Inquidia Review: Major Newspaper Data Warehousing Work

Sunday, February 15, 2015 - 08:00

The Head of Business Intelligence for a Major Newspaper was interviewed by clutch.co about the work that Inquidia did for them for their data warehousing project. See here what she had to say about the work we did.

Project summary: 

The client is a major American newspaper with many online advertising clients. There was a need to implement a data infrastructure system using Pentaho. Inquidia was selected to set up the small data warehouse and provide consulting and advice to improve customer satisfaction. The work is ongoing as Inquidia provides three to four resources on a regular basis.

Feedback summary: 

The client is extremely satisfied with the work delivered by Inquidia. They are true experts in the data and business intelligence fields that understand customer satisfaction. There was some minor issues regarding staff turnover but there are no major negatives to report. Inquidia is highly recommended to others.

BACKGROUND

Please describe your company.

We are a major American newspaper with subscribers around the country and world.

What is your role and responsibilities?

I’m the head of the business intelligence department. Underneath business intelligence, there are five sub-departments that make up the business intelligence department. There are the acquisition, which is your traditional data warehouse, governance, and auditing. We have built custom, proprietary tracking technologies. We also have a data visualization and reporting team. We also have a machine learning data group as well. 

OPPORTUNITY/CHALLENGE

What challenge did Inquidia help your organization address?

We got involved with Inquidia in approximately 2009. We have an internal advertisement system that we maintain, and we wanted to provide reporting capabilities on that platform. In the past, developers have created some reporting capabilities, but they’re very bare-boned and minimal. When people think of reporting, they think they’ll calculate some numbers and out comes a report. Obviously, that wasn’t meeting the need. Our stakeholders and users were getting frustrated because they wanted to get more insights out of their reports, not just understanding the number crunching and the numbers at their face value.

They wanted to look at things in aggregate and by a couple of other dimensions that they had. So, we started looking at different platforms. One of the early contenders was Pentaho, so we decided to use that for our digital advertisement revenue business.

We didn’t realize that until our engagement with Inquidia because we were trying to look for the best partner in putting these together. We didn’t want to hire a consulting firm that put up a couple of reports. We wanted to provide a fully stacked BI [business information] system for advertisement folks due to the frustration. It wasn’t just putting in reporting capability and calling it a day. We had to solve the business problems.

Overall, Inquidia is not like a traditional staff augmentation company. If you already know what you want, I don’t know if Inquidia is the right team to engage. They don’t provide manpower, although they can. They don’t really enjoy just the staff augmentation piece of it, and it’s not where their expertise is, either. They’re not necessarily the people crunching through data just to produce results. Where they do bring in a lot of value is they obviously have a lot of experience in the field. They have done BI for so long that they know inside and out what it really means to put a reporting capability on top of any platform.

With their experience, they can navigate corporate environments easily because they’ve seen so much of it, whether it’s run by technology owners or business owners. They can have that conversation in a very productive way. They combine product development and a strategic mindset into their solution design. They set up the customer interviews and try to understand what the customer is trying to do and wants to do. The days of traditional reports are pretty much ended now. People don’t want to look at the number. There is always an underlying story that they’re really after. If you are a product owner or a decision maker, it’s rare that you check the numbers just for their face value. You can check to see if the promise of, say 35,000 users being redirected really occurred. This is different from trying to understand how you prioritize the product development, and how you take the insights from your data to come up with better and more compelling products. To me, that is the hardest part.

A very experienced analyst who has been with the company for a long time, or who has been in that situation for a long time, can really tease out those questions from product owners, business users, or stakeholders, and business intelligence is very much a technology department. By stakeholders, I really mean business users who are essentially funding this work. It’s hard to get them to get them to tell us exactly what they want. Often, business users think they need to speak your language, the language of data and technology, in order to get what they want out of it in that process.

The problem is that they turn their questions into technology solutions, which isn’t what they want in the first place.

Many times, when people talk to technology people, they say they want to be able to see the distinct users by any ad campaign on any particular content type, or content category that’s on our side by the author of that content. Because of the nature of BI, you really can’t do that because that means that if you want to count users, you have to keep data at the lowest grain. The volumes that we deal with for the users, the cardinality of that data would have been impossible to accomplish a few years back.

This is opposed to really understanding what data is needed by the trafficker of the advertisements, operations manager, or ad sales staff, so they can do their job better. They don’t necessarily need data in every single permutation. Because they’re trying to fold it into a technology question, they end up designing a solution that may not necessarily work for them. On the other hand, Inquidia was able to hone in on customer satisfaction.

Also, they look at open source technologies more favorably than closed source technologies. It’s a tremendous benefit for any organization to go toward an open source solution. Obviously, saving money is a big win. There is a bigger win than that. Many people don’t realize that the newspaper is more of a technology company than a media firm. Any company that has a big reliance on technology will have a big developer shop. In that engineering culture, open source technologies are part of the culture for retention, for creative development, for growth. This is what excites engineers. I think that was the best investment we made, in looking into a lot of open source tools. Our company has released many open source tools.

In our experience with Inquidia, they are slightly more expensive than an offshore firm. I think the quality certainly speaks louder than words. They bring so much quality to the table.

SOLUTION

Please describe Inquidia's work in more detail.

Inquidia was able to tease out what the KPI, or key performance indicators, and key performance metrics should be. We have built a lot of cubes for understanding our revenue, how the flight was performing through advertising systems. We built certain cubes to do forecasting if our inventory is really matching up to our expectations.

Inquidia has provided resources on site to handle these data needs. They also provide great advice about our BI efforts and how to harness the data. 

Independently, we engaged Inquidia, and it turned out that they were partners with Pentaho. They recommended Inquidia, and we told them we already engaged them. Inquidia helped us put together a full BI stack. It was a small data warehouse that essentially maintains our internal advertisement data and the ability to combine data sets.

What was your process for selecting Inquidia with which to work?

We started looked at whether we could engage with a consulting firm. When we were looking at a variety of consulting firms, Inquidia was prominently mentioned by some of our colleagues, some friends we have in our network, and as well as by Pentajo as well.

Can you provide a ballpark dollar figure for the size of the work that they’ve done for you?

Because we put this reporting capability on a very foundational pillar of our system, they had required three full-time Inquidia people for about a year to get to where we were. From that point on, to maintain that footprint and continue to deliver value to our customers, we had one full-time Inquidia staff here as well as some architects on a part-time basis. We have two full-time and one part-time Inquidia staff members helping us out on different projects.

When was the latest milestone completed for that work?

It’s been about five years, since about 2009. The projects have been fairly sizable, meaning that it’s a reporting capability for a very mainstream technology that’s in the middle of our business line. It’s not a new CRM [customer relationship management] that we’re putting together and just needs some reports for the call center. It has been fairly complicated and more involved work.

That was the pleasure; the quality versus quantity. We had a similar project where we were redoing our CRM, moving from one CRM to another open source CRM. As part of that project, we engaged with another consulting agency, and that agency ended up engaging about five full-time people. That was for about seven months when we had about five engineers.

RESULTS & FEEDBACK

Do you have any statistics or metrics to track improvement from the project?

The level of satisfaction with most vendors, on a scale of zero to 10, is about six. With Inquidia, it’s about nine or 10. To a department head, that’s what you really want. You want your customers to be very happy and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Is there anything unique about them that really makes them stand out, compared to other companies?

If I look at other consulting firms, there are a few things that stand out between Inquidia and other consultants in this space. They definitely have a lot more experience than a lot of consulting firms out there claiming that they have BI experience. They have a very heavy emphasis on statistics and data. You have a lot of data engineers rather than software engineers. It’s a very different mindset. If you’re in the BI field, you live and breathe it. It’s hard for someone to see from an outside perspective that it’s very important to have data engineers rather than software engineers. This is because you’re solving for data problems, not necessarily software problems. It’s hard to explain to a lot of people, but for somebody in the BI space, they tend to appreciate it very much.

To me, their focus on open source platforms and software definitely makes them more favorable to me than any other organization that is trying to sell us on different things, such as Talend or Informatica. Using open source technologies where applicable is fantastic. I think it’s a fairly small shop, and I think they communicate effectively to each other. If there’s anything happening in Inquidia because it’s a small company, they don’t have that communication barrier yet. They are very effective and are up to date on the newest technologies much sooner than other consulting agencies.

They are not overly salesmen. In a lot of consulting firms that I deal with, they are always trying to get the fish on the hook. They are different. If their contract ends tomorrow, they just need to know that, and they can move on. They’re not trying to milk it so they can stay here as long as they can. It’s in our contracts that they can’t talk about us as a client. They are not overly pushy, and they don’t start giving us pitches on what needs to happen. It’s very refreshing to have people just come in and say, “Here’s a problem. We’re going to crush it like a walnut,” and just leave it at that. They don’t try to sell me on what they think we need throughout the year. They make their capabilities well known, and it’s up to the company to figure out what happens next.

Looking back on the work so far, is there any area that you think they could improve upon or that you might do differently?

In some cases, that lack of salesmanship could hurt them. If they’re capable of putting in Tableau on the server that we were thinking about, but never thought to discuss it with them, those are the things you tend to miss. The other side of it is the cost. They are expensive, and they are more expensive than traditional consulting companies in that space.

They also have younger staff, not in terms of age, but staff that doesn’t have a lot of experience in the past. That means the people are passionate when they’re learning new things, and they are passionate and enthusiastic. But, the downside is the retention. We have had some of the Inquidia team members who came to New York from Chicago to help on the New York Times project, and ended up leaving for a bigger and better company within New York. That was a small negative, but it was not to the point where it has impacted us greatly, but it was there.

The positive side to that is that they deal with those issues much more professionally and adequately than other consulting firms that I have encountered. Some of these firms were fairly large. These are not mom-and-pop shops. Inquidia is good about bouncing back and having a plan. If someone is leaving, before they announce it to us, they have a fully worked-out plan that they are putting in place, so we don’t have to pay for the fact that someone has to be replaced. Inquidia is very good about dealing with those issues.

We ask you to rate Inquidia on a scale of one to five, with five being the top score. What would you give them out of five for the quality of their work?

Definitely a five. I would give them a six. The quality is the biggest driver and the biggest distinguishing factor that they bring to the table. They are outstanding at using existing tools to solve the problem cleverly. That’s number one.

For schedule, as in being on time and meeting deadlines?

Four. We’ve had some projects that we missed deadlines on. We recognize the fact that there are deadlines. Many consulting firms would rank two or three, where Inquidia is a four.

For cost, as in value for your money and sticking with the original estimates?

Definitely a five.

For the overall score?

Five.

How likely are you to recommend Inquidia to a colleague, out of five?

Very definitely a five, and we have recommended Inquidia to a lot of people, both internally and to some friends of mine outside the organization as well.

Originally published at https://clutch.co/review/major-newspaper-data-warehousing-work

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