Thursday, February 02, 2017

Quaero AdVantage CDP Bridges Identified and Anonymous Data

It’s a common pattern: several vendors proudly roll out new products they developed in secret, only to find they’re all very similar. The amazing coincidence isn’t really so amazing: everyone sees the same problems and has the same technologies available to solve them. So they come up with similar solutions.

Simultaneous rollout.  I've had this picture in my head for years.  Apologies to Dr. Seuss.

We’ve seen some of that in the Customer Data Platform industry, but there’s a twist. Many CDPs evolved from older systems and inherited some of their ancestors’ characteristics. One of those lineages goes back to marketing databases from simpler days, when postal mail and email were the main channels. The big challenges for those systems were loading complex data structures (addresses, transactions, message history, etc.), cleaning that data, and identifying records that belonged to the same individual. In that world, there was no such thing as an anonymous customer and most data was neatly structured. As I say, a simpler time.

Quaero’s AdVantage is a good example of a system with deep roots in the old methods – but updated to handle modern challenges. Quaero itself was founded back in 1999 as a marketing services provider (meaning they built custom marketing databases and attached tools like the Unica campaign manager). It was purchased in 2008 by CSG International, a telecom customer communications specialist, and repurchased by the original management in 2014. By then, the managers had already started work on a next-generation platform designed to handle both traditional and online data, using relational databases for one and a NoSQL system (in this case, Hadoop) for the other. The company has recently introduced this to the market as AdVantage.

The split architecture of AdVantage is actually pretty common among CDPs, since anonymous and identified customer data are often kept separate for privacy reasons. It’s also common to hold all the raw data in a NoSQL data lake and extract it to a relational database where it's refined and restructured for analysis. AdVantage does that too. It’s a bit less common for vendors to be so open about these details; Quaero management's transparency is probably another result of their maturity.

What’s truly unusual is the sophistication of AdVantage’s data processing itself. After nearly two decades of wrestling with customer identities, Quaero has mastered tricks that many newer vendors have yet to see.* More concretely, the system provides over 1,000 prebuilt “workflows” that perform tasks within data staging, loading, cleaning, transformation, aggregation, scoring, and measurement. These can be configured to specific situations, giving users a great deal of power without writing actual queries or scripts. Workflows can also be strung together to create larger flows, which AdVantage visualizes nicely.  This lets users trace exactly how the system got to its results. Configuring the workflows is still definitely technical work, which is either done by IT staff or the Quaero services team. But AdVantage makes it more efficient than hand coding and vastly more accessible to anyone other than the original coder.

Another important feature is that AdVantage flows work with metadata, meaning they are not mapped directly to the underlying data stores. This means an implementation can move to different platforms without losing most of the work. That makes it easier to adopt new technologies and to convert to more powerful platforms if a system outgrows its original installation.

AdVantage’s features for working with identified customers are especially mature, handling different kinds of “fuzzy” name and address matching as well as creating a “golden record” of best values from all sources. It also has strong features for unifying anonymous inputs, which it supplements with device matching services such as Tapad and Oracle Crosswise. AdVantage creates separate customer IDs for identified and anonymous profiles, and then, when possible, links them with a master ID

Once the data is assembled, AdVantage makes it available to marketing users and applications such as business intelligence tools and campaign managers. AdVantage provides its own interactive reports and segmentation interface. But most users will attach their own tools such as Tableau or Looker. AdVantage also connects to execution tools such as email engines. These tools can directly access both the relational and NoSQL data stores. Quaero has built standard connectors to common products, both to load data and access it. It builds new connectors as clients need them.

Existing AdVantage installations are hosted on Amazon Web Services, although a client could also run it on-premise if desired. Pricing is based on factors including number of sources, data volume, users, and applications. An average installation runs $15,000 to $25,000 per month although some are lower and higher. Quaero provides services with the product to help clients get set up properly and make changes over time.

*Some others have, especially those with a similar background.

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