Thoughts on the Omniture Acquisition of VS and What to do if you are a VS Customer
Eric Peterson pointed out (in an emailed subject-lined “wow”) that I was awfully harsh in my last post on the Visual Sciences Management team. Reading that post again, I have to agree. It reads like an exercise in journalism – which is fine as far as it goes. But as someone who has always been deeply suspicious of those who write about things instead of doing them, I’m not so thrilled with being a journalist (complete with the requisite 20-20 hindsight). I’ve failed in business before. It hurts. Mea Culpa – for piling on.
That being said, it is the customers of Visual Science who have the difficult decisions ahead of them. And with that in mind, I wanted to cover the range of options those customers face and talk a bit about what they should be thinking about and doing.
As my colleague Phil Kemelor points out, there is likely to be a long period of grace during which VS customers can, if they choose, do absolutely nothing. That’s a good thing. But if your HBX contract is coming up for renewal in the short-term or you’re an enterprise deeply committed to web analytics, then doing nothing is probably not much of an option.
When I developed our Tool Evaluation White Paper, I started from the premise that there is no one “right” solution. Choosing the best tool is an exercise in matching organizational requirements, skills and culture with tool and vendor capabilities and vendor focus. The same holds pretty much true for companies planning a direction in light of this acquisition. What your company is and where it currently stands vis-à-vis HBX and Visual Site will play a huge part in shaping the direction you should go during the transition.
Case 1: Currently Evaluating Visual Sciences
If you were evaluating web analytics tools and VS was one of your possible directions, then it might seem like the impact is simple and straightforward. You cross off an option and move on. If you were evaluating HBX, that’s pretty much the case. I think the acquisition by Omniture further strengthens their market position – and that should probably play a small role in your thinking about Omniture vis-à-vis WebTrends or Unica. But Omniture was already the clear leader in the field. So I don’t think much would be changed in your overall product evaluation. In general, you go with the clear leader unless you have compelling price, organizational or technical reasons not to. Those reasons do exist for at least some companies – so it’s pretty much still a matter of deciding whether any such compelling reasons exist for you.
If you were considering Visual Site, however, the decision is less clear. First, Omniture has indicated they are going to keep and support at least a part of that technology. And that technology is quite different than the rest of the Omniture product suite – so if you were looking outside the Software-as-Service model, should you still consider Visual Site? It’s a tough question. I think the acquisition raises huge questions around this product line. There’s no telling how much of the core technical team will stick around. The GUI (as I’ve pointed out) is way different from the rest of the Omniture suite and I think is highly likely to be scrapped. But Platform 5 may stick around and might form the basis of a really excellent licensed solution from Omniture. That’s a lot of uncertainty to deal with, though. And if you are considering this direction, it could only be because web analytics is vital to you and you have to a sophisticated existing measurement culture and investment. Under those circumstances, it seems like you’re betting a lot on some big unknowns.
So my sense is that while you might continue evaluating this product suite, you should probably score it down significantly vis-à-vis any alternatives – including building your own data warehouse for high-end analytic needs.
Case 2: Light HBX User
If you are an existing HBX user, then a great deal of what informs your decision should be your current level of usage and satisfaction with HBX and web measurement. For customers who I would describe as “light” users (few if any Active Segments, little or no use of ReportBuilder, focus on traffic reporting), the likeliest migration path is probably Google Analytics.
If you fit this profile, HBX was probably not the best choice for you to begin with. And Site Catalyst is even worse. On the plus side, Omniture will be able to make the transition from HBX to SiteCatalyst largely painless for this type of customer. But if you aren’t doing serious reporting, segmentation and/or deep-analysis, you’ll probably be happier with Google Analytics. And you won’t be spending any money either.
GA has the best user interface in the market. It has a very easy implementation path. It comes from one of the strongest brands in the world. And there is every indication that they are building the tool aggressively. While it has many weaknesses as either an enterprise reporting or analytics tool – and while Google is the ultimate “low-touch” vendor with virtually no enterprise level service or support – these things shouldn’t matter too much for light HBX users.
With the acquisition, you’re going to have transition users to a new GUI anyway – so this probably the best time to pull the plug and do what you’ve probably been thinking about anyway – installing Google Analytics.
Case 3: Medium HBX User – Satisfied
What if you are fairly serious user of HBX and have been pretty happy with the product? You use Active Segmentation – both to support your reporting and for at least occasional deep-dive analysis. You have a significant investment in ReportBuilder Excel reports. You have a fairly large base of trained users who are, by and large, happy with the data they get.
In this situation, you’re likely best bet is to transition to Site Catalyst. Site Catalyst is like a slightly older big-sister to HBX. It is much closer in look and feel and structure to HBX than products from WebTrends or Unica. It works in the same fashion and with many of the same benefits and downsides. It also provides some additional growth paths that might have eventually turned into real pain points with HBX. And, of course, you’ll have moved from a struggling company to a very successful one and you’re uncertainty around product and company will largely evaporate. For this class of company (which may be the most common case), I think the decision is relatively easy and the acquisition largely beneficial. There may be a bit of short term pain as you transition reporting assets and struggle with segmentation issues – but in the long run you’ll probably be in a significantly happier place.
Case 4: Serious HBX-User – Satisfied
Like any product, HBX has a very specific set of strengths and weaknesses. It was very good for large, multi-site organizations whose focus was on advanced reporting. It was weaker for sites focused on deep-dive analysis of a single large site. So if you were a serious HBX-user and you were still very satisfied with the product, chances are you fit the first of these descriptions not the second. If you were heavily focused on deep-dive analytics, then you probably wouldn’t have been satisfied with HBX.
So what about the large, multi-site organization focused on advanced reporting? With HBX going away, is SiteCatalyst the right direction? It may well be. SiteCatalyst will support most of what HBX did. It has similar if slightly less usable Excel integration. That’s a big plus for organizations that are focused on reporting and were heavy ReportBuilder consumers. The GUI, as mentioned is similar, and, on the whole more powerful. The dashboard capabilities are significantly better. The transition will provide many significant positives.
However, there are a few drawbacks to this direction.
First, there are some weird asymmetries in the two products. For deep-dive analysis, Omniture has much better segmentation capabilities (at least when you include Data Warehouse and Discover). But for reporting, ASIs are significantly worse in capability than Active Segments. Sometimes, specific data points that might need to be obtained using Active Segments in HBX can be obtained using correlations and sub-relations in Omniture. But not always. And Data Warehouse and Discover have significant limitations for supporting distributed reporting. These asymmetries will likely prove to be your major pain points in the transition.
Second, SiteCatalyst tags take more work than HBX tags. In fact, they probably take more work than any of the alternative solutions you’d consider. It’s not like they take a LOT more work – but they do take more. The implementation structure simply isn’t as clean or consistent as some of the more recent ones from vendors like Unica. If you have lots of sites to tag, that can become a fairly significant issue.
Finally, when it comes to the quality of reporting capability within the interface, some of the other vendors field products that are probably better than either HBX or SiteCatalyst. If you aren’t going to invest in Discover 2, you may find that there are more attractive solutions on the market elsewhere.
So if you are a large, multi-site organization focused on advanced reporting, this may be a good time to review the market and consider your options. I think there’s a better than even chance you’ll end up opting for transitioning to SiteCatalyst and (I hope) Discover. But I think it’s worth the time to evaluate your options.
Case 5: Serious HBX-User – Dissatisfied
You might have been dissatisfied with HBX for a variety of reasons including increasingly erratic service levels and declining customer support. But if your unhappiness stemmed from the weaknesses of the product to perform deep-dive analytics, then you are in this bucket.
Chances are, companies in this bucket were already considering a switch to Omniture or an upgrade/enhancement to Visual Site or Visual Workstation (probably the latter of these two VS options). In this class of company, the key driving factor is, in my opinion, the degree to which your analytic needs are driven by the necessity for integrating your private business data into web analytics.
If you are working primarily with web data or online data from systems like DART (or eMail, PPC, etc.), then I think your decision path is relatively straightforward. Transitioning to Omniture will provide your organization similar reporting capabilities, improved base-product analysis (SiteCatalyst) and a much cleaner upgrade to a true and powerful analyst’s workbench (Discover 2). In addition, Omniture has the richest online data integration options of any product in the market by far. So this direction should be a win in almost every respect.
I would NOT recommend moving to the Visual Workstation product prior to the transition. The interface is simply too different and too difficult to learn for a short-term commitment to make sense. I think companies in this category will be best off pushing aggressively to transition to SiteCatalyst and Discover.
If, on the other hand, you have significant private business data integration requirements and were considering Platform 5 as a possible solution, then your direction is less clear. Transitioning to SiteCatalyst and Discover isn’t necessarily going to solve these problems. It’s unclear what the long term integration direction for the VS software pieces will be. And it’s unclear how committed Omniture will be to the license model. Much of what I said earlier about companies evaluating product applies here as well. The acquisition introduces a significant element of uncertainty into the product direction – something that’s particularly unwelcome since these are the most costly and important implementations in the WA space.
For companies in this category, I think a careful review of direction is very appropriate before making any decisions. Depending on your needs and requirements, you might find that there just IS NOT an attractive solution in the market.
I would recommend studying carefully the possibility of moving information INTO the SiteCatalyst/Discover space. The analytic capabilities within this tandem are much richer than they were in HBX and you may also find that you have a significantly easier task getting the information there than you did with Visual Sciences. It’s worth a look but certainly not a solution for everyone.
Case 6: Existing Visual Site User – Dissatisfied
Chances are, if you were dissatisfied with the full Visual solution, it was because you were struggling with the GUI and the lack of robust enterprise reporting tools. Much of the previous discussion (in Case 5) applies here as well.
If you are working primarily within web and online data, you’ll probably be better off transitioning to the SC/Discover world. The analytic capabilities aren’t as rich, but the GUI is more standard and the reporting capabilities much, much better.
Unfortunately, if you require high-levels of data integration with private business data, you have to decide whether to stick with VS or go elsewhere. If you are already dissatisfied, I’d strongly consider going elsewhere. You can wait for Omniture to put a different GUI on Platform 5 – but who knows how long that wait will be or even it if will ever materialize. This is probably a good time to go back and review your product direction with a serious eye toward change.
Case 7: Existing Visual Site User – Satisfied
If you are happy and productive with the VS tool suite, then you have a somewhat different decision to make. Switching out of a tool you like when you don’t absolutely have to is always a difficult decision. This is especially true since it isn’t clear that there are any other products on the market that are really comparable.
If you are in this category, it probably makes sense to just wait for a while and see how the market develops. Since the Visual tools aren’t being immediately sunsetted, you don’t have the short-term pressure for change. You’re in a market niche that isn’t particularly well served at the moment. And you have opportunity to stay productive with a tool while seeing how the market evolves. Things could be worse.
I think this covers the most common set of cases when it comes to Visual Science customers – and I hope it provides a basic framework from within which companies can begin to evaluate their response intelligently. For most organizations that are at all serious about web analytics, I think the likeliest decision is probably just what you’d expect – transition to the SiteCatalyst/Discover world. So in my next post, I’m going to tackle in more depth some of the transition issues that need to be faced if, as I expect will be most common, you end up deciding to move in that direction.