How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
At Tableau, our mission is to help people see and understand their data - it is at the core of who we are and drives how we operate and innovate. We believe in using our own products and at every level of our business, so people can use data to make strategic decisions every day. Going beyond just listening to our customers’ needs, we use data insights to support our customers on their data journey. By fostering a data culture, we aim to liberate the natural curiosity and creative energy stored in our employees to create an inclusive environment that promotes collaboration with data.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
My regular job entails a lot of travel, meeting customers, and speaking at events. When that came to a halt, I found I was able to create new content channels, bringing data stories to life even more so in the virtual world. A few noteworthy projects from 2020 include:
Presenting data has become more important than ever. As a presenter, I’ve had to adopt my own techniques to consider ways of beating screen fatigue. I’ve also found it has been important to assess how the media and governments are presenting data, sharing observations, suggestions and analysis on things like the US Election coverage and communicating amid a storm of data fatigue and misinformation.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
We will continue to work on and make investments in our own data culture. As well as the skills to use our platform, we also focus on data literacy skills themselves. Not everyone needs to be a hands-on data analyst, but everyone must be able to be graphically literate.
We follow the principles in our own data culture playbook. It is an ongoing process of aligning leadership metrics to business opportunities, building relevant data sources to address these, growing value with use cases and, most importantly, promoting widespread data discovery.
This playbook was developed through years of working with customers on all steps of this journey. Our recent research into business resilience also identified key ways data can benefit individuals, teams and organisations including ours, our customers and any business or government, as we all move forward.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
A big part of my current role has been speaking at conferences, big and small, around the world. This year I’m delighted to begin volunteering for the English Speaking Union, a charity working to give young people the speaking and listening skills and the cross-cultural understanding they need to thrive. I’ll be judging their (virtual) debating competitions, and I’m excited to help the next generation of world-class communicators.
As for Tableau’s overarching business agenda for 2021, the Tableau Foundation will continue to further its mission of accelerating the use of data in solving the world’s biggest problems. The Foundation announced a commitment to donate $100 million in software, training, and financial support by 2025, and we are continuing to work towards this goal.
What has been your path to power?
My early career path, on the one hand appears a bit random, but on the other, saw me acquiring all the skills I needed to be an evangelist: a passionate, independent authority in the field of analytics. I had an education in art, geography and information systems. My early career included roles in software engineering, database administration, user experience, business research, journalism and even cycle guiding!
I became a fully-fledged data analyst for the first time at the University of Oxford, where I discovered Tableau in 2007. I fell in love with the product immediately and joined Tableau in 2011.
Since then, I’ve helped build community programmes such as the Tableau Zen Masters and Makeover Monday, and I’ve spoken at events across the world, sharing innovative ideas about the communication of data. My role has evolved over the decade at Tableau, but now my main focus is on helping customers, media and analysts across all industries to see and understand their data using Tableau’s innovative products.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
I co-wrote the "Big book of dashboards", which has sold over 40,000 copies. Our goal was to provide a resource for people tasked with communicating insights across their organisations. Curating and describing a collection of world-class examples was enlightening, and I am humbled to have been a part of a book that has had a big impact on our industry.
I also helped create and build the Tableau Zen Master programme, which has grown to be one of the most successful in the business intelligence community. From the outset, I wanted to reward experts, with a focus on seeking out people who were using their talents to elevate others. Our first cohort had eight members and it’s grown hugely. There are now 34 Tableau Zen Masters across the world, as well as other recognition programmes in our organisation. Our Tableau community creates a huge impact on the industry, and I’m happy to have played a part.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
The pandemic has, unlike any other world event, emphasised how important it is to present data in a clear, transparent and meaningful way to an audience. The public, nervous and fatigued, relies on actionable data communication from our government. I hope to use the lessons from the pandemic to help us all become better data communicators. Success with data relies on communicating insights in order to drive change. The steps to success aren’t complicated; in my experience it’s just that people don’t know them. My goal is to change that.
How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?
As I stated earlier, at Tableau, our mission is to help people see and understand their data - it is at the core of who we are and drives how we operate and innovate. As a product company brimming with ambition, no value is greater at Tableau than, "we use our products". Regardless of what team you’re on, your team mates expect you to use Tableau products. Tableau products are the common language of the company and what connects us to the pulse of the industry, they do downright amazing things for our world and underpin our mission to progress the democratisation of data analytics.
We run a series of events called “Tableau on Tableau” where we show an audience how we use our own products to drive our business. These are some of the most successful presentations we run. I strongly believe that this is because of the authenticity on show. If we can demonstrate success, it is an inspiration for others.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
Embrace the data conversation! Many organisations still think that when they set up a dashboard, they are data-driven. However, a dashboard only answers preconceived questions, and every answer raises new questions. Moreover, questions change over time.
Developing a data culture that adds value to your business means setting your employees up to have a conversation with data. To help foster that culture, you need to identify and empower data champions. These are the people who are naturally interested in data, have good data skills and can include their colleagues in that conversation with the data. These people should be at every level of the organisation and are not always the analysts, but often others who are also motivated to work with data.