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5 ways Oracle can improve Infinity Analytics

, Posted by Lance Nelson in Lance's posts, Web Analytics

Lance Nelson, Technical Analytics Manager at Mezzo Labs, gives you his personal wish-list for Oracle Infinity Analytics, focusing on permissions, report sharing, parameters, and the current lack of a tag management system.

Oracle announced on 17th January that it will make Infinity, acquired from Webtrends last year, generally available in the second quarter of 2018.  Analytics is one of the missing pieces in Oracle’s Marketing Cloud, and finally sees them pitting their wits against Google and Adobe in that space. When the time comes however, I’m hoping that Oracle will have made a raft of improvements to the tool, otherwise they won’t be a competitor.

 

Who’s heard of Infinity?

Now I’m sure there are a fair few of you out there who aren’t familiar with Infinity, which isn’t surprising as Webtrends has been somewhat of a minor analytics player in recent years.  In which case, shall we have a short history lesson?  If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

The US-based tech firm started out way back in 1993, and according to that reliable source Wikipedia, was widely considered to be the first commercial web analytics solution.  I remember using Webtrends in the mid-noughties, when Hitbox, Sage Analyst and NetInsight (anyone?) were the contemporaries.  Around that time, Google entered the market with its purchase of Urchin, and Google Analytics is now almost everyone’s entry point.  In 2009, Adobe bought Omniture and raised the bar in terms of configuration and conversion tracking.  A year after that, IBM bought Coremetrics to specialise in e-commerce and transactional websites.

In the meantime, Webtrends has struggled to keep up with these larger competitors, resulting in four (yes, four!) analytics platforms still being available today:

1. Analytics On Demand 9, for administration and static report definitions

2. Analytics On Demand 10, for basic administration and the same reporting capability (but in a more attractive interface)

3. Explore, for ad-hoc data exploration (a precursor to Infinity)

4. And now Infinity, their ‘big-data’ exploration tool with real-time, flexible reporting

 

So where does Oracle come in?

The Oracle deal included Webtrends’ real-time monitoring and remarketing products, Streams and Action Center, essentially leaving the latter with Optimize and Analytics for SharePoint.  Current customers have the option to migrate to the Oracle solution, ‘with no disruption to operations’, but some customers have already been jumping ship to Adobe.  The webinar held by Oracle on 17th January outlined the features that will be generally available in Q2 (more of which later), but I’m sure that the uncertainty around the future of Infinity, and Webtrends’ inability to keep up with the likes of Google and Adobe have been major factors in these decisions.

 

The good things

History lesson over, what about Infinity itself?  Before we pick holes in the current solution, let’s highlight the good points:

  • As mentioned, Infinity users are now exploring their entire data lake which utilises the Hadoop platform, therefore no data is sampled
  • Data is available in less than one hour, therefore almost real-time
  • Unique user counts are available in all reports and are consistent across time zones
  • Unlike Analytics 9 or 10, every report can be interrogated ad-hoc, and dimensions, measures and segments can be added or removed dynamically
  • The number of dimensions applied to a report is unlimited (although table limits apply)

But you’ve been able to do most of this in Google or Adobe Analytics for years, you say!  Exactly, so what else does Oracle need to do to make Infinity a real competitor?

 

The 5 things to improve

 

  1. Improve the data permissions. Recently, I had to create a bunch of new users and grant them view access only to a part of the data lake.  They also needed to be able to filter the reports.  Simple enough in other tools, right? Not so easy in Infinity for the following reasons: firstly, you can’t hide ‘Collections’ (previously ‘Profiles’) which are not relevant for certain users. Therefore, someone could access the wrong Collection by mistake, try to open the Geography report and not have any data returned. It goes without saying that this makes for a confusing and poor user experience. The demo during the recent webinar indicated that this option will be available on launch. Secondly, report filtering is achieved by using segments, which are also used to create Collections. If you have the rights to create segments, it seems that you also inherit the ability to edit any ‘public’ segments. This not only presents a risk to other users’ reports, but also the entire Collection! Oracle have promised to address this post-launch.
  2. Enable additional parameters to be available more quickly. Currently, there is a 5-day lag between a custom parameter being added to your Webtrends tag or SDK and it being available to use in Infinity.  And this is provided you added it on a Tuesday!  A weekly scan takes place every Sunday, looking for parameters which were collecting data on the previous Wednesday.  If they were not collecting data until the previous Thursday, they wouldn’t be available to use until the following Sunday (10 days!).  With Google and Adobe, you can modify your data collection and update your analytics configuration to start using new variables almost immediately.
  3. Improve the export and sharing functionality. Unlike previous versions of Webtrends, there is no option to set a schedule whereby you receive reports on a regular basis.  The focus is very much on ad-hoc data exploration and exports.  Even the existing functionality is not very user-friendly – the file formats don’t include PDF or Excel, so you will probably choose CSV.  You are then presented with options to use the Infinity API, which for most users is like entering foreign territory.  Why would you want to copy the REST URL to clipboard if you don’t know what to do with it?  Even if you select the ‘Open in a new tab’ option, you need to log in again for the export to work, and then you need to refresh the browser to finally get your download. Oracle will be updating the old Webtrends REST generator, but not until later in the year.
  4. Reinstate pathing and scenario analysis (funnel) reports. Everyone likes a nice visualisation to see user flow and conversion, and provided your funnel is tagged appropriately, this would remove the need to build a report using custom measures as the steps.
  5. Integrate with a tag management solution. The last key element missing from the Oracle Marketing Cloud is a TMS such as Tealium or Ensighten, and I reckon Oracle will look to acquire one of these soon.  Currently, customers have to use a third-party TMS to implement Webtrends via custom scripts, which is obviously not an optimal solution.  In fact, this could be a deal-breaker for some customers; if you are forced to use Adobe DTM, for example, you may well switch to the related analytics solution – Adobe Analytics. In my opinion, a common data layer through a dedicated TMS would facilitate integration across the Oracle Marketing Cloud, and make their digital analytics solution more rounded.

 

Final thoughts

So who is waiting with baited breath to see what the Oracle version of Infinity will look like? Probably only existing customers of Webtrends, who have been dwindling in number over the last few years.  If Oracle don’t address the points I’ve raised above, the unveiling is more than likely to be with a whisper than with a shout.

Useful links:

Webtrends’ product help: https://producthelp.webtrends.com/infinity-analytics
Oracle’s official statement: https://www.oracle.com/corporate/acquisitions/infinity/index.html