Cardinal Path’s response to COVID-19 Cardinal Path is sharing all we know to help marketers during COVID-19.  Learn more.

This article was originally published in Dutch at Frankwatching.

Author: Gerry van de Weijer, Web Analytics Consultant & blogger

Many people believe that online analytics is hard to do and difficult to set up. Others wonder: “How come some companies are so successful in their web analytics where others seem to fail?”

To Stéphane Hamel this question was the main reason to start studying and combining different models based on computer science, Business Intelligence and process analysis. His research led to the 6 areas of his Online Analytics Maturity Model (OAMM).

Combining the technical and strategic sides of online analytics

Stéphane Hamel lives in Canada and works as Director of Strategic Services at Cardinal Path. For years he has focused on the technical as well as the strategic aspects of online analytics, a combination that is still quite rare within the web analytics profession.  Being a web analytics consultant myself, having the chance of interviewing Hamel felt like a golden opportunity. The interview took place against the background of the beautiful Haar Castle in the Netherlands during The Online Dialogue Days.

An inspiring conversation followed, where we talked about his background and his thoughts and vision about online analytics. And of course we talked extensively about his Online Analytics Maturity Model –  a very useful assessment model, in my opinion, because it does not only take the technical aspects of online analytics into consideration, but also the organizational and process-driven measures that are necessary to provide online analytics with the highest added value.

Online Analytics Maturity Model

Stéphane tells me that through the years he very often heard people say that web analytics is “so hard” to do. Somehow that irritated him, and it automatically brought him to the inevitable question: “Why, then, are some organizations so successful in the performance of their web analytics, and why do others fail?”

The question led him to his assessment model, OAMM, which helps you determine the online analytics maturity level of your organization while also taking responsibilities, goals, processes and methodology into account.

The web analyst as a ‘change agent’

Stéphane tells me how the question ”How come we think it should be easy, but it isn’t?” kept intriguing him. But he believes online analytics is not as easy as it “should” be, because it changes company cultures. In his vision, a web analyst is truly a change agent – sadly enough, he or she is not always considered and valued as such. Stéphane believes in a “triangle of cooperation,” where business, technology and analysis work together. In this triangle, technology provides the enabling capabilities, where analysis provides insights and recommendations.

The 6 areas of the OAMM

Hamel explains more about the 6 areas that describe his model, and how you can determine how your company scores in this 6 ‘maturity areas’. These areas are:

  1. Management, governance, adoption: what is the highest job title with accountability for online performance measurement against business objectives?
  2. Objectives: what is the objective of your current analytics program?
  3. Scope: What is the scope of your analytics and optimization?
  4. Team & Expertise: how many people actually do analytics and how is your analytics team structured?
  5. Continuous improvement, processes and analytics methodology: how do you identify problems and opportunities, develop hypothesis, analyze and provide insights?
  6. Leveraging the tools, technology and data integration: how sophisticated is your use of available technologies?

Stéphane tells me that most organizations score pretty well in the areas of ‘Objectives’ and ‘Scope,’ but most of the time areas concerning processes, methodology and governance are less advanced – something I have experienced myself. Companies tend to understand why they want to deploy web analytics, but establishing responsibilities and integrating web analytics with overall company management and business goals is often not thought through very well.

Always an assessment first…

When Stéphane visits a company as a consultant he first performs an assessment based on his model. No matter what, he always wants to form a clear picture of the problems that need to be solved. What is this business about, and what are the business issues?  Through the years he has noticed that sometimes it is quite tempting to immediately start working on a solution. Organizations tend to hire him and tell him: “This is what we need.” While  Stéphane is looking for a different angle, namely: “What exactly is the problem you need to see solved?”

“… then a Roadmap”

Based on the assessment’s results he produces a Roadmap, with clear plans and timelines. In this it is very important that all 6 areas of the model should be approached, so they will reach or maintain a balance. After a year, the assessment will be repeated to find out whether the expected maturity growth is really visible.

Stéphane impresses that data in itself means nothing. You have to understand data in its context, how it’s collected and how it’s used. And to excel as a company you should certainly be data-driven, but you also need creativity, “Because creativity provides you with the ability to do better than your competitors,” he says.

Level in Europe

When I ask him about the online analytics maturity level in Europe, he has to admit that European companies in general show a lower score than companies in the U.S. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t making any progress,” he reassures me. And his model can assist there. Because it gives organizations insight into the current state of their online analytics, it helps them determine where they want to go and then the opportunity to see their progress.

How it started

Stéphane graduated in computer science in 1978, so he entered the world of web analytics from a pure IT background. His internship was that of a software developer and he got acquainted with the web when he helped install a web server at the company he was working for. Through log files it was possible to get an idea of how the web was performing – you could refer to this as the ‘pre-history’ of web analytics.

More than an IT-guy

Very soon Hamel discovered that computer science is not just about hardware programming. It’s more about understanding business objectives and optimizing processes using technology.

In all the companies he worked for, he discovered it was essential for him to learn “how the business worked.” He had to understand the business processes, before he could do anything of value. Hamel’s personal ‘frustration’ was that he was always seen as ‘just an IT-guy,’ who couldn’t be bothered with marketing or business processes. “And I could be so much more!” – he thought at the time.

Knowledge of Process optimization

After being triggered by a management meeting he attended, Stéphane followed a training program around process optimization. In this meeting he noticed that the brainstorm about web strategy went in a direction that had nothing to do with what the data was telling him. And what was worse, no one was really listening to his protests because he was IT and had no knowledge of marketing or processes.

Consequently he developed a new web analytics bachelor course, which he taught at the University of British Colombia. Hamel still teaches at the Laval University of Quebec.

Data is ‘big’ when it no longer fits in Excel

Towards the end of our interview we, of course, talked about big data and his vision on the phenomenon. He shares a nice definition: “I consider data to be big when it no longer fits in Excel.” This certainly brings the hype back to its right proportions.

Stéphane states that the whole idea of big data has mostly been pushed by technology vendors and is primarily a technical thing. Still, the new concepts that it brings are pretty interesting.

Online analytics versus business intelligence

Stéphane also states that the big-data-concept seems to have a better fit with Business Intelligence than it has with online analytics. In his opinion, Business Intelligence and Online Analytics originate from two different worlds and backgrounds – and require totally different skillsets. “The two philosophies can cause some mutual friction,” he says with a laugh. “But they will have to find a way to work together more,” because it isn’t only the marketing channel or the online business that needs to be optimized – we have to focus on the customer journey as a whole.

A profession in motion

It is important for companies to be aware of the fact that you cannot build data-driven organizations with only a hastily bought tool and a part time web analyst.

Interviewing Hamel has made me realize again how interesting my profession really is; it is so much in motion. The most important thing is to patiently tackle the maturity growth of your online analytics and move forward step by step. The Online Analytics Maturity Model can be a very valuable support in that process and, no doubt, there are more models that can help organizations in processing their online analytics with the highest level of maturity.

I’m curious about your experiences.

Stephane Hamel, Cardinal Path
Stéphane Hamel
Director of Innovation
Cardinal Path



State of Digital Marketing Analytics

The 2020 State of Digital Marketing Analytics examines the marketing technology that supports the world's most successful enterprises and highlights the challenges and strategies for navigating the new normal..