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Crunching the numbers to reveal all

Posted By Brian Blum On October 4, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

You need to know more than just what visitors do on your Internet site. That’s where Israel’s SiSense comes in, offering business intelligence for small operators.

The SiSense database technology can be set up in days, if not hours.

It sounds like the stuff of spy movies, but ‘business intelligence’ is actually an essential part of running a modern Internet organization. It’s not about scoping out your competitors as much as knowing what the visitors to your own website are doing. That knowledge allows you to tailor your site – from specific product offerings to hyper-local advertising campaigns – to what your users want.

There’s one catch, though: For a medium-sized to large web business, the price tag on business intelligence can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months to implement. Not so at Israel’s SiSense, where costs start at under $50 a month.

The hot Tel Aviv-based start-up just raised $4 million over and above a previous angel round of $1.5 million. SiSense has built a database technology called Elasticube that can be set up in days, if not hours. CEO Elad Israeli is happy to give us an under-the-hood look at the SiSense system.

Dealing with data overload

The problem for businesses, he tells ISRAEL21c, is that even a small website can generate enormous amounts of data. Let’s say your website receives 10,000 visitors a day and the average visitor clicks to view several different pages, watches a video, or fills-in a form to receive more information.

While that may not sound like a lot of information to crunch, if you do the numbers, you’ll have created a spreadsheet with 50,000 rows of information per day. Multiply that by a month and you already have 1.5 million data points to make sense of. Now extrapolate to a major consumer Web brand and before you can say ‘data overload,’ you’re swimming in it.

In typical business intelligence solutions, it’s not just the set-up that takes time; it’s the ability to crunch the numbers and return actionable answers in days rather than months as is most often the case.

As a result, business intelligence can be very complicated and expensive, Israeli explains. “That’s why it hasn’t really been able to expand beyond the Fortune 500. Smaller companies don’t have the resources or patience to wait for ROI (Return on Investment) years down the line.” Indeed, in the world of the real-time Web, where sales and marketing questions need to be acted on fast, that’s simply not good enough.

SiSense can move faster and is nimbler, according to Israeli, because its technology was built specifically from the ground up for business intelligence tasks. “We know how to talk to the database sources that are most likely to be used,” he asserts.

That data could include information from CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems that helps sales staff to track what their customers are buying, or provides detailed website analytics, including how well a pay-per-click Google advertising campaign is doing.

“There’s a lot of secret sauce going behind the scenes,” quips Israeli, who writes an interesting blog on business intelligence at Elasticube.com.

Yahoo, Target and Price Waterhouse

While all this makes SiSense particularly attractive to smaller organizations, the company has broken into the big time, as well. Divisions at accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers, Internet giant Yahoo and discount retailer Target all use the product.

In the latter’s case, SiSense allows sales managers to monitor what their account managers are doing. They can see who’s closing in on which sales, what will need to be done to meet the overall monthly target, and the potential size of each deal.

The SiSense offering is also unique in that it is downloaded over the Internet. There is no long sales cycle with business intelligence experts pre-selling and then installing the product. And the pricing is more in line with how Internet businesses operate.

A single user license starts at $50 a month, and grows according to the number of ‘seats.’ Depending on how many staff members will be using the product, a company may opt to buy a one-time license, which can range from $2,000 “to several dozens of thousands,” Israeli says. SiSense also offers a 30-day free trial.

Keeping your data private

Of course, many small companies will be tempted to use the free Google Analytics service. While Israeli concedes that, “it’s a start,” he points out that “Google doesn’t keep track of information on a user level. You can’t say this user went to the pricing page and then bought that product. It will only tell you the end points.”

Then there’s the option of doing business intelligence over the cloud, which is all the rage these days in Internet products. While there are some companies in this space – Israeli refers to Tibco, Gooddata Birst and PivotLink – Israeli claims that ultimately it won’t work; the data needs to be local to process fast enough.

External hosting would only exacerbate the bottlenecks internal IT departments’ experience. Plus a lot of the data a company generates is inherently private. “You don’t want to store it somewhere outside of the company,” he warns.

Israeli and his partner Eldad Farkash launched SiSense 10 years ago with Eldad’s father, successful Israeli businessman Eli Farkash, providing an initial $1.5 million investment. The fledgling company had just landed Microsoft as its first customer when the high-tech bubble burst and the two young men were forced to find other jobs.

Five years ago they decided to re-start the company, and four years of stealth development later, SiSense is back with guns blazing, 100 new customers and its new $4 million injection of capital from Israel’s Genesis Partners and US-based Opus Capital.

Israeli is headed to Silicon Valley to run the company’s US headquarters where he hopes to double the current 10-member staff. Farkash will lead R&D in Israel. But more staff and fresh money won’t change the business model: “We’ll still sell exclusively over the Internet,” Israeli promises, concluding that their investors believe strongly in SiSense and its chiefs’ “high aspirations.”

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