Developing skills in data analysis is a great way to advance your IT career. But how can you make the most of analytics, both for building your career and for building your business? Here are some simple tips to get you started.
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Analytics is more than Google
Google's free Analytics suite for measuring web site traffic and behaviour is widely used, and the fact you can access the basic service for free means that businesses of all sizes make use of it. There's nothing wrong with that, but you need to recognise that this isn't where analytics begins and ends.
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There are other tools which measure web site performance (including your own internal logs), and there are plenty of metrics for business which aren't directly reflected in site visits. One-size-fits-all is less effective than knowing what's relevant to your own business.
Analyse on multiple fronts
Many analytics/big data projects have a specific goal, but don't measure all the data that's relevant to that goal. An IBM-sponsored study by the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford found that improving customer service was the most common reason for new analytics projects, with 49 per cent of surveyed executives citing this as a key reason. Despite that, however, relatively few of those projects (just 43 per cent) looked at social media as a means of analysing customer sentiment. That wouldn't necessarily be helpful to every business, but ignoring it as a source of data altogether is likely to lead to a less useful project.
Analytics require rigour but can drive innovation
A recent survey of IT managers by CA Technologies highlighted the inherent contradiction involved in many analytics activities. Deriving efficient data requires a well-defined and repeatable process which is conducted over a long period of time, but innovating in business often requires breaking those processes open. As the report summary noted: "Innovative organisations emphasise analysis, process and structure as much as experimentation and exploration."
Remember, numbers on their own don't offer insight
Analysis tools can highlight trends, but they can't explain them. IT recruiter Mike Page made that point when we chatted with him earlier this year:
It's not the analytics people we looked at three or four years ago, concentrating on building data warehouses and business intelligence systems. That need is still there, but we increasingly get requests for web analysts who can create insight from that data.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.