Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute: Real results, "come rain or shine"

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is a center of genomic discovery in the United Kingdom. With a high output of research projects, the institute produces an enormous amount of data, stored in their Oracle database. But making sense of this data was difficult and tracking samples through the research pipeline used to take approximately three and a half hours every week. Since the research “never stops, come rain or shine,” the institute wanted to leverage their existing database to create reports that were intuitive, interactive, and scalable.

Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s research teams use Tableau Desktop to identify samples in their pipeline or determine baselines for research projects.

In Tableau Desktop, users pull data from the institute’s Oracle database to create Tableau workbooks. Teams share workbooks over Tableau Server—allowing them to easily track project progress. And with scheduled updates, researchers know they are using current data. Mark Sanderson, Advanced Research Assistant, explains how tracking samples now takes 30 minutes instead of three and half hours.

What started on a few small teams has developed into a company-wide solution. The institute is in the process of creating team scorecards in Tableau so that managers can track team metrics and performance.

Tableau: Tell us about the Sanger Institute.
Mark Sanderson, Advanced Research Assistant: The Sanger Institute is one of the world leaders in scientific research, specializing in genomes and bio-data. We produce an enormous amount and on a minute-by-minute basis. Tableau has really helped us.

Tableau: How does Tableau fit into your workflow?
Mark: So across the institute we have a very broad range of science being performed. I work in a team that runs a high throughput pipeline. We produced an enormous amount of data. We never stop, come rain or shine. And we use a specifically built Oracle database. Our database is fantastic for inputting data, for working out where samples are in the pipeline, and it's fantastic for getting reports out. But its visualization capability is quite limited.

And although Excel is fantastic at what it does, Tableau can really add value to that by allowing us to visualize our data on almost a minute-by-minute basis, with our live connection from the server to our database.

Although Excel is fantastic at what it does, Tableau can really add value to that by allowing us to visualize our data on almost a minute-by-minute basis, with our live connection from [Tableau] Server to our database.

Tableau: Can you share an example of a project where you use Tableau?
Mark: So one of my jobs is to track samples through the pipeline, this used to be a sort of three, three-and-a-half hour job once a week. And with Tableau and the visualizations that we've created that's really taken it down to half-an-hour, 45 minutes. So it has saved me a lot of time.

Tableau: Are you using Tableau Server?
Mark: So the way in which we share the data that we produce is using the Tableau Server. And the Server connects directly to our database. So everything is updated on almost a minute-by-minute basis. And anybody who is interested in any of the data can go straight to the server through their web browser and get straight to what they want to see.

Tableau: Are more people adopting Tableau?
Mark: Tableau is really gaining traction across the institute. It started off in a couple of very small teams.

Ours was one of the early adopters. But it's really working its way up the management hierarchy. We've actually just started implementing a team scorecard, which will cascade up through the management. So any manager can go in and see their specific metrics for their team and that cascades up to the board of management and they can drill down to whatever they want to see.

So there have been a few ah-ha moments that have really allowed us to resolve a problem before it becomes a serious issue, which is fantastic and makes us so much more efficient.

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