Ancestry.com visualizes billions of rows of data, establishes a data-driven future



Ancestry.com is a leading online resource for family history with over two million subscribers. The company wanted to find a tool that could analyze billions of rows of data—while also being inviting, even exciting, to use. With Tableau, Ancestry.com has been able to establish a data-driven culture, understand customer behavior on the site, and deliver fast insights from their large database.

Having access and pulling it up is one thing, but being able to take a look at it and see what the trends are, get an understanding so that we can make a strategic decision for the company—that's a key.

Ancestry.com is the world’s largest online resource for family history with over two million subscribers on its website. The company holds billions of indexed, digital records and has standing relationships with historical societies and government archives.

Before Tableau, Ancestry.com was looking to establish a data-driven culture to improve communication and understanding. Bill Yetman, VP Commerce, Data & Analytics wanted to find a powerful tool that his team would be excited to use.

With Tableau, Ancestry.com has been able to:

  • Excite employees with a self-service tool
  • Understand and visualize customer behavior
  • Query billions of rows of data for strategic decision-making

Tableau: What made you look for a tool like Tableau?
Bill Yetman, VP Commerce, Data & Analytics: You know, the quicker we can get to an insight, the quicker we can communicate, and we can tell the story with our data— the better off we are. As an executive in the organization, I want everybody to have their hands on everything.

We were looking for different tools to work with to make the company more self-serve and be much more data-driven.

Tableau: What made Tableau stand out from other Business Intelligence tools?
Bill: I was looking for something that the organization could get excited about and get them reaching towards. It's easier to bring something in if somebody reaches for and pulls it towards them than if I am as a management team, pushing it at you. Tableau—people responded to, reached out, pulled it in, and embraced it. And that’s been the real surprise.

Tableau: Can you describe that decision-making process?
Bill: We did a Tableau demo, a two-week demo where we had 30 people go in, and they created about 130 reports.

The hard problem was once we gave it to them and said, okay, this is just a free trial, they kept coming back and saying, "how do I keep this turned on," right? So you've got a very addictive tool that gets into the people, and they just want to keep using it.

Tableau: What kind of data do you visualize in Tableau?
Bill: It’s helped us a lot to communicate what's actually happening, and that's where Tableau has been huge.

What are our users doing on a site, how often do they subscribe, how long do they stay with us, how often do they engage? And by that I would mean, how they search, do they accept a hint, are they building trees, what they are doing, how often do they come back. And that's what we're showing with Tableau.

Tableau: Have there been other departments that have embraced the tool?
Bill: The other team that was interesting to see change was our financial planning and analytics guys. They lived and died in their Excel spreadsheets. And when we got them to use Tableau, they converted over really quick and didn't want to let it go. It was amazing.

With the previous tools we had, we had people that would look at them but not use them, and they'd go back to their Excel spreadsheets. They jumped into Tableau, and they stayed in Tableau.

Tableau: How do you connect to your data in Tableau?
Bill: Our main data warehouse is Matrix. It used to be Power Cell. So it's an MPP system, and really, really fast. We’ve got some tables in there that have billions of rows. We have one that's 220 billion. And when we're hitting it with Tableau with those queries, it comes back quick, and it allows us to do some really cool visualizations with that data.

That’s the key. Just having access and pulling it up is one thing, but being able to take a look at it and see what the trends are, get an understanding so that we can make a strategic decision for the company—that's a key.



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