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'Analytics Harness Actionable Insights From Data For Smart Business Decisions'

'Digital India' programme is about using data intelligently and empowering everyday people like you and me to leverage on data

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Since businesses are leveraging the data to form actionable insights, data analytics firms are witnessing immense popularity. Tableau a software company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, United States help companies see and understand their data.  

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Anand Ekambaram, Director, Tableau India speaks about how data has become gold mine today, importance of analytics, Indian IT sector, Digital India and more.

You are working with big companies like Ashok Leyland, Marico, Lenovo and others. How difficult is it to manage all your clients?

India is one of the strategic markets for Tableau and we have been investing in this market since 2014. We started with a team of four people and now we have about 40 employees supporting the India business. The response since our launch has been tremendous from our customers across industries. We feel rewarded to be an enabler in their journey to build an analytics culture in their organisation.

A relentless focus on our customers is one pillar that has guided Tableau on this road and this has helped us build great relationships with our customers. Our every decision is aligned with our customers' needs and we want to make them successful.

Tableau has a strong customer-oriented culture, with a large and devoted base of customers ranging from start-ups to non-profits to government institutions to global enterprise businesses and we are constantly working to build additional mechanisms to ensure customers are always first in all of our minds.

Tableau as a product really helps people transform data into actionable insights and many of our Indian customers really love our solution! Our customers have witnessed how Tableau has enabled them to harness the power of data, derive actionable insights and business value as well as cultivating a data first workplace.

How can data be transformed into actionable insights?

At Tableau, we believe that a picture is worth a million rows. Humans are able to comprehend data better through pictures than by reading numbers in rows and columns.

Humans have very powerful visual systems. Being able to visualise your data allows you to exploit the power of the human visual system to empower people to understand data to make better decisions.

Visualising data is important regardless of the size of the data because it translates information into insight and action.

By visualising and analysing data, you are able to ask more effectively and answer important questions such as “Where are sales growing,” “What is driving growth” and “What are the characteristics of my customers using different services?”

Tableau believes that analytics will harness actionable insights from data for smarter real-time business decisions.

Analytics goes beyond creating charts and images, for us the picture is the means of communicating the data and a way of asking questions of the data.

We help people answer deeper questions from their data by making it easier for them to interact with their data and ask new questions. You discover the real meanings in data by testing hypotheses and chasing hunches. It is not just about showing a result; you have to show how you got there and defend your answer.

How does data analytics help grow a business?

Data is a goldmine. As businesses become increasingly data driven, the need to derive insights from huge chunks of data continues to increase, leading to the demand for self-service big data analytics.

Every line of business can be optimised by implementing insights derived by big data analytics tools. By using technologies such as predictive analysis, trend monitoring, real-time data visualisations and dashboards, big data converts each and every action of a customer or business function into quantifiable insights. These insights may include consumer behaviour, sales effectiveness, revenue management, supply chain management, marketing campaign efficiency etc. that will help empower businesses to make insights-driven decisions.

Today, we have access to high volumes of data, coming from a variety of data sources. Technologies such as Tableau allow you to combine data sources so you can see the data across the business and ask questions in real-time. This provides a competitive edge over companies who may be waiting to analyze data until, say the end of a week or a quarter. There is no reason not to be making decisions and changing course as you learn from your data.

Even in areas like social media, Tableau, for instance, has been able to help customers understand the impact of their social media campaigns by delivering insights on the performance of every post, segment data by demographics and geography and identifying loyal advocates.

The applications of big data analytical tools thus can be across verticals and almost all industries may benefit by the right selection of technology. Some of Tableau’s customers like Eveready have been able to achieve an ROI of over 500 per cent by deploying Tableau and gaining valuable insights that helped the company significantly boost sales and improve efficiency in supply chain management. Using Tableau, Eveready has been able to drastically speed up decision-making, achieve growth in sales volume and mine existing data for valuable business insights.

Organisations are building a culture of analytics using self-service platforms such as Tableau to empower their employees to explore and ask questions using their data to make everyday business decisions.

Do you only focus on big firms or small start-ups as well?

Tableau’s approach on our “go to market” plan has been driven by our mission statement that “We want to help people to see and understand their data”.

Anybody who is working data at any point of time is essentially a Tableau customer. This could be the member of a board, the CEO of a company; it could be a line of business owner, a data analyst, a student, a school or a not-for-profit organisation etc.

What we see is there is no one industry that is dominating our customer base. Our user base cuts across verticals and every line of business – start-ups to non-profits to government institutions to global enterprise businesses.

It is really seeing BI solutions like ours being adopted in every single industry, and in every part of the world; whether it’s an NGO in Africa that is using Tableau to help and identify malaria, to a global company like Honeywell that analyses data in hours instead of months on Tableau to help the business crucial decisions around liquidations and sales, as well as educational institutions to help improve their students’ results and attendance.

We can see that analytics is taking over every part of the business community, as well as every part of the world we live in.

How has cloud technology impacted data analytics?

“The cloud” has been sweeping through the technology industry for some time now. Only recently has the cloud revolution come to data.

As practitioners of big data analytics seek to bring computing power closer to the data, the cloud is emerging as the preferred platform for increasingly sophisticated data crunching across industries adopting big data strategies. Businesses are empowered to capture as well as to store their data in cloud databases and Hadoop ecosystems.

Data gravity indicates the pull of data on services and applications. If your data lives in the cloud, for example, you will likely want your data tools – from processing to analytics – running in the cloud as well.

Data’s centre of gravity is now squarely focused on the cloud, and that focus will only grow larger in the future. Organisations building data ecosystems should concentrate their efforts on cloud workflows to ensure they are system is ready for this change in data gravity.

Do you see online courses gaining popularity in India?

Yes, online learning or e learning is booming in India. The surge of Internet and mobile penetration, availability of affordable and even free content for learning and a mind-set shift of skills upgrade and better earnings have supported this phenomenon. In addition, this sector is expected to receive a boost from the government’s Digital India initiative, according to the report by the UK-India Business Council.

For instance, in the area of data analytics - the demand for data analytics skills has risen globally and employers seek to hire data driven people. In fact, NASSCOM reported that India would have a demand for over 500,000 data scientists. To bridge this skills gap, Tableau in mid-2016 announced our data analytics learning partnerships with, Pluralsight, Udacity and General Assembly to help more people see and understand their data.

What do you have to say about the current state of the Indian IT sector?

India’s IT sector is going through a transformation. With more and more companies embracing big data and analytics of it, the age of automation such as AI, immigration pressures, and layoff rumours, there is an urgency to reskill and upskill its human capital to keep up with the fast evolving market landscape and technologies.

How can your platform help better academic excellence in the nation? Is your platform open just for individuals too? If yes, how can it help an individual?

To help bridge the data skills talent shortage in the market place, Tableau will ensure to continue its evangelism efforts to interest the community in general from young and all ages about data and analytics of it with our free outreach programmes including Tableau Public, Tableau Academic Programme and Tableau Foundation.

Education is at the core of Tableau’s mission. Our Academic programmes offer free professional licenses of Tableau Desktop and technical support to help students and teachers see and understand their data. The program responds to the growing need for data analytics skills in the workplace, as more businesses become more data-driven. The Tableau Academic program is available to students currently enrolled in university and active instructors, offering a renewable one-year license of Tableau Desktop as well as free learning materials and community support.

To get the public interested in data and tell data stories of our time, our free platform, Tableau Public lets anyone create, publish and share interactive data stories online. Authors have 10GB of free cloud storage on Tableau Public and can connect to data files containing up to 15 million records.

How do you see yourself contributing to Digital India programme?

For Tableau, the Digital India programme is about using data intelligently and empowering everyday people like you and me to leverage on data and technologies to better communicate, collaborate and make better decisions.

As shared, Tableau is on a mission to help people see and understand their data.

To accomplish this mission, our fundamental belief is in the democratisation of data, meaning, “The people who know the data should be the ones empowered to ask questions of the data” and collaborating with IT and the relevant stakeholders, in this case the government to enable self-service analytics at scale to drive real change.

With data analytics, citizens, government, companies of all sizes, non-profit now have the means to better understand their environments, customer behaviour, their finances, brand perception, and so much more, overall enabling them to make decisions that improve their lives and businesses.

We urge individuals to take the first step to embrace innovation and change will serve to bring us towards a more intelligent future.

With data analytics and skills being identified as a goldmine, it will take the collaborative effort of educators, leaders, and the community to be able to tap into the riches afforded by it, to both prosper and stay relevant.

Many overlook the fact that easy to use, self-service data analytics platforms can help ease the shift towards a data-smart nation. From a technology perspective, this may be the solution for organisations of all sizes and types.

However, of all the players, citizens hold the greatest importance as it falls to each individual to keep up and embrace new skills on the journey of lifelong learning.

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Tableau India Anand Ekambaram data analytics