F5 builds data-focused culture with Tableau Blueprint and Tableau Cloud

Used Tableau Blueprint methodology to transform data-driven efforts in all areas of the enterprise

Completed a 9-month migration to Tableau Cloud to reduce costs, get new features, and reduce IT dependencies

Saved 15 hours per week of IT capacity by eliminating server concerns and reducing support tickets

Founded in 1996, Seattle-based F5 made its name by offering best-in-class application delivery hardware and related physical and virtual networking appliances. Over the years, the company has evolved to provide multi-cloud application services that optimize and secure every app and API anywhere, including on-premises, in the cloud, or at the edge. Currently, F5 employs 7,000 people globally, helping customers create, secure, and operate adaptive applications that reduce costs, improve operations, and better protect users.

For the past five years, F5 has been on a journey of digital transformation, with strategies for moving its products to the cloud and transitioning to more SaaS-based services. In becoming a leader in multi-cloud application services and security technologies, F5 realized the importance of leveraging data in new ways that empower its workforce on every level to help the company achieve success.

A modern business culture: Bringing data to the people

F5 first implemented Tableau Server in 2012, and in October 2020 they performed a 9-month-long migration to Tableau Cloud to enable more features while achieving better IT efficiencies. In those early days of transforming to become a data-driven culture, most Tableau users at F5 were in the sales and marketing organizations, running enhanced reporting through dashboards created in Tableau. As Tableau adoption grew and took hold, data increasingly became a force for advancing the company’s mission and strengthening its operations.

Amie Bright, F5 RVP of Enterprise Data Strategy and Insights, was a key player in kickstarting this movement at F5 and keeping it going in the right direction. Along the way, she and others pulled in resources that would help align the company with its business and technology goals of bringing data to everyone at the company in ways that would enrich their work, empower better decision-making, spark ingenuity, and improve outcomes across the enterprise.

Over the years, this data culture would grow to include almost every line of business at the company, including product teams, global services, customer success, finance, HR, manufacturing, and IT. But at the start, it took the collaboration of these early users to move on from older, more analog methods and get others to start seeing data in a new light.

“There was a groundswell of individuals at F5 that knew there was a better way,” said Bright. “We started with the people who really cared about the data, and used their experiences and passion to help get the word out to the rest of the company.”

Data has been transforming our corporate culture, right in front of our eyes. I feel like every morning, I wake up, and I’m learning something new about data.

Gaining trust in data with Tableau Blueprint

To chart a path forward into a new data culture, F5 needed a clear perspective on the existing disconnect many of its non-technical workers experienced in trying to engage with data as part of their day-to-day roles. As in many other organizations facing similar challenges, they discovered the issue often came down to users’ comfort level with the data itself.

“As F5 was proceeding with its data modernization strategy and really figuring out what we wanted to do, one of the things we kept hearing was that people didn’t trust the data,” said Bright. “Either they didn’t get the right data when they needed it, or else they weren’t sure the best way to use the data once they had it.”

Through the Tableau Blueprint assessment framework, Bright and her team learned a great deal about this lack of clarity, and about the various users’ and user groups’ specific concerns. Using this input and further guidance from the Blueprint methodology, they developed a data success program focused on helping each of these data constituencies derive the insights they needed and take new, better-informed actions.

“The program we’ve adopted includes a central data success team to help steer the ongoing data initiatives, and an analytics center of excellence that is 400 members strong and growing,” said Bright. “And honestly, it started with this assessment through the Tableau Blueprint process to really figure out where we needed to focus.”

With Tableau Cloud, my team is able to focus on enabling business workers rather than simply taking their requests and delivering new tools. We went from being a Tableau support team to building a forward-looking data success program. This helps drive data literacy and a data-driven culture, and reduces friction around data consumption for people everywhere at the company.

Nelson Jean was an initial champion and program leader for Tableau at F5, and is now the program manager of the data success program F5 built under Blueprint. He credits F5’s use of Tableau Cloud as fundamental to the company’s overall technology objectives. “We were really starting to embrace a cloud-first strategy around that time,” Jean said. “Our move to cloud-based Tableau saves us a lot of IT time and hassles, plus it gives our people helpful new capabilities, like scheduling data flows with Prep Conductor, or helping build out our enterprise data catalog with Tableau Catalog.”

Bright agrees, and credits Blueprint with opening the team’s eyes to that landscape of opportunities they could explore. “Tableau Blueprint was critical for pointing us in the right direction with our data culture transformation,” she said. “We found out there were things we were doing well, and other areas that required changes. Blueprint helped us figure out where we could make improvements to keep us on track and ensure our program was a success.”

Building support throughout the organization

The best-intended transformations at a company can languish indefinitely if they lack support from the top offices. For Bright, that meant enlisting buy-in from key executives at F5. Securing their input gave Bright the green light to capitalize on existing excitement.

“Executive support was essential for getting things rolling,” said Bright. “This helped accelerate the momentum we’d already started within that existing groundswell of support. Exec buy-in and data advocates—to be successful, we really needed both.”

Marketing and customer service are two key areas of F5’s business that have realized the benefits of this transformation. The marketing team uses data in Tableau Cloud to determine to what extent their campaign spending is driving leads. Based on data they see at any moment, marketers can reallocate funds where they’ll be most effective, as well as refine the ways marketing engages with sales operations. On the customer success side, visualizing data about usage patterns and purchase histories improves visibility into each account and helps ensure customers are getting what they need. Future uses of Tableau will expand on this use of data to become more predictive about customer purchase behaviors.

That’s what it’s like here now—everyone gets to create their own magic.

One of the greatest value factors F5 got from migrating to Tableau Cloud, according to Bright, was that now people anywhere at the company can easily build their own dashboards and explore data on their own. This capability serves to democratize data across technical and non-technical users alike at the company, empowering them to make faster and more confident decisions while overcoming bottlenecks with always making formal requests of the data analysis team. With built-in best practices and an easy drag-and-drop UI, each user regardless of their role becomes the author of their own visual story using the data they discover.

“Having Tableau Cloud means everyone gets a Creator or Explorer license, even if they're not a data analyst,” said Bright. “They just click to create a dashboard, and then they can save it and share it, all in the cloud. They don’t have to download anything onto their desktop, and they don’t have to upload anything to Tableau.”

She’s also a big fan of the automatic updates and feature upgrades that the cloud-based licensing model provides. “When I went to TC22 and in the keynote they covered all these exciting new features, I thought: Oh, thank goodness we’re on Tableau Cloud,” Bright said. “Because that means we get all of these latest and greatest capabilities automatically, as soon as they come out, without having to install them or run updates or really do anything at all.”

Mapping a cloud-based data stack to the customer journey

Ascending as a new kind of industry leader in the cloud, F5 carefully considered each step that a customer follows to learn about, try, purchase, and get support for F5 technology. Each step in this journey is integrated with data services and applications designed to empower F5 with the best possible analysis for making customer relationships mutually productive and beneficial. F5 uses: 

  • Salesforce Customer 360 and Salesforce Service Cloud for nurturing leads and customer relationships.
  • Fivetran, a cloud-based data movement tool, to centralize data from SaaS sources and deliver insights faster.
  • Snowflake for gathering all data points into a central enterprise data ecosystem.
  • Tableau Cloud for visualizing data and data relationships that drive insights and actions throughout the business.

Our move to cloud-based Tableau saves us a lot of IT time and hassles, plus it gives our people helpful new capabilities, like scheduling Tableau Prep data flows with Prep Conductor, or using data management add-ons through Tableau Catalog.

Using Tableau Cloud, F5 greatly reduced the IT burden of maintaining the data visualization piece of this configuration. “Our IT team saves around 15 hours per week now,” said Jean. “We don’t have to deal with server errors or failures, so there’s less time spent monitoring and worrying about resource capacity.”

Fewer issues also means fewer support tickets, Jean points out. “Support tickets take time to write, and then there’s all the back-and-forth with the support team, recreating the issues so they can be captured into logs,” he said. “All those activities went away when we migrated, so that adds up to a lot of time savings as well.”

All in all, these changes added up to increased productivity company-wide, and helped shift the focus away from grappling with data and toward seamlessly integrating it into daily activities. Today, the culture change is plainly visible to every user who interacts with Tableau.

“I recently sat with someone at F5 who was struggling to pull together the data they needed for a big customer event, and an hour later, they had everything they needed and knew exactly what to do with it. It was almost like magic,” said Bright. “That’s what it’s like here now—everyone gets to create their own magic. And just looking back now at our journey and what F5 has built, I think that’s really amazing.”

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