ACT’s Business Users Uncover Hidden Influences

Tableau: ACT has a lot of data stored up. How are you using it?
Tim: We have 50+ years' worth of data. If we can create an understanding and gain insight on what is really in that data, we can advance our mission in helping people achieve education and workplace success.

Tableau: How is Tableau getting you closer to insights from the data?
Tim: In the first age of analytics, we saw an early democratization of data where the financial analysts would work with data—there wasn't much data at that time—and apply ledger pads and graphical paper as tools to make their representations. As we evolved into more of the information age, data grew and organizations built IT departments and started to store all this data in data warehouses. The problem became how do I make it meaningful? How do I create something that's usable to drive action? And that's where Tableau is really changing the way we're able to work with our data.

Tableau: How did you get started with Tableau?
Tim: ACT hired a chief innovation officer who came from health care. He had worked with Tableau in the early days in its connections with Stanford University. We went to our data warehouses and pulled a fairly small dataset—1.6 million rows of data—and handed it over to our Tableau reps. They sat in our boardroom with our chief executives, and in front of their very eyes transformed this data into visual representations. It was instant, it was immediate.

Tableau: And how did Tableau spread through the organization?
Tim: We started recruiting champions, and I was brought in to evangelize the use of Tableau and to democratize data analytics within the organization. Word started to spread, and we made it very easy for people. All they had to do was walk up to me or to someone that was working with Tableau and said, “I'm interested.” We sent them some instructions to engage in the learning, to bring their own data, and to experiment. We ask them to go through the tutorials, and if they find that they have a need and that can add value to the business, they can get a license. It's as simple as that.

Tableau: How many people use Tableau at ACT and what do they do with it?
Tim: We've grown from the early days of five people to 120 people that are using Tableau within the organization in a wide variety of applications. The first application I attempted with Tableau was to answer questions on production performance. I'd spent three solid weeks with about 80,000 rows of data in Excel trying to understand and answer the question. When I got Tableau, 90 minutes later I was able to achieve what I could not achieve in three weeks using Excel. The visualization clearly answered the question and we were able to move on from that and answer new questions.

Tableau: What’s a specific example where Tableau surprised you with insight?
Tim: We had some waste going on and couldn't easily identify where it was. Our test development people pulled the data on the orders to find the gaps using Tableau’s mapping function. It easily jumped out. They had circles that were coming up big and red, and they had circles that were small and they were green, and they could turn this over to the field staff to easily target those areas and save the organization significant amount of money on unused test materials.

Tableau: You don’t need Big Data to find Tableau useful?
Tim: There’s a perception out there that data analytics tools are only useful for large datasets, but we're finding there are many uses across a diverse set of datasets for Tableau. You don't need vast amounts of data to put it to use, and I'll give you an example. There was an individual from our office of the CEO whose responsibility it was to report progress on 13 strategic initiatives. There wasn't a clear way to do it. The data was in a project management system, pretty textual, not very clear. That person came in, took a look at Tableau, did an experiment with it, took those rows of data, which there were only about 100 rows, and instantly created an image that the C level people and the CEO could tell in an instant how we were progressing on the corporate initiatives.

Tableau: And you’ve found Tableau easier to use than expected?

Tableau was built to be easy, and it is.

Tim: Tableau was built to be easy and it is. All that you need to do is click. And we just keep clicking…. If you don't make it hard, it's easy. We have a wide variety of different people using this. We’ve had champions come out of our measurement research area that have PhDs in statistics that are using it. We have people that come out of our administrative support areas that use Tableau. So we can cover a wide range of people and get a wide range of wonderful results.

Tableau: You find that people enjoy using Tableau?
Tim: Tableau is fun to use and it's powerful and it provides value. It gives people something that they can get excited about using. So, rather than using tools that are challenging and just laborious to use, Tableau has changed the excitement people have toward finding answers. People want to use it.