Virtual Report Suites [Adobe Analytics]
Recently, Adobe provided an Adobe Analytics update that includes a cool new feature called “Virtual Report Suites.” Virtual Report Suites are an exciting new way to segment your Adobe Analytics data and control access to it. In this post, I will share some of my thoughts on this new feature and share some resources that Adobe has provided so you can learn more about it.
A Brief History Lesson
Before I get into Virtual Report Suites, I think it is worthwhile to go back in time to see how this feature evolved, and why it is so cool. Back in the early days of Omniture SiteCatalyst (I am dating myself!), it was not possible to segment data instantaneously. To see segmented data, you had to either run a DataWarehouse report or use the Discover product (now called Ad Hoc Analysis). But there was also another feature that wasn’t used very often called Advanced Segment Insight (ASI). ASI was a way that you could define a segment and then re-process all of your data for just that segment and it acted just like a new report suite. However, the data was usually about 24 hours in arrears, so it didn’t provide anything close to real-time segmentation.
With the advent of instant segmentation in v15 of Adobe Analytics, the entire game changed for Adobe Analytics customers. Suddenly, you could segment data in real-time! This meant that ASI was no longer needed, so that feature was phased out of the product (or at least hidden!). This new ability to instantly segment also brought with it some new Adobe Analytics architecture considerations. For example, people began wondering whether they still needed to have multiple report suites and pay for extra secondary server calls. Why not just throw all of your data into one massive report suite and use segmentation to narrow down your data set? This would save money and avoid having to deal with different report suites. As I outlined at the time in this blog post, some of the reasons to not go down to one report suite were as follows:
- The complexity of segments your users might have to make when dealing with just one data set;
- The fact that even though you could segment, you could not enforce security constraints, so everyone could see all data in the combined data set (i.e. users in the UK can see USA data and vice-versa);
- You could not have different local currencies in the combined data set, so you’d have to pick just one currency.
For me, the most critical of these items was #2 – the one around security. But many companies over the last few years have decided to consolidate their implementations and trade segmentation complexity and data security control for implementation complexity and to save some money.
Virtual Report Suites
Now let’s chat about Virtual Report Suites. This new feature allows you to create a new report suite based upon a segment definition and have its data available in near real-time. When you create a Virtual Report Suite, it appears in the list of report suites with a blue dot to differentiate it. This is really what ASI should have always been if the technology would have allowed it! The cool part about Virtual Report suites is that they solve the #2 item about around security. With Virtual Report Suites, you can assign users to a security group and limit what data they can see. Here are some examples of how you can use this new security feature:
- You have multiple brands as part of your company and want to track all data in one report suite, but only let marketers from each brand see their own data;
- You have multiple country websites and want to track all data together, but only allow each country marketing team to see its own data;
- You have an agency that you work with and want them to see campaign and some conversion data, but not all of your analytics data.
As you can see, the addition of security can tip the scales towards a consolidated report suite approach. For those clients of mine that were worried about security, they now have one less reason to not reduce the number of report suites they maintain.
Obviously, the main driver for consolidating your report suites into one combined one is to save money on your Adobe contract. Secondary server calls can add up quickly and money saved can be applied to more analysts or adding Adobe Target to your implementation. Combining report suites also avoids some of the inconsistency issues I find in client implementations described in this post.
However, there are still some “gotchas” you need to consider before you decide to consolidate all of your report suites into one suite and use Virtual Report Suites. Adobe has outlined these considerations in this great FAQ document. Here are the ones that jump out to me as being most important:
- Unique Values – Sometimes combining data sets leads to variables exceeding the monthly unique value limits (normally 500,000). Exceeding this limit has negative ramifications when it comes to segments and SAINT Classifications;
- Current Data – If you like seeing up to the minute data in your Adobe Analytics reports, you will only be able to see that in the normal report suite, not the Virtual Report Suites;
- Non-Shared Variables – If you have different report suites for different sites, you can provide each site with its own set of non-shared variables. This means that Site A might use eVars 75-100 to track different things than Site B does. But if you combine your data sets, you cannot have different values in the same variable slots, so you you might have to allocate different variable slots (i.e. Site A gets eVars 75-85 and Site B gets eVars 86-100) to each site and might not have enough variables to go around;
- Full Picture – One of the issues of using multiple report suites or Virtual Report suites is that sometimes your users don’t get the full picture when doing analysis. For example, if you have a segment that looks for visits that enter on a campaign landing page, when you look at the segmented reports, it will show a different story than the main report suite where visitors could have entered on any page. This means that paths, participation and eVar allocation are all different between the main suite and the multi-suite tagged or Virtual Report Suite. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if the people doing analysis don’t realize or remember that they are not seeing the full picture. Here is a typical example. Imagine that a paid search campaign code drove lots of people to your website. You can see that clearly in your main report suite. But when you look at the Virtual Report suite, depending upon the segment used to create it, the primary entry pages may not be included, so the campaign variable isn’t populated. Therefore, when doing analysis in your Virtual Report Suite, you may find that most visits originate from “Typed/Bookmarked,” when, in fact, they were driven by a paid search campaign. This just takes some practice and education to make sure you don’t make bad business decisions due to your report suite architecture;
- Currencies – As mentioned previously, if you deal with multinational sites, you may want to have a different currency for each site and Virtual Report Suites don’t currently support this.
These are the main things I would suggest you think about, but you can get more information in the Adobe FAQ document. You can also check out the short video that Ben Gaines created on Virtual report suites here.
The addition of Virtual Report Suites is an exciting development in the evolution of Adobe Analytics and one that will definitely have a long-term positive impact. It brings with it the opportunity to drastically change how you architect your analytics solution. But making the decision to change your Adobe Analytics report suite architecture is not something you do every day. Therefore, I would suggest that you do some due diligence before you make any drastic changes. There are still ways that you can use and get value from Virtual Report Suites, even if you don’t choose to move all of your data into one combined data set right away. If you have questions or want to bounce ideas off me as an objective 3rd party, feel free to contact me. Thanks!