Usage Analytics: “Innovate or Perish”

An argument in favor of the democratization of Usage Analytics

Publishing is in a period of transition. Building a company culture of innovation is something that is often spoken about but rarely realized. Companies that want to move beyond the rhetoric need to implement the proper tools and have them be accessible to all team members.

Traditionally, market intelligence teams are in a service role at publishing houses where different departments, which each have various functions, work with the teams to solve problems. A good example is when there is a perceived need by customers for a new product. The editorial department schedules a meeting with the market intelligence group, a research plan is built and executed and then analyzed results are disseminated back to the commissioning department.

Not only is this process long, expensive, and lacking in agility, it also isn’t very democratic. The process creates a walled garden around innovation where you include only the people assigned to the project to come up with possible solutions.

In my more than fifteen years in publishing I have seen firsthand that innovation does not always come out of a “working party,” but many times from unsuspecting individuals on the outside who have intimate knowledge of a problem or market.

We need to democratize innovation. In a democratic society everyone has a vote and everyone is responsible for the success of that society. The same should be true for innovation at a publishing company. No manager would disagree, but the trouble is implementing the environment and tools to make that happen.

Focus groups, surveys, and symposiums are by nature time intensive, expensive, and allow a limited number of team members to participate. Companies would be better served by providing their teams with the right insights so they can use their creativity to innovate. Those insights are based on a deep understanding of the end-users’ experiences, quantitatively measured with the appropriate tracking and analysis tools. Only then will the team be in a position to iterate in a smart, efficient way, and experiment with features that might become your next key differentiator. By empowering them, your team members will drive innovation! Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg in the best selling book “How Google Works” explain that “In an era when everything is speeding up, the best way for businesses to succeed is to attract smart-creative people and give them an environment where they can thrive at scale.” It is your team who will drive innovation not your customers.

I have also observed a high degree of risk associated with innovation. The better path is to optimize your environmental factors to facilitate team innovation, amortize costs, and mitigate risk. Let’s look at these three key ingredients more closely.


Optimization of Environmental Factors

Usage Analytics

  • There is no better way to spark innovation than to study how customers experience the product/service. That is why every publishing company should have an accessible system to track and analyze customer usage regardless of a team member’s business function. Squid Solutions ( data visualization can be understood by anyone, including those without an analytical skill set. One of Squid’s largest customers, Elsevier, likens it to bringing usage analytics to the cafeteria. Your team in product management, marketing, IT, sales, editorial, and finance can all contribute to a culture of innovation with the proper analytics tools.


  • Setting up, interpreting, and disseminating information from focus groups, surveys, and symposiums takes too much time in this fast-paced environment. Our society is also changing in that people process visual information much faster than print. Using data visualization will get teams understanding customer behavior much quicker than reading reports. The insights they gain from studying customer behavior will inevitably lead to innovative ideas and actions.


  • Companies need to build or choose systems that are open and transparent. How many times have you tried to solve a problem only to learn another department was struggling with the same or a similar issue? If you could look at customer behavior from like projects, what effects would that have on your decisions for the current project you’re working on? Transparency leads to collective brainstorming.


  • Companies need to reward innovation even when it fails. Awards are good but they usually indicate exception rather than the norm. I have observed that it is better to have an ongoing narrative about innovation. Focus on fostering creativity within your team by providing the right tools and training.


Amortization of Cost

When times get tough, market intelligence department budgets are the first to get affected and yet for most publishing companies they are viewed as necessary for innovation. Studies have suggested, and most CEOs agree, that 0.2–0.4% of revenue should be allocated to market intelligence departments. However, much of that budget is vulnerable as it usually represents only a few high-priced projects. The better course of action would be to amortize those costs over the fiscal year so no one project looks to be too costly. Investing in a data-management platform that includes data visualization can provide the core tools for market intelligence departments. This also makes data accessible to all teams so ownership and innovative ideas can become democratic.


Mitigating Risk

For publishers, there has never been a more dangerous time to play it safe. New products and platform development is costly but necessary. Without them, the business is in danger. If you’re standing still or moving slowly, you’re dying. Publishers need to shorten the “idea to product” development cycle, find ways to innovate quickly, and mitigate the risk of failure. Moving away from building out the whole solution to building smalls parts to test out in an agile way would be faster and minimize costs. Many small reiterative changes to products and platforms over time mitigate risk compared to new versions or editions. Having a usage analytics system in place so you can view customer behavior is essential for success in this type of environment.



Data visualization tools connected to usage analytics are the key to developing a truly innovative workplace and competing in the constantly changing publishing landscape. Ownership of innovation needs to become more democratic and include all business functions rather than rest only with market intelligence departments.


Pierre Montagano is the Business Development Director for Squid Solutions He has been in publishing for over fifteen years working for Cambridge University Press, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson. He can be reached at