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SAN FRANCISCO — Creating the right data collection and analysis tools can help executives — and regular employees — understand their businesses better.

At VentureBeat’s DataBeat conference today, three companies described how they’re using data to provide better insights — helping improve the way they do business. Read on to learn how the Guardian, Quizlet, and New York Air Brake got a handle on their data needs.

What works in the news business

The Guardian, a nearly 200-year-old newspaper publishing company, ain’t an edgy startup. But it managed to build Orphan, a powerful in-house data analytics tool to observe the performance of articles its journalists publish. The tool, based on ElasticSearch’s open-source search and analytics software, shows traffic patterns, social media behavior, geographical reach, relevant search terms, and the pages people clicked on after viewing articles.

“It’s an easy way for editors and people responsible for a wider part of the site to understand what’s doing well and what’s not,” said Graham Tackley, Guardian News and Media’s director of architecture.

And indeed, the software has become more and more popular among the Guardian’s employees, Tackley said. –JN

Learning about online learning

New Relic, after launching its app-performance management products, realized that there’s a broader stream of valuable data flowing through most web and mobile apps: purchase information, customer retention rates, and more.

New Relic decided to capture that information and beam it back to customers in a new product called New Relic Insights. It’ll be generally available later this year, but some beta customers are happily testing the software today.

One of those companies is Quizlet, an online learning app created by then-high school sophomore Andrew Sutherland in 2005. Originally conceived as a tool for personal use, Quizlet has become increasingly popular among students across the country: It’s now used by 25 percent of U.S. high school students, according to Sutherland.

Quizlet was already monitoring its app performance with New Relic, so when it added Insights to its roster of services, it already had all of its historical user data in there. “We could start querying from day one,” said Sutherland.

Previously, Quizlet used Google Analytics and experiment with other services like Mixpanel, but it took a long time to derive answers to its data questions. Sutherland would write queries, ship them off, and it would take days for the data to come back. And he wasn’t a huge fan of the Google Analytics interface, either.

After getting New Relic Insights, Quizlet “basically stopped using Google Analytics,” he said. With a 40-character query, Sutherland could answer similar questions in a much more efficient fashion.

One thing he discovered with Insights: The folks who actually purchased the service are significantly older than the average person navigating to the purchase and checkout pages. Armed with that info, Quizlet reduced its marketing to the 20-and-under segment, instead focusing on an older demographic — in other words, people with money.

“We’re basically just asking more questions and getting more answers all the time,” said Sutherland. –EB

Hitting the brakes on fuel consumption

Exploring data from sensors on hardware has provided some big benefits for New York Air Brake, a seller of braking gear for trains.

New York Air Brake equipped 5,000 trains with sensors to see in real time the force being exerted on them. The data flows into Splunk’s software for capturing machine data, said Guido Schroeder, Splunk’s senior vice president of products.

The company got a clear picture of fuel consumption, which can cost more than $10 billion per year in the $70 billion freight industry.

From there, Schroeder said, New York Air Brake “achieved fuel consumption improvements between 8 and 12 percent.” –JN


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