Thursday, November 20, 2014

Application Analytics Innovation: Wolters Kluwer, CCH Gets It

I've been working on application analytics use cases and scenarios going on nine years now – and I spend a good deal of my time supporting (and learning from) dev teams of all shapes and sizes – and having said that, I’m pleased to say, this week was a first for me. This week I had the good fortune to sit in on the final hours of a two day Code Games inside Wolters Kluwer, CCH.

Coding competitions/events like this are nothing new, but running a good one is never easy – required ingredients include a positive, nurturing culture, some serious organizational and editorial skills, and (of course) sharp developers. On this day, Wolters Kluwer, CCH had all three on display in spades.


POSITIVE NURTURING CULTURE? YES!


Now, I’m not the first to take notice (those of you that know me know that one of my favorite aphorisms is that ideas only have to be good – they don’t need to be original). Forbes covered Wolters Kluwer’s code games earlier this week in their article Top Women CEOs On How Bold Innovation Drives Business. Karen Abramson, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting highlights their “Code Games” as one of the three pillars in “a constant eco-system of innovation across the organization.”

SERIOUS ORGANIZATIONAL AND EDITORIAL SKILLS? YES! (… and here’s where it gets interesting)


I wish that I could share some of the awesome presentations I heard on that night (there were truly some awesome ones), but an executed NDA was the prerequisite for my attendance. What I CAN relay is that their Code Games was the first one I've seen where “most innovative use of application analytics” was one of the award categories. At the end of the night, one of the two Code Games organizers, Elizabeth Weissman, Director of Innovation, iLab Solutions at Wolters Kluwer, CCH said that she thought the application analytics category was a perfect complement to the other wholly business-focused ones because it sent the dev teams the important message that “application analytics need to be a part of an application’s design from the very beginning – not an afterthought.”

It is worth noting that the other mainstream award categories (which were, in fact, more prestigious because they were focused squarely on core business impact) were judged on a) Innovation, b) Technical Achievement, and c) Potential Value Generation. As such, no team would have included application analytics at all if they did not believe upfront that it would contribute in some material way to one or more of these three criteria.

…but, for me, it’s bigger than that – as those teams that included app analytics presented to the Code Games judges, those judges (and the 150+ dev. audience members) also got the message that app analytics is not just for website forensics and user clicks; and in this case, the judges panel included Wolters Kluwer, CCH executives, Teresa Mackintosh, President & CEO, Mark Lawler, VP Software Development, Brian Diffin, Executive VP Global Technology, and some of Wolters Kluwer, CCH’s own VIP clients – and now they all get it too!
From right to left, Elizabeth, Teresa, Bernie, and me (photo-bombing this Wolters Kluwer, CCH "A-team")


How’d they do it? Working with Bernie Hirsch, Director, Software Development at Wolters Kluwer, CCH, (the other half of the Code Games organizer dynamic duo) we setup a privately hosted PreEmptive Analytics endpoint in an Azure VM that matched their existing production analytics environment and that allowed dev teams to securely and easily add analytics to their projects – whether or not the apps ran on-premises, used client data, connected to internal systems, etc.

SHARP PROGRAMMERS? SERIOUSLY?? (Of course YES!)


As I've already said, I can’t describe specifically what these teams built, but here are a few factoids:

  • Every team that decided to include app analytics succeeded. 
  • The teams instrumented apps running .NET, Java Script, and mobile surfaces and the apps themselves were both customer facing and internal, line of business apps. 
  • The teams collected session and usage data, exceptions, timing, and custom-app-specific telemetry too. 
  • While the applications ran the gamut from on-premises LoB and client-facing, all of the app telemetry was transmitted to Azure-hosted (private cloud) endpoints (and one app then pulled the data out and back into the very app that was being monitored! – but now I have to stop before I say too much). 
  • Not all teams incorporated analytics into their projects, but the most decorated team was one of those that did – NOT to track exceptions or page views – but as the backbone to one of their most powerful data-driven features for the business.
Developer presentations ran into the evening in front of a packed house and 150+ employees watching remotely.
So there we have it, Wolters Kluwer, CCH brought together the culture, the organizational savvy, and the technical talent to pull-off what was truly an exceptional event.  ...and I'm grateful that I had the chance to come along for the ride. Cheers!

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