Domopalooza 2021- the curious case of democratizing data for business benefit

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan April 2, 2021
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can be a major enabler to useful exploitation of data analytics at a business level, if the right culture is in place.


An often over-looked aspect of data analytics is that the technology’s purpose shouldn’t just be to allow us to do things better, but to explore ways of doings things differently, with new behaviors. In other words, data and analytics should be complemented by curiosity, at both a personal and an organizational level. 

That was the intriguing premise behind a customer discussion at the recent Domopalooza 2021 conference which explored how a culture of exploration can be encouraged across various business sectors, particularly among users who are not data analysts by qualification or inclination, as well as how to foster a corporate culture that can turn the findings from such curiosity to maximum benefit.

For example, Fred Foos is Manager of Global Business Intelligence (BI) at Universal Music Group, in which role he has spent the past four years building out the firm’s BI system using Domo and largely with a non-specialist audience in mind:

I run Business Intelligence at a massive record company, where most of the staff are creatives, people who don't typically use data in their day-to-day. Where curiosity has been so important is in showing and giving people something that they can work with - a new perspective on understanding how an artist is marketing themselves in certain territories or how certain content is being consumed. This then leads to even more questions. How is TikTok now affecting the way we market music? How can we analyze what's happening with an artist in South East Asia and then globalize that marketing campaign? Things like that really start with a data conversation, which is an entirely new way of thinking to a lot of these folks who don't typically use data in their day-to-day.

That’s not to say that such folks are not curious, he adds, and when exposed to the benefits of tech such as that offered by Domo can quickly become converts:

In one of our first use cases we had a lot of folks that were asking for information from our analyst teams and we needed some sort of solution to automatically allow them to self-serve some of this information. As soon as we produced that, within maybe a month of using Domo, this team that was asking for this information started not asking 'What?', but 'Why?', to the point where I had executives come to me and start asking, 'Why are people consuming more music on this service versus that service? How's the revenue model changing our market share?’ and all these questions that take folks from some level of curiosity of 'what's happening?' to how they can affect it and why things are happening.

This has reshaped the corporate culture at UMG, observes Foos:

We weren't initially a ‘data forward’ company. In fact, we moved from a very intuitive method of working to combining intuition with data, where data is actually secondary, but oftentimes very validating of what our intuitions are. Where we are in our curiosity journey is taking all that information and actually simplifying it, because there's dozens, up to hundreds, of different ways we can evaluate a simple question like how much do people like a certain song versus another one. We want to now condense that to make it a lot simpler for folks all over our company to work with that information and not to get overwhelmed with the sheer volume that's available to them.

Goals, goals, goals

It’s been a similar tale at Compass Agribusiness Management (CAM), which runs agricultural assets for wholesale and institutional investors. In CAM’s sector there has been an explosion in the use of agri-tech over the past fives years, says Nigel Pannett, Managing Director, Investment Manager and Agribusiness Specialist, and that in turn has thrown up a great deal of data:

Data is certainly a gold nugget. If I think about our critical teams on the ground that run the farms and do the tough work…initially data may not be seem to be able to help them achieve that, but I think it's helping them realize the visibility around what they're doing and the outcomes that has…I think it is an opportunity to really educate them on the outcomes of what they produce, decisions they make daily using that data, but also how it might help them grow their teams or track talent or passion or environment.

Again the nature of the core business and the firm's employee demographic brings up the question of how to get ‘non-data-people’ engaged with all this data. COVID has forced people across the organization to adapt to new ways of working and use data to communicate, so the challenge now is how to keep hold of the some of the good practices that have arisen, says Pannett:   

It comes back again to goals - what are the goals of the business?  Then what are the goals of the people? [It’s about] using data to fast track that understanding and knowledge on what the outcomes are and being able to use data to educate quicker and get to a point of fast tracking education with the key people…There’s no silver bullet. We're still learning how to utilize data and create curiosity, but it really always comes back to aligning goals.

Goals are certainly a priority in demonstrating the value of data to people, agrees Leslie Dempsey, Market Sales Manager at US furniture retailer La-Z-Boy:

I've seen the way that people are able to progress in such a short amount of time when you use the inputs and the outputs, behavior and data, in order to really elevate them in their career. It's always exciting to see someone become very successful by using data as a lever…One thing that really stands out is what I see when we really tie in the data to someone's personal goal. They have a personal goal for their lives for themselves. We can start talking to them about, 'If you make the change here behaviorally, you can become this much more successful. This performance will lead to you being able to achieve your goal'. So really just making it an individualistic approach and really focusing on what we can help people accomplish in their career.

Democratizing data

In common with UMG’s Foos, Dempsie’s role involves her working a great deal with creative people:

We have quite a lot of interior designers on our team, so they have a real passion for interior design and are extremely talented and creative, but they don't always share that same passion for data when they first come on board with our company. Helping people to understand the value of that is empowering. If they see a result and they know that,‘The very next person I speak to, I can do something differently that will impact my personal results and then in turn get me closer to my personal goals’, that's a really powerful topic in general to be able to discuss with our leaders in our stores at La-Z-Boy.

What Dempsie wants to see is essentially greater democratization of data to reinforce its value:

In a lot of cases, the reason that people are uncomfortable with data or don't want to use it is because maybe it takes them a while to find what they're looking for or they don't understand how that data will then in turn impact behaviors or how to even execute that or apply that or hold people accountable. Those things tie in together…We focus so much on our leaders understanding data and really going to their teams and using that. But, for me, what I would love to see is for that to cascade to the rest of my store teams, for example, to really get them passionate about the same things that our leaders have really been focusing on over these last several years.

Such ‘data evangelism’, for want of a better term, is something that takes analytics from its normal starting point of being a necessity in most organizations to becoming a recognized value-add, argues Gonzalo Alister, BI and Applications Manager at services firm Fuji Xerox:

One of the things that we have seen in my team is that is when you start providing results, people -  not only the people that are in analytics, but actually end users - become more interested...You definitely start seeing how it expands and everyone starts engaging with you and they start asking you different questions. Sometimes when you start breaking down some of the data silos, you start helping them as they look and you say, 'This is what we have seen so far. In other areas we've discovered this, does that help?'. Usually they say, 'Oh, maybe' and they start working with it. Then you realize, perhaps a couple of months later, 'Well, actually yes we're using these new data set that you created for us'. This is a never-ending pattern. Once you start down these roads, there's no going back. This is an idea that was probably dormant before and now you say, 'No, it's not going to stop’.

My take

A valuable set of perspectives on the power of democratizing data and making analytics no longer the provenance of dedicated specialists, but an enabler of more informed and productive business decisions throughout an organization.