Wednesday, November 09, 2016

ActionIQ Merges Customer Data Without Reformatting

One of the fascinating things about the Customer Data Platform Institute is how developers from different backgrounds have converged on similar solutions. The leaders of ActionIQ, for example, are big data experts: Tasso Argyros founded Aster Data, which was later purchased by Teradata, and Nitay Joffe was a core contributor to HBase and the data infrastructure at Facebook.  In their previous lives, both saw marketers struggling to assemble and activate useful customer data. Not surprisingly, they took a database-centric approach to solving the problem.

What particularly sets ActionIQ apart is the ability to work with data from any source in its original structure. The system simply takes a copy of source files as they are, lets users define derived variables based on those files, and uses proprietary techniques to query and segment against those variables almost instantly. It’s the scalability that’s really important here: at one client, ActionIQ scans two billion events in a few seconds. Or, more precisely, it’s the scalability plus flexibility: because all queries work by re-reading the raw data, users can redefine their variables at any time and apply them to all existing data. Or, really, it's scalability, flexibility, and speed, because new data is available within the system in minutes.

So, amongst ActionIQ’s many advantages are scalability, flexibility, and speed. These contrast with systems that require users to summarize data in advance and then either discard the original detail or take much longer to resummarize the data if a definition changes.

ActionIQ presents its approach as offering self-service data access for marketers and other non-technical users. That’s true insofar as marketers work with previously defined variables and audience segments. But defining those variables and segments in the first place takes the same data wrangling skills that analysts have always needed when faced with raw source data. ActionIQ reduces work for those analysts by making it easier to save and reuse their definitions. Its execution speed also reduces the cost of revising those definitions or creating alternate definitions for different purposes. Still, this is definitely a tool for big companies with skilled data analysts on staff.

The system does have some specialized features to support marketing data. These include identity resolution tools including fuzzy matching of similar records (such as different versions of a mailing address) and chaining of related identifiers (such as a device ID linked to an email linked to an account ID). It doesn’t offer “probabilistic” linking of devices that are frequently used in the same location although it can integrate with vendors who do. ActionIQ also creates correlation reports and graphs showing the relationship between pairs of user-specified variables, such as a customer attribute and promotion response. But it doesn’t offer multi-variable predictive models or machine learning.

ActionIQ gives users an interface to segment its data directly. It can also provide a virtual database view that is readable by external SQL queries or PMML-based scoring models. Users can also export audience lists to load into other tools such as campaign managers, Web ad audiences, or Web personalization systems. None of this approaches the power of the multi-step, branching campaign flows of high-end marketing automation systems, but ActionIQ says most of its clients are happy with simple list creation. Like most CDPs, ActionIQ leaves actual message delivery to other products.

The company doesn’t publicly discuss the technical approach it takes to achieve its performance, but they did describe it privately and it makes perfect sense. Skeptics should be comforted by the founders’ technical pedigree and demonstrated action performance. Similarly, ActionIQ asked me not to share screen shots of their user interface or details of their pricing. Suffice to say that both are competitive.

ActionIQ was founded in 2014 and has been in production with its pilot client for over one year. The company formally launched its product last month.

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