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Analytics Tools: How to select a Data Collection tool

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on Selecting Analytics Tools.

Today we start with the first link in the analytics value chain: Collection tools.

Data Collection link of the analytics value chain

Collecting the data about your business is often the hardest part. If your data collection is not reliable or is incomplete, you will not be able to trust any of the analytics or insights that you generate!

Data collection tools go by many names including “tag managers”, “data aggregators” and “integrators”. In general, they all provide the same service: tracking data across your products and systems and collecting it into one place. Where that place is varies by provider, but it’s increasing popular to put it in a SQL database in the cloud.

Before considering tools, first answer these questions:

  • Where do you need to collect it from? Some tools collect data from websites, others from mobile apps, others from foot traffic in stores and some all of the above. Make a comprehensive, prioritized list of everything you need to collect and from where.
  • Where does it need to go? Your data isn’t just useful for analytics! You might use it as part of marketing automation, or to share with partner companies. Ensure that you know everywhere you need your data to go as different tools will support different delivery options.
  • How much data will you collect? Hopefully you have an educated guess about how much data you will be collecting. Many tools in this space will charge you based on your data volume, so you need to know to understand the total ownership cost of whatever you choose.

The integration process with these tools is significant and deep, so you will want to choose carefully as you will be using it for quite some time. Here are the criteria to use:

Great tools will be…

  • Easy to setup and maintain. The best tools make integration very easy, and management even easier. Read through the documentation and if you feel like it requires an expert to understand it or you’ll need full-time positions just to manage the integration, look elsewhere.
  • Aggressive data collectors. The best tools collect a vast wealth of data. In case your needs change later, it’s best to have something that is collecting as much information as possible so that you don’t need to change vendors  later.
  • Privacy compliant. Many countries around the world are developing strict rules about the collection of customer data. The best tools understand and abide by these laws, otherwise you can find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit even though you didn’t know you were doing anything wrong.

Beware of…

  • Large SDKs. If you need to collect data from your website or app, the tools will require you to integrate their SDK. SDKs should be small and have no impact on your product, avoid the ones that do.
  • Double charges. Some tools charge you to collect your data, and again when you want to export it out to other tools. Don’t fall for this;if you pay them to collect your data you should be able to do with it whatever you want without feeling locked in.
  • Taxes on success. Many of these tools will cost nothing when you start, but cost a fortune as your business grows. If you don’t understand how much it will cost, chances are there hidden costs that will surprise you when you least expect it.

It is hard to try collection tools before you buy them, since you typically need to integrate them and use them for a while to understand how they work. As with any tool, find companies that are using them already and ask a lot of questions. If you can’t find anyone using them then that might be all you need to know.

Tomorrow we’ll move up the value chain another link when we discuss data storage tools.

Quote of the Day: “It is good to collect things, but it is better to go on walks.” ― Anatole France