When I last looked at Alterian, which was nearly three years ago, I thought it was good but I preferred some other products; the changes made in the interim have led me to re-evaluate, because Alterian now have a real world class offering. The changes that have been made are very profound.
Firstly, Alterian no longer sells directly to end customers, they sell though a powerful network of partners. I thought three years ago that Alterian were a little too focused on the technology that they had and were not strong enough in providing the professional support required to enable businesses to adapt to the use of a marketing automation tool. The network of partners that Alterian now sells through could not have that criticism levelled against them; they represent most of the leading professional services companies who focus on Marketing. Many are industry specific, many are able to augment internal transactional data with additional data to help build a more complete picture of the customer, so this is a very positive move. Alterian focus on the core technology, which continues to impress, but now they have partners who can provide the industry-specific differentiation. Alterian help the partners to be successful, and take on not only the provision of the core technology, but also technical support, training and the deep technical professional services which ensures that a project runs smoothly.
In terms of the core technology, it has been broadened and strengthened, but at its core remains the Alterian data engine. Many will question why you need to have a specialist data engine for marketing analytics; they see this as added complexity for questionable gain. Unfortunately such people fail to understand the nature of how marketing analytics operates and how general purpose databases, such as Oracle, DB2 and Microsoft, good as they are, struggle to provide the correct support. Marketing analytics is not easy to predefine and Marketers must be able to react, change, and open up new opportunities rapidly. Marketers are also not the sorts of people who are prepared to sit and wait for results. The query engine has therefore to be able to answer questions for which the database is not optimised. Those queries can involve the scanning of many millions of rows, and the Marketer wants the answer very rapidly, and is likely, once they have a result, to then want to modify the query and run another monster query. The Alterian engine will do all of that; others will struggle.
It should also be mentioned that Alterian have very comprehensive analytics, based on standard statistical tools developed both in-house and through the use of base SPSS, but also they support the use of KXEN, which is to my mind the best tool for developing customer intelligence amongst marketers who have no desire to learn either IT or statistics.
The broadening of the capability is very significant; through acquisition Alterian can now offer both marketing resource management (MRM), and email marketing capability. Alterian have acquired Dynamics Direct, one of the leading email marketing companies. Email marketing is one of the key areas emerging as a core capability that Marketing must now address. Alterian can offer that capability, not as a loosely coupled add-on, but as a fully integrated part of their suite.
The Alterian solution has been adopted by the Direct Marketing Association itself in the USA which is the body that regulates the industry so that is a most telling endorsement of its capability.
They have also acquired Nvigorate a marketing resource management solution. MRM is an emerging technology, but one which is vital for large organisations to embrace. Marketing is one of the most complex elements of a business; it involves many internal and external parties who pass material between themselves all the time, and this is done against a backdrop of changing requirements and very tight time schedules. Most companies track things on spreadsheets and manage by having people working very long hours doing very mundane labour intensive tasks to achieve the overall co-ordination. MRM enables creative people to focus on being creative, and for the whole workflow to become far smarter, and more productive.
Another interesting differentiator for Alterian is that they now support more than just one way to plan and execute a campaign. As marketing campaigns move from being simple single event activities with minimal feedback being captured, into complex, multi-channel, wave campaigns based on feedback at each stage of the execution, the standard approach of trying to define such logic in tree-like structures is becoming increasingly untenable, so Alterian have trees and also an Excel-like grid style interface to cater for all needs.
This is a very strong offering that will meet the needs of the vast majority of marketers, and should be included in any evaluation.