“It’s a dangerous business,” says Bilbo Baggins, “going out your front door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Eighteen years ago I stepped outside my comfortable door and was swept out into a digital world that I – like everyone else – knew very little about. There were dragons in that wilderness, as there always are. Some we slew and some we ran away from. Some are out there still.

But though a road may go on and on, a person sometimes finds another path. In the last few months I’ve felt rather like young Mr. Baggins, visited by dwarfs and a wizard, and confronted with a map of a great unexplored wasteland, a forbiddingly guarded, lonely mountain, and a vast treasure.

It’s not so easy to give up adventuring.

Eighteen years ago when I first started thinking seriously about digital analytics, we were the poor step-child of analytics. Web analytics (as we called it back then) was pathetic. To call it analytics was a misnomer – the right word being some polyglot mash-up of hubris, false-advertising and ignorance. Perhaps “faligris” was the word we needed but didn’t have. We looked with envy at the sophisticated analytics done for mass media, retail, and direct mail.


My how times have changed.

I’m not going to go all Pollyanna on you. There’s still a lot not to like about the way we do digital analytics. But here’s the thing – I’m not sure there’s a field that does it better. Without really realizing it, digital has spawned a discipline of continuous improvement that includes a fairly sophisticated view of dashboarding and reporting, interesting segmentation, a decent set of techniques for specific analysis problems, and – probably most impressive – a real commitment to experimentation. Sure, most companies get a lot of this wrong. My extended discussion of the perils and problems of digital transformation isn’t (really!) just grumpiness. But the companies that do it well are truly outstanding. And even in the flawed general practice there is much to like.

The best of digital analytics these days has nothing to be ashamed of and much to be proud of.

That’s why, on the map of the digital analytics world, there are more gardens than wasteland, more cultivated field than dangerous mountain. Digital Analytics is well past the “trough of despair” in the hype-cycle – delivering tremendous value on a consistent basis. That’s a great place to be, but I’m looking for a little more adventure.

A little backstory may be in order here. Not too long ago, one of my larger clients asked us to take a look at a solution they’d tried to measure their customer’s IN STORE journeys. Their vendor wired up a sample store with a network of cameras to detect and measure in-store customer paths. It looked a lot like digital analytics. Or should I say it looked a lot like web analytics? Because in almost every respect, it reminded me of the measurement capture, reporting and analysis we did back in 1997. The data capture was expensive and broke frequently. The data was captured at the wrong level of granularity and there was no detail feed available. The reporting was right there with Webtrends 1.0. The analysis – literally – became a standing joke with our client.

It was pathetic.

Well, even from this mess, there was interesting information to be salvaged. You COULD do better reporting even on the sadly broken data being collected. But it got me thinking. Because this was a “leader” in the field.

So naturally, I checked out the rest of the field. What I found were the same type of engineering heavy, analysis tone-deaf companies that I remembered back in the old days of the web before people like Omniture and Google figured out how to do this kind of thing right. I found technology solutions desperately looking for actual business problems. I found expensive implementations that still managed to miss the really important data. I found engineers not analysts.

I found opportunity.

Because this data and these systems are very much like digital analytics. The lessons we’ve learned there about collection, KPIs, reporting, segmentation, analysis and testing all feel fresh, important and maybe even revolutionary. And this time, there’s a chance to provide an end-to-end solution that combines technology with the kind of reporting and analytics I’ve always dreamed about. There’s a chance to be the Omniture AND Semphonic of a really cool space.

I just couldn’t resist.

So I’m going to be leaving EY and, for that matter, digital analytics. I’ll miss both keenly. These past years in digital analytics have been the best and most rewarding of my professional life. I’m proud of the work I’ve done. Proud of the work we’ve done together. Proud of the discipline we’ve created. But I want to take that work and build something new from the ground up.

I’m going to build a startup dedicated to bringing the best of digital discipline and measurement to the physical world. Helping stores, malls, stadiums, banks, hospitals and who knows what else understand how to use customer behavior to actually optimize customer experience.

I want to make the best experiences in the real world every bit as seamless, personalized, and optimized as the best experiences in the digital world already are.

It’s a dangerous world out there in physical retail. They’re struggling and they don’t really know how to get better. If there really was a map, I’m pretty sure it would have a big X with “there be dragons” printed right above.

I can’t wait.

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