company meetings?  This KPI tracks their attendance and how long they are connected.  After all, an employee who sits out of team meetings is not likely to be a productive member. Services like GoToMeeting make it easy to know who is connected to a meeting.
      • Goal is to have the employee attend 90% of a meeting’s length and attend 100% of meetings.  Making sure the employee knows to attend a meeting is, of course, the manager’s responsibility.

As you can see, any contact point the employee has with the company can be used to monitor their engagement.  You might be asking yourself how to track these KPI’s and who owns it.  Well, it depends on whether the company has a KPI program or whether a manager is interested in tracking their own team.   In my opinion, whether or not an employee is productive falls squarely on the shoulders of the direct report manager and it would be up to them to create the KPI’s suitable for the situation, leveraging IT and BI departments to access data.

Once a manager begins monitoring remote worker KPI’s, they enable an objective analysis and discussion of expectations between both parties.  Putting the KPI’s onto a shared dashboard is a great way to start off a one on one meeting.

What does an actual dashboard for remote employees look like?  Stay tuned, a mockup is in the works.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on remote employee KPIs?  leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@mooney1).

Why Use Google Adwords to Get Started on Marketing

I run a startup called TrainingMetrix, a company dedicated to bringing accessible analytics to fitness users around the world.

With a beta release of our first online product for triathletes, we needed to start a marketing campaign or two to draw in traffic beyond the inner circle of developers and “friend” based beta testers.   We aren’t fans of Facebook, so using a Facebook Ad campaign was not an option.

Google Adwords was a suggestion from a friend of mine.  As it turns out, Adwords is a great platform to get started on.  You can set a budget, big or small, you can run one or many campaigns for as long as you want and the text “adwords” means you don’t have to have a graphic artist and fancy banner ads to attract customers.  For us, the control, flexibility, and simplistic nature was why we chose Adwords for our first marketing platform.

So, we signed up with Google Adwords and started experimenting.  We had two goals for this project:

  1. Test the waters with different keywords, messaging, and landing page styles to understand trigger words
  2. How effective Adwords are in terms of cost

We setup four different campaigns, each with two separate Ads and sat back.  Before too long, we were getting plenty of traffic to the site.  We let the campaigns run for one week and then ran a report.  The results were fascinating to us and exactly what we were looking for.  Our first goal was met.

As for our second goal, the cost of Adwords was within our budget, but the overall cost per acquisition (CPA) was quite high, higher than we expected.  If we had Lifetime Value data to compare against, we could make a smart decision as to whether or not to continue on.  Since we are in the beta phase and not collecting revenue, the overall costs of the campaigns were acceptable, on budget and appropriate for the knowledge that we gained.

If you have a startup, please consider using Adwords as a jumping off platform for marketing. Leverage the simplicity, the control and the knowledge that you can get from it.

A Citizen’s Role in Politics

The world of politics has been a touchy subject for years.  Everyone has their own opinion on policies and laws that will continue to make this country great!  It is part of our duty as citizens to express our opinions and even act on those opinions as we see fit.  While the most basic action comes in the form of voting, the citizenry is responsible for making an informed decisions on which leaders we elect and which propositions we pass.

This informed decision needs to be based on research, debate, and internal contemplation.  However, the media is usually pretty quick to provide opinions for us that aren’t always in line with reality.  Recently, while having dinner with a friend, I uttered the words “Obama is a socialist,” which then triggered a far greater discussion on exactly what this meant and what actions by Obama support this.  I have to admit that at this time I couldn’t speak to any specific actions.  In fact, I was guilty of regurgitating a line from the media without doing my homework.  This shocked me.

Normally, I am a very well spoken individual who seldom says anything that isn’t founded in concrete.  While I admitted that I was at a loss and we moved on, that voice inside me (the responsible citizen voice) wanted to know if Obama is really a socialist.

The answer is no.  Socialism centers around an economy owned by the state and or geared toward a common ownership.  Of Obama’s policies that I am familiar with, none of them fit into this category.  In fact, after researching this issue, I discovered that Obama is a well respect “centered” politician who has acted for the good of the country, moving between democratic and republican ideals to move this country forward.

What started to truly stir my passion for understanding the situation of our government was a text I received from the same friend containing a link to a rather interesting article.  The commentary article by Spiegel Online titled, “America Has Already Lost Tuesday’s Election, Destroyed by Total Capitalism,” is a rather passionate, European view of what the America has become.

After reading the article, I took a step back.  While I agree that America is controlled more by total capitalist, part of me wanted to believe that even total capitalists wouldn’t act in a way that would jeopardize the future of America.  Then I realized that capitalism is far more about profit than long-term sustainability.

Taking a look at Apple, for instance, who has banked billions and billions of dollars while the American education system experiences a financial crisis is perhaps proof that there could be something to this viewpoint.

In addition, during Hurricane Sandy, hospitals were evacuated because their backup generators failed, yet a few blocks away, buildings beloning to major financial institutions were bright with light and had plenty of power to spare.  The contrast of this image made me slightly angry.

The third piece of information that this citizen gained in recent weeks, is a book by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein called “Its Worse Than It Looks.”  I came to find out about this book while driving on the freeway listening to NPR.  What really caught my attention was when the author equated House Republicans to American terrorists.  WHAT!

It seems the Republican party has done more damage to America’s future in the past few years than in the entire history of this country.  The Fiscal Cliff is a product Republican’s willingness to put their party over the good of the country, leveraging filibusters, and refusing to negotiate with the White House.   I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, let alone what I was reading after purchasing the book.

To make sure this wasn’t a Democrat’s way of condemning the Republicans, I did some research of my own and found that the circumstances listed in the book are true.  In fact, I found a fascinating website called “Republicans for Obama” that agrees with a fundamental shift in Republican policy.  Instead of voting for the good of the country, Republicans are now voting to destroy the White House and the President of the United States.

These bits of information have awaken my role of citizen in politics.   While I intend to vote for Democrats going forward to give them back the majority, I will also spread the word regarding the new American terrorists sitting in the House.

What does citizenship have to do with Data, Creativity, Patterns, and Inspiration?  Everything.  Citizens must collect data, understand patterns in politics, and find the inspiration to act creatively to form the future that believe in.

I am sure this post will alienate employers/recruiters (probably won’t be working with Apple anytime soon) and create some controversy within my family.  But, it is my role as Citizen of the United States to research, understand and speak for what I believe in.

What Makes a KPI Special

A key performance indicator (KPI) is a vital tool for an organization seeking grow smart profits, expand customer loyalty, and build a scalable workforce.  While many companies stick a chronological set of numbers on a chart to project it on a wall in front of stakeholders, the reality is what they are seeing may not be a true KPI.   Its just a number unless its special.

To be special, the number needs to have most of the following characteristics in common:

  1. Represents a hierarchy either by time, or by dimension
    1.  Example: Sales broken by Year, Quarter, Month, Week or even day, then sliced by Sales Region
  2. Directly actionable with each stakeholder holding a piece of the action.
    1. Example: Sales are down 15% from goal, Sales Managers, Marketing Coordinators, etc can all speak to how their actions influenced the number
  3. Has  common definition across departments throughout the company
    1. Example: A sale is an action by a user from a variety of channels and promotions that resulted in payment and excludes affiliates for instance.  This definition is signed off by Marketing, Customer Service, Sales, and Product.
  4. Does not include hidden meaning and/or does not hide a trend
    1. Example: A number compared year over year, month over month completely ignores a trend that can be alarming.  While sales could be up year over year, this metric could hide a sudden drop in sales from the beginning of the year.
  5. When displayed with other metrics on a dashboard, the number represents a part of the story and does not represent a conflict to other metrics.
    1. Example: A number is where a chart shows Sales sky-rocketing, but another chart shows New Revenue way down, and yet another charts show Average Deal Size (ADS) flat.  The three charts give conflicting information, so one or more can’t be a true KPI for this business.  In fact, in this case, Sales is the corrupted KPI as it does not conform to a standardized definition.
  6. Supporting data is transparent
    1. Example: Analysts should be able to review aggregate data that rolls up to the KPI for audit reasons.  It provides transparency and allows for drill down capabilities. Often the Analysts receive direct support from a data team are sourced from data sources throughout the business.
  7. The number evolves with the business
    1. Example: A number is just a number unless it can change readily with the business. A team supports the KPI, new data is added when created, and definitions evolve as the understanding of the business evolves.
  8. A goal can easily be set and tracked from the number
    1. Example: If the number is fully understood, a goal can be set and tracked against.  If you can’t answer, “Where do we need to be by the end of the Year?”, then its a number, not a KPI.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen numbers and I’ve seen KPI’s.  The most successful companies I worked with not only have a data team to support their KPIs, but they engage in regular discussions of the KPIs at all levels of the business.  Successful, scalable, and profitable businesses are the ones using special numbers at their core.

When was the last time you saw a number masquerading as a KPI?

Why Marketing Analytics Is More Than Just A Coversion Rate

When I first ventured into the Marketing Analytics realm so many years ago, analytics were simple.  All we needed to know was how many visitors made it our site and from where, and then how many of those converted to trials and sales.  You can easily satisfy marketing stakeholders by slicing these conversion rates into their area of focus, be it Affliliate, Online, Email, or Offline to name a few.

But, over the years since I have to say that Marketing Analytics have evolved into quite a profound and somewhat complicated science that is even more fascinating.  As time passed and companies struggled to control Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) and Marketing budgets got slashed at the same time, Marketing execs found themselves having to dig deeper for a few reasons.

First they had to justify their current CAC by tapping into the Finance metric of Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV).  They then had to dive into cancellations to understand Drop Rate to see how many of their new customers were “sticky” versus “loose” (we called these net zero customers, who purchase and leave in the first month).   It used to be that Revenue was key, but many Marketers have learned that Revenue metrics are slow to respond to changes in the acquisition funnel.  Hence the need for Drop Rate and CLTV by acquisition to compliment conversion rates.  But then a fundamental shift in marketing came just a couple years ago.

Social media is the latest marketing fad.  The most difficult thing about this fad is the lack of measurement.  Facebook “likes”, Twitter followers, mentions and wall updates are extremely difficult to translate into a monetary return on investment (ROI).   Successful companies have invested a lot of into creating and maintaining their brand, which pulls money away from more traditional and easily measured channels.  While cancellations and CLTV are not directly impacted here, the health of a social media campaign can only be judged by how much it enhances the brand.  Along side our conversion rates, we see “interaction metrics, such as responses to tweet and wall updates.  You see, if your social media guru is posting stuff that your customers do not comment on, your guru is not a guru.

Not only do marketers  have to know if your customers interact on Twitter, but they also need to know how their customers use their products.  So, marketing should have readily available metrics from the CRM/product/content teams such as % usage rates, % support calls, as well as product personas.   If your company uses the Net Promoter Score, heck, marketing should have access as well.

What does Marketing Analytics look like today?  Well, those conversion rates are enhanced by post acquisition metrics.  However, it isn’t as easy as it seems.  In order to provide marketing with the enhanced data sets they need to compete in today’s corporate world, they need the support of Business Intelligence & Web Development teams to tie everything together.  There is nothing worse than having a great product and not knowing anything about your customers because no one ever thought to implement unique customer tracking on the website.

While Marketing Analytics today are a bit more complicated compared to a few years ago, it is a fascinating place to be.  Marketing is one of the few departments that really need a global view of the company, the product, and the customer to succeed.  As an Analyst, this viewpoint is a goldmine for data geekery.

When wast the last time your Marketing team looked beyond conversion rates?

Search Engine Battle Gets Interesting: Bing Rewards

There is no question about Google being the dominant player in the search engine market.  Internet search evolved from Dogpile to Alta Vista, all the way to Google with many more players in between.

Bing search result resembles Google closely.

With my 2012 goal of ridding Facebook and Google from my life (I feel both of these companies are too big and have too much data), seeking an alternate search engine is high on my to-do list.  There are few alternatives, so I have been testing Bing over the past few weeks.  Overall, Bing is a competitive alternative with a very similar look and feel of Google

What was surprising to me, was the pop-up window in the upper right of the screen. The pop-up suggests that I signup for Bing Rewards (more on this later), do 2 additional searches and enter a sweepstakes for an Xbox 360.  While I wasn’t wild about entering a sweepstakes for an Xbox, the concept of trading searches for product was intriguing. So I dug deeper.

Example products/services to redeem your ‘rewards’ on.

It seems that Microsoft is eager to get people to use Bing, so they’ve come up with something called Bing Rewards.  Very much like a rewards program for your credit card, you earn points for each internet search.  Once you collect enough points, you can redeem them for coupons and product like a $5 Amazon.com gift card or even 60 minutes of Skype credit.  The part I thought was especially thoughtful was the ability to turn your rewards into a charity donation to an organization like TeachForAmerica or DonorsChoose.org.

While I will happily use Bing as my default search engine going forward without the inspiration of collecting BingRewards, I have to hand it to Microsoft to sweeten the search engine Battle and reward customers for their data, rather than stealing it (as Google does).

If you use BingRewards and can speak to the program, please leave a comment.  I, and the rest of my readers, would love to hear about your experience.