As we explained, an organization generates and records a lot of information as part of its daily business operations, including sales and accounting data, and data on inventory levels, back orders, customer returns, and complaints. Firms are also constantly gathering information related to their Web sites, such as clickstream data. Clickstream data is data generated about the number of people who visit a Web site and its various pages, how long they dwell there, and what they buy or don’t buy. Companies use clickstream data in all kinds of ways. They use it to monitor the overall traffic of visitors that a site gets, to see which areas of the site people aren’t visiting and explore why, and to automatically offer visitors products and promotions by virtue of their browsing patterns. Software can be used to automatically tally the vast amounts of clickstream data gathered from Web sites and generate reports for managers based on that information. Netflix recently awarded a $1 million prize to a group of scientists to plow through Web data generated by millions of Netflix users so as to improve Netflix’s predictions of what users would like to rent. 1 (That’s an interesting way to conduct marketing research, don’t you think?)
Being able to access clickstream data and other internally generated information quickly can give a company’s decision makers a competitive edge. Remember our discussion in Chapter 9 "Using Supply Chains to Create Value for Customers" about how Walmart got a leg up on Target after 9/11? Walmart’s inventory information was updated by the minute (the retailer’s huge computing center rivals the Pentagon’s, incidentally); Target’s was only updated daily. When Walmart’s managers noticed American flags began selling rapidly immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the company quickly ordered as many flags as possible from various vendors—leaving none for Target.
Click on the following link to watch a fascinating documentary about how Walmart, the world’s most powerful retailer, operates:http://www.hulu.com/watch/103756/cnbc-originals-the-new-age -of-walmart.
Many companies make a certain amount of internal data available to their employees and managers via intranets. An intranet looks like the Web and operates like it, but only an organization’s employees have access to the information. So, for example, instead of a brand manager asking someone in accounting to run a report on the sales of a particular product, the brand manager could look on her firm’s intranet for the information.
However, big companies with multiple products, business units, and databases purchased and installed in different places and at different times often have such vast amounts of information that they can’t post it all on an intranet. Consequently, getting hold of the right information can be hard. The information could be right under your nose and you might not know it. Meet people like Gary Pool: Pool works for BNSF Railway and is one of BNSF’s “go-to” employees when it comes to gathering marketing data. Pool knows how to access different databases and write computer programs to extract the right information from the right places at BNSF, a process known as data mining. Pool captures the information in spreadsheets such as Excel, which managers can use to detect marketing trends.