Monday, April 09, 2007

Skytide Simplifies Customer Experience Analysis

Last Thursday’s post made a passing reference to Skytide , a vendor which may not be familiar to many readers. Here’s a bit more information, based on conversations with the company.

Essentially, Skytide extracts and aggregates user-selected elements from large data streams, such as Web logs or call center history files. The aggregated data is stored in a multi-dimensional structure where it can be accessed by the Skytide analyst’s workbench or by third party tools through JDBC, MDX and the system’s own API.

So far this sounds like other multi-dimensional database products. What sets Skytide apart is its use of XML and the Xpath language to access the source data. This allows it to read both conventional structured databases and unstructured data. (All sources, including the structured ones, are defined to the system as XML.) It also simplifies creation of the multi-dimensional models themselves by automating chores that are otherwise done manually, such as defining the members of each dimension.

Another of Xpath’s virtues is working with relations among “sibling” records (the equivalent of rows in a conventional database), which is difficult in a set-based language like SQL. This allows Skytide to report on paths through a Web session or phone system. Xpath also lets Skytide set up overlapping access hierarchies to the stored data, which is difficult in conventional multi-dimensional systems. On a practical level, alternative hierarchies greatly speed system deployment because users need not agree on a single data structure.

With any system that works by extracting data from source systems, a key question is the time required to read and store the reformatted data. Skytide says they do this nearly as fast as the data can be read—adding just ten to twenty percent on top of the i/o time. The input need not be presorted, since the XML tags and Xpath avoid the need for any physical storage hierarchy.

Skytide was launched in 2003 and has since matured to handle huge data volumes—the largest installations scan ten terabytes of source data per day. The company has been growing slowly and quietly with limited financing, although its dozen clients include impressive names like IBM, Sun and Akamai. It is now seeking additional funding to allow faster expansion.

Skytide is ultimately a database engine, not an analytics application. But it makes assembling cross channel data easy and supports analyses that are otherwise difficult. So it could provide a valuable platform for companies seeking to improve their customer experience analysis capabilities.

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