An Interview with Scott McCartney, Principal at eClerx

eClerx
eClerx is the leading knowledge process outsourcing company providing analytics, data management and middle and back office operational solutions and support to sales and marketing organizations of over 50 Global Fortune 500 and Internet Retailer 500 scale companies. With a particular focus on the burgeoning digital marketing universe and the industry’s largest offshore 3rd party web analytics team, our clients are among the world’s leading Online Retail & Distribution, Software, High Tech and Industrial Manufacturing, Interactive Media and Entertainment, Travel & Leisure and Financial Services companies. Incorporated in 2000, and public since 2007, we provide our clients with expertise in consulting, rigorous process work-flows, automation and improvement and robust outsourcing solutions to help reduce costs, drive actionable insights to lead fast-paced markets and correct long-standing process inefficiencies. We have over 4,500 professionals across five Indian delivery centers and our corporate offices are based in New York, London, Silicon Valley, Austin, Chicago, Dublin, Singapore and Dalian (China).

Scott McCartney
Scott McCartneyScott is a Principal at eClerx and runs their BD and Marketing in the Americas out of New York. He has over 17 years of experience across a diverse range of consulting, research and analytics backgrounds, including the last eight years at the forefront of the outsourcing industry. He’s initiated, crafted and led critical outsourcing engagements with Fortune 500 client partners globally across domains – including data management, sales and marketing operations, research and analytics, competitive and market intelligence – and industries including ecommerce, retail, high tech and industrial manufacturing, telecommunications, media and entertainment, financial services, investment banking and management consulting. Scott holds an MBA from New York University and a Bachelors of Commerce from the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia).

Where does eClerx fit in the web analytics ecosystem?

In short, eClerx provides dedicated data and process focused web analytics teams to our clients to tackle the critical yet time consuming heavy lifting that interferes with our clients’ in-house teams ability to focus on high value add analytics and activities.

One of the key reasons our web analytics practice has been successful (and probably why IQ Workforce has as well) is due to the significant supply / demand imbalance in the web analytics talent pool. There’s an imbalance even if the digital world was static, but with the fast pace of channels, data sources, volume of data and broader recognition of the true dollars & cents value to an organization from strong analytics, this imbalance isn’t getting better any time soon.

A critical systemic factor also causing dissatisfaction within the practitioner ranks is that just getting the data properly collected, integrated, organized and reported is more than a full time job. Where’s the time for interpreting data, building recommendations, and influencing business partners with insights, which are the activities that truly add value to the organization, and ultimately what corporations are paying these resources to do.

eClerx’s key value proposition is to take on the heavy-lifting activities that are critical to any analytics organization’s operations. This can be fairly wide ranging, including:

  • Templating, reporting and first level analysis
  • Automation of recurring reports
  • Request intake and report distribution processes
  • Tag validation and implementation QA
  • Integration of multiple data sources and data cleansing
  • Online testing support: development, QA, and analysis
  • Voice of Customer and social media analytics
  • Integration with and broader execution & reporting across data warehouses, business intelligence and marketing automation platforms

By taking on this routine and time consuming work, our clients’ in-house teams are freed up to focus on the high value add activities – they spend less time in the weeds and more time analyzing, interfacing with internal and external stakeholders, involved with expansions and new projects, etc. This further benefits our clients because their teams are learning and more engaged, meaning lower attrition.

I think a critical point to make is that we’re not in the business of replacing in-house talent. We exist to make our client’s in-house teams more effective. There just aren’t enough analysts to go around in the West, so our goal is to make sure our clients are getting the most value out of the resources they do have – analyze not report and data manage. I think the vast majority (if not all) of our clients’ analysts, once they get used to the different style of workflow, are happy we’re part of their team as we are enablers for them to have much more impact at their companies. We haven’t heard any of them yet requesting to keep their data QA & reporting obligations.

How does eClerx coexist with onshore consultants / in-house teams?

We don’t purport to be strategic consultants like Web Analytics Demystified or implementation and system optimizers like Keystone Solutions. We believe that corporations have a need for all of these resources and actually have to leverage them all to build a world class operation. The reason being that it is almost impossible to build all these skills internally due to scarcity of talent, costs and timelines (to hire). Different firms have different needs obviously, but our approach is to become part of our client’s day-to-day execution team, helping execute the strategic and business-as-usual plans created internally and with consultants at a cost effective level.

The overlaps between the strategic consultant, the implementation / niche expert and eClerx is usually very small and so it actually ends up being a very symbiotic relationship that all benefits the client. We just released a whitepaper on almost exactly this topic called “Solving the Web Analytics Staffing Dilemma”. Readers can download it here: www.eclerx.com/eClerx_WA_Staffing_Whitepaper1.html

How does the cost of offshoring a small team of “heavy lifters” compare to a local team of junior analysts?

We build a composite team of at least two resources for each of our clients, with a more senior experienced resource paired with one or more junior web analyst (of course, we’ll deploy more senior resources if our client’s needs are more complex). Depending on the team mix, you can expect on a fully loaded cost basis anywhere from a 3:2 to almost 5:2 type ratio (i.e. 3 eClerx resources for the cost of 2 junior locally based resources).

Each team is dedicated to a specific client for 37.5 billable hours per week for 48 weeks per year. In addition to the directly billable resources, the rates include management oversight from subject matter experts, knowledge management and process documentation and local account management support as well.

Another valuable component of our model is the fungibility of our resources and each client’s team composition. As needs evolve, we can change the skillsets on the team to match deliverable needs. For example, early in an engagement, there is need for more senior analysts who can create efficient reporting processes and automation. Once these are set up, more junior analysts are sufficient to execute these reports, and the senior resource can be sunset or moved to other advanced activities.

In other examples, a client may be expanding with a product like Adobe Test&Target – we can add a T&T expert to help with the ramp up. Equally, as our clients look to integrate multiple data sources, we can add in a data management expert or predictive analytics guru.

Our business model allows our clients to scale their teams up, or down, very easily, as their needs and budgets dictate.

It’s important to note that we almost exclusively execute on long term projects (vs. the more common hourly rate for agencies, consultants and freelancers onshore). The reason for this is that criticality of integrating into your team and the requisite investment required to understand processes, business context, end user needs and nuances.

What is the ideal eClerx customer and why?

As I mentioned above, we always deploy at least a team of two and ideally 3+. This has multiple benefits of QA, cross checking and redundancy. Sitting on the other side of the world means you don’t have the luxury of walking around to someone’s office to ask advice – our experience shows that building a team builds a level of self sufficiency and group problem solving that by extension improves quality of execution and insight coming from our team.

The ideal client for us is a firm with a good roadmap of where they want to take their analytics organization. It doesn’t mean they have all the pieces in place, but they do need a strong leader who knows where they’re going, some level of buy-in from senior management and a decent core team around them to help drive that vision. We can then work with that team to divide and conquer.

A more difficult engagement would be someone who’s bought an analytics platform and hoped that it will work out of the box or asks us “what should we do now?”. That’s obviously simplifying things, but without a team, infrastructure or roadmap beyond the tool, it’s going to be an uphill battle. We understand the analytics world very well, but we’re not strategic consultants. In these situations, we usually recommend they talk to someone like the Web Analytics Demystified team to get their roadmap and strategy in place and then we can come in post that to help execute.

Do you have the same problems with recruiting & retention that US companies have when it comes to building your India team?

Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of digital analytics talent globally, and in India the availability of resources with direct, deep web analytics experience is probably even thinner proportionally than in the West. In our early days 4-5 years ago, we banged our heads against the wall trying to recruit people with specific web analytics experience. However, there’s a very large body of data savvy resources in India – engineering and mathematics are a very traditional educational path. So we took the approach: “if we can’t find them, we’ll build our own”, and that was the genesis of the eClerx Analytics University.

We now target analysts with strong data skills and put them through up to three months of analytics training – not just web analytics, but advanced data management techniques, SQL query writing, platform specific training, etc. Once they “graduate” they shadow some of our experts and advanced engagements and then are deployed under the tutelage of some of our superstars.

As we come to the end of our second year of the program, we’re now putting our top performers through platform specific training and the WAA analyst certifications as both a recognition of their potential and reward for their performance to date. Our clients all benefit from this investment as we continually increase our talent pool’s skillsets as well as increase the confidence level that they’re getting highly competent analysts.

Retention is always an issue, but we have a few things working in our favor. Retaining your core team and talent via salary alone will rarely succeed – there will always be another firm willing to pay a dollar (or rupee) more. Where you really engage and retain your talent is through providing visibility and path to continuous learning and capability expansion. Our Analytics University and unrivaled client roster is a huge drawcard largely unavailable anywhere else in India, meaning that our analysts are learning and growing every day.

Anecdotally, we’ve actually had top members of our team leave to join large brand name corporations, only to come back 6 months later when they realized the diversity of experience and learning trumped the perceived value of the brand name.

However, attrition is still a fact of life. So we further work to mitigate this by having:

  • multiple team members
  • bench resources
  • and continuously enhancing very detailed documentation and knowledge management of all processes

eClerx is very focused on process, documentation, knowledge management and continuous improvement to the extent that we just won the 2011 Indian MAKE (“Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise”) Award (after being a finalist for the previous two years). This is an India wide corporate competition focused on finding those companies focused on building a learning organization. With the win we joined the ranks of some of the largest most well known Indian corporations.

Why are more firms not pulling talent from the other direction? i.e. hiring Indians, sponsoring their visas and bringing them to the US? With the ridiculous demand for analytics talent in the US and the dire shortages that are projected, is that something we could see more of?

The visa situation in the US has gotten prohibitive over the last 10 years. Admittedly there were some abuses in the 90s and early 2000s, but as the economy contracted in the early 2000s, immigration policy tightened significantly (think John Kerry’s 2004 indictment of “Benedict Arnold corporations” who offshored jobs and Obama’s and others’ current position on offshoring). There are only a couple ways to bring someone in from overseas to execute day-to-day work and those visas require a long lead time and are snapped up within a matter of days or weeks each year when they’re released. The costs aren’t the issue, more the visa availability and associated timelines.

What’s the impact of the large time zone difference between India & your clients?

One of the great upsides of our model is the ability to leverage the time zone differentials between India and the States. Depending on which coast you’re on and whether it’s daylight savings or not, you have between 9.5 and 13.5 hours difference. We ensure that there’s always overlap with our client teams for at least their morning work hours.

The benefit of this is that as a client leaves for the day they send instructions on what needs doing while s/he is out. Our team gets a good 4-5 hours to work on those requests (plus regular business as usual) and get it back to the client by the time they get back in the office the next morning. They then have the overlap to review, clarify, goal set for the next cycle. The client then gets the afternoon to digest the data and reports and perform analysis and the cycle starts all over again.

With larger teams, we’ve staffed multiple shifts so that the work day extends even further. The off-hours shift can focus on heavy data work and other activities that require less interaction with the client team and the second shift has greater overlap with the onsite team for more interaction and teamwork.

Ultimately the offshore model does result in a change in traditional workflows within a web analytics organization. Traditionally an in-house analyst would take an activity from beginning to end: request intake -> data collection -> QA -> data organization & reporting -> analysis (if there’s time) -> interface with stakeholder. With an offshore model, the onshore client team only focuses on the “location specific” activities and higher level analysis and the data management and organization components can be sent to the India team. Once people get used to it, productivity of the overall team can really accelerate.

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