An interview with Stéphane Hamel, Web Analytics Association Board member

Stéphane Hamel is a freelance consultant with over 20 years of experience. Based in Québec, Canada, he is the creator of the popular Web Analytics Solution Profiler tool which he recently sold to iPerceptions, long time tutor of the UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics program and teacher of a graduate-level, full semester course on web analytics at Laval University (Québec-city). He’s been a member of the Web Analytics Association since 2005 and a member of the board & treasurer for a year.

What brought you to web analytics?

I graduated with a college degree in computer science in 1987 and quickly became a sys-admin & DBA. Business requirement analysis, data and providing insight and recommendations has always been a part of my job. Being involved in a research project, I was lucky to have early access to the Internet. When HTTP and Mosaic came out in 1993 it was natural to dig into log files to increase performance and optimize. I became a “webmaster” and worked on numerous projects as a practitioner or consultant in all imaginable roles ever since. I used log parsers, WebTrends, and several other tools over the years. Six years ago, working for an agency, I tried to develop an offering for web analytics… sadly, I was a pioneer and it didn’t work out, so I moved on. I continued to do web analytics as a practitioner and the 40 years old crisis struck: I switched to freelance in 2006 and have been enjoying it ever since!

How did you get involved with the WAA?

In the early days of the Web there was a tremendous level of collaboration and an exciting flow of innovation. I first met Jim Sterne in 1996 at the now defunct Internet World conference in Los Angeles. He was already talking about the importance of online marketing and measurement. Several years later Jim’s name came back in a discussion and that’s how I found the WAA. The WAA opened a network of like-minded professionals and I reached out to them – it felt the same as the early days and I wanted to be part of it. Gradually, I got even more interested, participated in committees, contributed content and did a bunch of different things.

… then you decided to run for the Board?

Well, yes and no. In the meantime, I created WASP because I had a real issue to solve and decided to make it publicly available. It turned out I was solving an issue most web analysts had: how to easily do quality assurance of tags. Several thousand people were using it and it brought me a good visibility in the market. Someone suggested I should run for the Board and it worked – I was not really expecting it but I took the responsibility seriously and I’m honoured to be part of the team.

What does it involve exactly?

In some ways we’re lucky because the previous Boards had to go through the infancy of the Association with all the stumbling and hard work it implies. We can say the WAA is now in its adolescence – getting more effective and mature but still facing challenges. As Board members, we try to stay at the strategic level and drive the vision of the Association. We hold monthly conference calls to discuss the advancement of important initiatives and develop new members’ benefits in order to achieve our mission of fostering education and research, standards and best practices as well as professional networking worldwide. We also get to meet face to face four times a year where we spend at least a full day working on strategies. The call for nominee states 15-20 hours a month and this is not an underestimation of the level of effort and commitment required of Board members.

What are the challenges facing the WAA?

Let’s be positive: they are not challenges, they are goals! Let’s pick two of them.

One of our main objectives in 2010 is to launch the Certification program. In a fast paced industry such as web analytics, there needs to be a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Anyone can claim to be an “expert”, a “guru” or a “ninja”, but now there will be an independent and rigorous way to prove you are! The Certification addresses all aspects of being an analyst. It will be launched at eMetrics San Jose, in May.

“Globalization” is also important: empowering local groups with the information and services to become effective spokespersons for the WAA. The Board already has some representatives from outside the US (for one, I’m from Canada, and even more, I’m French Canadian!) and Vicky Brock is in UK. Aurélie Pols has taken the responsibility of Globalization Chair, coordinating and being the ears and voice of country leaders who want to get involved. About 40% of our members are not in the US so it is crucial to represent and offer member values that are relevant at the local level.

What has the WAA accomplished over the last year?

It’s not only the result of the Board, but one of engaged members and great people at Virtual, the agency helping us managing the Association on a daily basis. Here’s a little round up:

  • Launched the new WebAnalyticsAssociation.org website, a platform that will make it a lot easier to manage and offer increased member value
  • We concluded agreements with organizations in Spain and Finland to become part of the WAA
  • We released our Outlook 2010 survey that provides unique insight into the key trends, directions and challenges for the industry
  • Held over 8 webinars on a diverse range of topics such as measuring social media, measuring Web 2.0, campaign tracking, etc.
  • Concluded another WAA Championship
  • We just confirmed the hiring of Mike Levin as our new Executive Director
  • Provided comments and position statements on the use of cookies and web analytics to the US Government, as a first step towards developing a comprehensive advocacy position on privacy and online measurement
  • Completed the first ever Benchmark survey on the use of web analytics and digital measurement for public, non-profit and education sectors
  • We recently tabled a groundbreaking document for public comment on Social Media Measurement and Standards
  • We launched the Web Analytics Without Borders project, where members can gain real experience by helping a non-profit organisation – Save The Children

Would you recommend becoming a Board member?

It is a volunteer position; it does require a fair amount of commitment, engagement and belief in the value and mission of the Association. The rewards are numerous: a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of doing something that can make a difference, a passion for the field. You get to meet with the top influencer and most brilliant people in the industry. After all, when do you get to share lunch with executive from WebTrends, Yahoo! and Omniture at the same table? When can you share tips with senior managers from Dell, Microsoft and Sony or meet consultants from all around the world?

What’s next for you?

Going freelance, it was clear in my mind I wanted to do a mix of consulting, education and research. In 2009 I worked with many clients, tutored for UBC, sold WASP and completed my eBusiness MBA. In 2010, I’m voluntarily lowering my consulting involvement and actually work with only two major clients in order to spend more time doing education and research. It’s funny some people are now calling me “academic” when I was flagged as a “techie” for most of my career! You can expect more things related to the Web Analytics Maturity Model (WAMM)  in the next few weeks and months.  I’m touring several cities to present workshops based on WAMM where I address the managerial side of online analytics. I will also be at eMetrics Toronto, San Jose, London and Paris as well as the Web Analytics Congress in Amsterdam.

What is the Web Analytics Maturity Model?

While working on my final eBusiness MBA project I was asked to create a full-semester, graduate level web analytics course: over a period of 18 months I studied why some companies succeed at web analytics while so many fail. I was puzzled by people saying “web analytics is hard” when so many other things businesses have to do are much more difficult. I wanted the course to be more business oriented, more about “analysis” and less about the tools. I studied about a dozen maturity models from fields such as Business Intelligence, Business Analysis and others proposed by web analytics vendors and consulting agencies. I also leveraged my years of experience as a practitioner and consultant, interviewed practitioners and managers to come up with the six key process areas for success, represented in five levels of maturity. For those familiar with Tom Davenport “Competing on analytics”, the Web Analytics Maturity Model represents an earlier stage, more narrowly focused area of analytics. In fact, following the WAMM approach will allow you to easily move on to Davenport’ model.

It received lots of positive and constructive feedback from practitioners, agencies and vendors worldwide so I’m pursuing in this direction with an updated and more exhaustive version of the model, several workshops and some other things I can’t elaborate for now!

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