How do you keep your marketing analysts from drowning in an ocean of clickstream data? E-business intelligence tools can transform that flood of meaningless clicks into a unified vision of the customer.

“If you can’t collect and prepare customer data, you can’t leverage it for competitive advantage,” said Philip Russom, director of data warehousing and business intelligence knowledge for the Hurwitz Group .

Staying close to the center of your business process
“E-business means conducting business based on complete and up-to-date information. With decision-making closer to the core of important business processes than ever before, this is an exciting time to be involved with business intelligence software,” said Russom. Although data warehousing and data mining tools have existed for quite some time, collecting Web-based data adds a new dimension to the customer picture.

“Data warehouses and data analysis tools have been on the periphery of business practice for decades; they are now being pulled into the core business to support the pervasive decision-making of e-business,” said Russom.

Doug Holden, senior vice president, customer management for KPMG Consulting agreed, noting that “customer analytics” establish a complete customer profile. “Customer analytics, like E.piphany , help in consolidating these disparate data into meaningful customer information models and analyze them for actionable insights using built-in OLAP [online analytical processing] and data mining tools,” said Holden.

E-business intelligence means action

“The biggest benefit of customer analytics is that enterprises can act intelligently on the wealth of information that they have, observe, or procure about their customers. Customer interactions driven by a more comprehensive knowledge of their behavior, needs, and preferences help companies deliver more value through personalization and customization, ultimately impacting revenue and customer loyalty,” said Holden.

Keeping it all together
As the Web opens new markets for companies, new solutions to accurately track customer data are needed, especially when integrating brick-and-mortar with Web operations.

“Today, customers are interfacing with the company through multiple channels, both online and offline. This provides the potential for data to be lost or not transferred between channels, leading to a missed opportunity to provide great customer service and a potential lost sale,” said Ron Ebersole, product line manager for e-business intelligence at the Portland, OR-based WebTrends Corp.

Powerful data mining tools enable businesses to better integrate historical customer information with real-time data, Ebersole said.

Holden said that the value of customer analytics is to shuffle critical information to the proper destinations. “As companies become more customer-centric, their internal processes and supporting applications will focus on how to deliver better customer value. Customer analytics will evolve into the hub that gathers and analyzes behavioral and transactional information from the different applications,” said Holden. “The analytics will push information and treatment strategies to the different customer interaction channels either automatically or through a sales or service representative.”

What to look for when selecting an analytic tool
If you have decided that an e-business tool is another part of your solutions mix, what should you consider before making a purchase decision?

“IT organizations, marketers, and others evaluating software for customer analytics should beware generic tools, especially for data mining, that are difficult to learn and force you to build customer analytic functionality yourself,” noted Russom. Russom also suggested that companies look for solutions with advanced customer profiling because many basic packages already include some aspect of customer profiling.