Domopalooza 2018 - Target gives a progress report on their data-driven transformation

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 16, 2018
At Domopalooza 2017, Target's story of data transformation at scale was a show highlight. But as Target's Ben Schein shared this year, empowering decision makers with data is just the beginning.

Ben Schein of Target at Domopalooza 2018

The last time Ben Schein took the stage at Domopalooza 2017, Target was coming off one of the toughest fourth quarters in the company's history.

Schein's keynote appearance at Domopalooza 2018 follows Target's best quarter in a decade, and enough digital progress to impress analysts.

Data transformation growth - and new problems

Schein has advanced his team's efforts since I wrote about his presentation in Changing the data conversation at Target - a Domopalooza '17 BI use case. As Schein told Domo CEO Josh James during his keynote sitdown, Domo adoption has surged, from 3,000 users a month to 3,000 users a week. Data volume has exceeded 800 billion rows.

But it wasn't these numbers that made Schein's update noteworthy.

Schein, who is Target's Senior Director - Enterprise Data, Analytics and Business Intelligence CoE, ties his data mission to Target's public goal:

Our strategy at Target is about making Target the easiest place to shop in America. I think that's a great goal for Target.

Internally, Shein has a parallel goal with data transparency:

I want Target to be the easiest place in corporate America to get data and insight, and so that's part of our journey.

But that progress comes with a potent question:

How do we engage our users more deeply, and really drive business decisions? And, you might say, really do the best thing for Target and the company?

Putting the data-driven organization to the test

It helps that the CEO and COO buy in, frequently checking Domo on their own. Now, when bad weather hits, they can drill into the granular. As Schein joked:

Even on Tuesday, being able to look and see: there's a snowstorm in New York and the northeast, where sales are down. We can drill in and say, "We're still selling booze. Adult beverages were so positive on Tuesday in New York."

Make your executives partners in data. Then informed decision-making happens:

The people that are making decisions in the company, whether it's a COO or a buyer or an inventory analyst, have access to the information they need right on their computer... We've changed the way that we've been able to use data at Target, because it's successful.

Domo was put to the test over the high stakes holiday season:

I think we were really successful over Thanksgiving and Christmas, where we had daily meetings for 30 minutes, even on the weekends, and really used [Domo] to both inform but also focus our conversation.

Now those meetings are strategy sessions, not time-wasting rehashes to get everyone caught up on data:

I've heard from the the breakout sessions and conversations here too: a lot of us, for a long time, had meetings where they consisted of everyone reading off how things went. That doesn't feel good anytime. It really doesn't feel good on Saturday morning before Christmas on the phone.

Pushing real-time data into decisions is a big step. But that doesn't magically solve the modern retailers' problems either. James asked Schein: are they extending this data conversation to their partners/suppliers - some of whom are at Domopalooza? Short answer: yes.

It was pretty awesome to talk to someone from our business side whose inventory analysts are day-to-day, trying to figure out - do we have enough inventory, and what are they ordering? Just hear them talk about, "Hey, if we knew more, this is what we would do."

If we knew more... such as?

  • Getting a more accurate forecast
  • Quickly determining if a further order is needed
  • Easily seeing if a supplier knows that an order is coming
  • Making bulk orders a more seamless process (as in: 20,000 bottles of shampoo)

Data collaboration should push beyond company walls

Along those lines, during Domo's infamous/exceptional live customer feedback session, one of Schein's colleagues at Target requested more functionality from Domo - to allow live data collaborations with external partners.

That cross-collaboration suggestion got about a 50 percent hand raise from the audience (meaning: somewhat enthusiastic, but not universally urgent). Does that mean half of these companies won't use Domo to collaborate beyond company walls? No. I think this is an advanced move some aren't ready for yet.

For Schein, it's about building a platform with a range of data sources, rather than pushing data to a small team of experts:

[We're not] trying to limit what we put into Domo. Our philosophy has always been one of creating a platform that enables lots of teams, lots of business people and analytics professionals who target the data in there.

Schein believes restricting access to the data platform is "limiting" to the imagination. It will hurt predictive efforts; it also takes away from small wins. He used the example of a team that uses Domo to enforce data protection. Because the data was democratized, that team could move ahead. Those small wins add up.

The wrap - can AI help find the needles liberated from the data haystacks?

As Schein's team consolidates "small" data sets (100 or 200 million rows) into one platform, he's running into new challenges. Call it the "too many needles" dilemma:

We went through this situation where we were constantly searching for a needle in a haystack, to now having this great, big pile of needles in a haystack, and that's awesome. But now the challenge is, how do they work together? How do I know this is the needle I need right now, and how do I help the organization move along?

If you overwhelm people, you're in trouble:

I like the pile of needles. I love all of the data, but people are in different places in their data journey, so for some people that's actually a little unsettling.

The answer? Give them the right piece of data at the right time:

When we use the data correctly, it doesn't become just a pile of needles, it becomes, "Oh, this is the one needle I needed to solve this problem." How do we start making these connections so that people are solving problems they didn't even know they had, or finding solutions they couldn't even imagine on their own, because they need to have blinders for what they're working on day to day?

That means making the most of Target's data scientists, using Domo to spread their insights in a self-service capacity.

But how can Domo help with that? CEO Josh James made a revealing comment on the potential of AI/automation - a push that Domo has been undertaking since announcing their Mr. Roboto, their AI/ML platform, at last year's event.

In 2017, Domo focused heavily on the security, governance, and data certification "foundational" pieces that enterprise customers need. But Domo's next step is helping customers with that find-the-right-needle problem. James:

A big thrust of our R&D efforts and our engineering teams is: we're going to take all this data that's sitting here, organized, at scale. And hopefully, it's all the data from the company, and then we'll have machines go through that, and go through algorithms and correlations and anomalies, and then surface those needles up, and say, "Is this interesting? Is that interesting?" You're going to see a lot more of that from us.

That means new approaches. It's not just about logging into dashboards anymore. It's about push notifications and prioritized alerts. It's about shifting Domo from data visualization to "data in whatever form you need to run your company," with voice AI as another looming option. Customers told me of their early success with Mr. Roboto Alerts, some of the first functionality from Mr. Roboto that Domo customers are testing and adopting.

I'm sure Target will take a hard look at how Domo Alerts evolve. But for now, Schein has his work cut out for him. One more trick: his team is starting to monetize with new data services for partners.  That's a nice ROI contributor for the data transformation underway. It's also a case for breaking down that last data collaboration wall: company-to-company.

End note: my colleague Stuart Lauchlan has been tracking Target's digital transformation closely. See his latest from last week: 'Loving the store' puts digital transformation at Target aiming for a CyberMonday bullseye this year.  If you want more insight on how Domo's all-conference customer feedback session works, check my piece from last year's Domopalooza, Claim you listen to customers? Then do a live feedback session at your next enterprise event.

Updated, 9am UK time March 17, with a number of small tweaks for reader clarity, and an improved title.

A grey colored placeholder image