Building a Center of Enablement: A retail leader’s recent journey to data literacy and digital transformation

Migrated 50TB of enterprise data from a 15-year-old MicroStrategy solution to AWS-driven Tableau dashboards

Improved and transformed all business processes to become data-driven for shipping 700 million units per year

Built analytics assets that helped a business group avoid hours of weekend work preparing for Monday meetings

Establishing and nurturing a data culture can be challenging for any business. For Atlanta, Georgia-based children's apparel giant Carter's Inc., which ships around 700 million units per year and employs more than 20,000 people, the challenge was especially steep. Gaining insights to enable meaningful retail analytics across such a large organization means wrangling huge amounts of data so that insights are timely, usable, and fresh.

“The data we manage is a pretty large volume, around 50 terabytes,” said Matt Kott, Carter’s Vice President of Global Data & Analytics. “Much of that is point of sale or digital purchases by our customers, containing a lot of detail around cart, product size and SKUs, payment types, loyalty, available inventory, and so on. We also engage with all of the functional areas—18 teams overall—to help them build their processes in a more digital and automated way for daily operations and insights.”

In 2019, after running a legacy retail analytics platform for 10 years on Netzetta MicroStrategy, Carter’s chose to migrate to Tableau Server running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Along the way, the company also selected Commerce Cloud from Salesforce as its retail CRM. The powerful new grouping of technologies set the company up for growth and success by connecting vast data stores to state-of-the-art analytics and visualization.

This rapid migration at Carter’s set the course for new levels of data literacy and digital transformation everywhere in the business, from sales and marketing to customer service and fulfillment. Executives and other strategists within the company now have ready access to insights that help drive efficiency and increased revenues. But in the midst of all this change, how does such a large, fast-moving company help all of its people keep pace with the technological leaps, so they can leverage new methods and do their jobs even better while supporting the company’s overall success?

Empowering employees to excel with data

At Carter’s, the answer to this question is the establishment of a Tableau Center of Enablement (CoE) focused on improving and expanding each department’s data literacy and making all personnel comfortable with and excited about using data analytics technology. “We partner each quarter with different business units to work on self-service projects,” said Selma Dogic, center's senior manager . “This ensures at least one developer within each department gets hands-on experience building out dashboards or data connectors, and sending those to the Tableau Server.”

The CoE makes Tableau available to users at various technical levels through training and engagement programs, as well as with department-focused quarterly projects and 1-on-1 sessions that pair users in different business groups with experts on Dogic's team. This adoption strategy paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic, empowering the company to keep pace with many changes, including new risks and challenges around supply chain and inventory management. It also gave disparate teams outside of IT new ways of understanding data more clearly, gaining valuable insights, and collaborating to make data-driven decisions.

Partnerships and collaboration are key to adopting a data culture at Carter’s. Our experts in various areas share their knowledge with one another to bring analytics to each business unit in meaningful ways.

A central challenge with enablement, Dogic points out, is the varying levels of prior technical exposure among users. “We have some teams that come to us with robust technical requests, like data sourcing, while other people we meet have never seen a tool like Tableau,” she said. “But when they do see it in action, even those less technical users understand right away that if they can figure out how to leverage the data, it can make a big difference in how they do their jobs.”

Gaining efficiencies that save valuable time

The move toward data literacy has impacted the various Carter’s business groups in different, positive ways. For example, the Buying & Planning team previously spent 5 to 6 hours every weekend to manually build reports for executives to see first thing Monday morning. To achieve this, they extracted MicroStrategy data from the week’s activities into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, added macros, and combined all of the resulting data into a usable report. Today, with Tableau, the team can generate reports automatically, giving the Buying Planning users back their weekends.

“We simply cut out all of that middle manipulation and asked: What are you trying to get out of the report, and what exact data are you targeting to get it?” said William Lawrence, Manager of Retail BI. “Once we understood what the Buying & Planning team needed, we built a procedure to generate the same information that was in the report. On Monday, the executive team simply looks at the dashboard, and gets the answers they need about the data.”

This particular story, Lawrence noted, had the added benefit of delighting executive users with the ability to drill down and ask further questions of the data presented in the dashboard, whether by filtering ad hoc to see details or prefiltering to create their own personalized views. “With this level of control, any of them can just see details about the business from their unique perspective, and all the other noise is gone,” he said. “They’re really pleased with that.”

As long as we listen to the business groups, we can build new kinds of tools that give them everything at their fingertips to make insightful decisions. That’s what will continue to make us a data company, and that’s the journey I’m looking forward to.

Improving governance and looking to the future of AI

The journey to transformation at Carter’s has been comprehensive and breathtakingly fast, and its leaders within the company are confident technology will continue to make their business better by fostering rapid decision making through better insights. As Carter’s continues to integrate breakthrough capabilities like AI and machine learning, those insights will be even more plentiful and powerful, enabling vital capabilities for agility and innovation.

“I’m excited about where our data strategy can take us from a competitive perspective—getting to that next level,” said Kott. “Through a mixture of our cloud technology as well as Tableau and some of our advanced analytics or AI/ML ambitions, we can really take Carter’s from a very traditional retail operating model and move toward something that's a lot more predictive and prescriptive.”

One of the biggest learnings I’ve had is to always design data tools with the end user in mind. If we give each user what they’re looking for—not just focusing on what we think the data can give them—we can deliver the best tools to help support each person’s work.

Through it all, the team kept a strict eye on governance, using Tableau Data Management to enforce granular permissions and to help build trust among the company's many data constituents. "Before we started using Data Management, our whole data landscape was a black box to the business,” said Dogic. "Various departments were following different business logic to achieve the same KPIs."

Data Management provided the trusted governance, cataloging structure, and data preparation capabilities to normalize each team's access on the back end, showing more clearly and consistently how the data and insights pertained to retail sales. Dogic summed it up: "This 'flattening out' of the landscape gave us what we needed—a single source of truth. Now, for the first time, we can align everyone's workflows and show a holistic view of the business using data that was always siloed in the past."

I’m always learning—the problems we’re trying to solve with data are interesting, and there are new and different challenges every day. I enjoy that.

Overall, said Dogic, Tableau is a powerful asset for helping Carter's address the current and future needs of the rapidly changing online consumer market, and expanding data culture at the company in a governed, self-service environment. The CoE gives personnel at every level the opportunity to keep pace with these changes while unifying and transforming Carter’s into a new, dynamic, data-oriented company.

“Tableau has definitely played a key role in democratizing data for all of our employees, enabling us to build dashboards that show the right data to the right people at the right times,” said Dogic. “When all employees can analyze the data themselves as part of their jobs, the whole company grows stronger together.”