Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interview with Stephane Hamel

Continuing my series of interviews with Web Analyst, here is an interview with Stephane Hamel.

What is your current position and the name of the company you work for?

I'm a senior ebusiness advisor for Desjardins General Insurance, which is part of the largest financial institution in the province of Quebec, Canada (desjardins.com). My role is to serve as a "liaison agent" between the business teams and IT (and vice versa). As such, I get involved in the strategy and early stages of ebusiness projects, provide ebusiness as well as IT guidelines and orientations, then supervise the development at a high level and maintain the global vision of the ebusiness ecosystem. Although unofficial, I feel I play a "change agent" and evangelist role, bringing new ideas and communicating them to all stakeholders. My passion for web analytics is a direct link with my responsibilities of analyzing, recommending, communicating & educating about the relationships between the business, the technology, and the web.

How long have you been working in web analytics field?

I really became passionate about web analytics 4 years ago and tried to convince my employer of the time, an interactive agency, that we should invest in web analytics. We became reseller of HBX and I worked with clients that had Coremetrics, Omniture, WebTrends and other solutions. Even before that, I had used WebTrends and LiveStats for several years, but more from an IT perspective.

Tell me about your work, education prior to making a switch to Web Analytics?

I started my career in IT over 20 years ago, a college degree in hand, as a programmer, Unix system administrator and Oracle DBA. In the early '90, I was lucky enough to work on a research project where we had access to the Internet, and when the first version of Mosaic came out I delved right into it. I quickly switched to become a webmaster for a subsidiary of Microsoft in Montreal (softimage.com), and eventually became ebusiness architect and overlook a very successful B2B project and the major redesign of a dozen web sites ( brp.com).

How did you become interested in Web Analytics?

In my role as the "e" in "ebusiness", I had lots of discussions with business stakeholders. One day I met a particularly arrogant marketing manager who told me something like "You can't understand marketing because you are an IT person". As you can imagine, that shocked me (and more!) because I knew that a good IT person HAS to understand the business of his customers/clients to serve them. I had already worked for the Montreal Stock Exchange where I learned about trading, I worked in a high-end 3D animation company where I learned about the modeling and special effects business, etc. From that day, I decided I would shift my career from a pure IT perspective to focus more on the business side. Without denying my IT background, I'm in a position where I can leverage it and be much more conscious about the ways IT can be leveraged to achieve business objectives. Since then I enrolled in an MBA program where I've been listed twice on the honor roll as one of the top 20 students and I have shifted my career toward a more strategic role.

How did you find your new job? How long did it take? Did you interview a lot?

About two years ago I became uncomfortable with the business culture where I worked and was planning on going freelance in web analytics. Then I got in contact with a consultant who was helping my current employer with their ebusiness strategy. Desjardins received numerous awards as a "best of class" employer (and it's true!) and I was really impressed with their business culture, the fact they had a clear strategic vision of where they wanted to be and the money to do it! After a couple interviews they decided to create this new role of ebusiness advisor and I joined.

What are you responsibilities? Describe your typical work day.

Web analytics is a fraction of my responsibilities and we're lucky to have a whole team dedicated to it. With regards to web analytics, my role is really one facilitator, educating and guiding; from helping define KPI to configuring the WA solution to mentoring the IT person who does tagging. My involvement in the web analytics community helps me increase my expertise and share it with others; it becomes an upward spiral that helps increase experience and build credibility.

What are the skills that you think are important for a web analyst?

We've seen a lot of discussion about this on various blogs. To me, the Web needs three ingredients: clear business objectives, a communication strategy and the technology to support them. The best web analyst would be savvy and top of the line in all three... which is probably impossible to find. But everyone can rate himself on a virtual scale and see where they stand and where they want to be.

What, if any, education or work experience helped you in making this transition.

I recently finished reading "Founders at work", which made me realize our career path is often a question of attitude and a bit of chance that has its roots in the choices we made in our very early jobs (and even our education choices). For me it was pure IT, Web, and expanding horizons into the business side of things.

What education is lacking, education or experience that would have helped?

I would have enlisted in the UBC "Award of achievement in Web Analytics" had it been available a couple of years ago (and I'm not saying that just because I will be tutoring the UBC's "Introduction to web analytics"!). Education is now available, and there are numerous books and blogs to help increase or knowledge. The experience part is a bit trickier, but my view is summed up in a post entitled "Should you switch job?" where I give 3 simple questions to ask yourself: 1) Am I increasing my value in the market? 2) Am I bringing the right value to my employer? 3) Am I being rightly compensated for my value?

What web analytics/online-marketing books have you read and/or own?

Would be too long to list here! I've been using BookJetty to keep track of those.

What are the major challenges you are facing in this industry?

Scarce resources is an issue everywhere. At the same time, being involved in the local web analytics community makes me realize there is a whole lot of companies that have yet to embrace (web) analytics as a strategic tool to help make better business decisions.

How do you make sure you are learning and growing in this field?

Networking, being involved! Web analytics is a bit like the early days of the Web: everyone is willing to help each other, there are so many innovations and opportunities that it's up to us to decide what we want to do next.

Tell me about your blog.

I started http://immeria.net/ in 2002 on a totally different subject, but really shifted to post more often about web analytics, web strategies and career about 2 years ago.

What is your advice to aspiring web analysts?

"Perseverance": trust yourself and decide what YOU want to do. The web analytics field is in its infancy and all types of people can have the right "stuff" to be involved. Sometimes in might be just doing one small thing everyday toward your goal, other times it might to have the guts to take hard decisions to put yourself in a better position to achieve your long term objective.

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  1. Thanks, Stephane, for articulating the ins and outs of being a Web analyst. I'm sure this will help a lot of folks, and also drive greater awareness.

    Jennifer LeClaire
    Conversion Press

  2. Thanks Stephane! I enrolled in the Award of Achievement in Web Analytics at UBC this semester.

    Allen Jurisic
    iASKiBUY Inc.


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