Dell inspires a workforce with visual data

Tableau: How does using Tableau fit into the culture of Dell?
Robert Ayala, Senior Financial Consultant, Dell: One of the key drivers we use to champion the vision for this business intelligence initiative around Tableau is a quote from Michael Dell’s book Direct from Dell that “When you're making decisions from the gut and not based on data, you're really leading your company down a difficult and dangerous path, particularly in difficult economic times.” Tableau has really allowed us to change the mindset internally within our company about what's possible in terms of collaborating with analytic tools. With Tableau, we're finding the really subject matter experts in analytics across the functions are now starting to collaborate and they're starting to produce analysis that really brings together disparate data sources in new and interesting ways, and creating insights that are producing a lot of aha moments.

Tableau: What sort of issues are you tackling with Tableau?
Robert: Our financial organization is dealing with a lot of complexity in terms of where our data exists. In addition to all of the functional areas that have made different business decisions on how to warehouse their data over time, we've recently gone through a number of acquisitions that have added additional complexity. Tableau has just been really excellent about helping us consolidate that data and bring meaningful insight to the business as we go through the integration process. For starters, we have to rapidly produce P&L statements during a really consolidated closed cycle. Tableau allows us to really rapidly pull that together. Even in terms of ensuring data integrity, Tableau’s advanced visualizations really allow us to see anomalies in the data, and to do that data cleansing, and give us more time to really prepare how we address the entire consolidation.

Tableau: How are people working differently because of Tableau?
Robert: Our team members were spending 75 percent of their time collecting and cleansing data and getting it ready, and about 25 percent of their time actually analyzing the data. And we've really seen a flipping of those ratios. So, we're getting more value out of our people through tools like Tableau.

Tableau: How does that impact how people feel about their jobs?
Robert: Our real subject matter experts embraced Tableau when they realized it allows them to play in the space they originally went after in terms of their career objectives. A lot of analysts end up having to deal with things like metadata management and data warehousing issues. When you get a tool that allows them to focus on their real core skill set and potentiate what they're good at, they embrace that readily. Now that they're able to connect to disparate data sources and produce new and insightful visuals, they're excited about their career opportunities and what they can do to benefit the bottom line for the company.

Tableau: What’s the benefit of self-service analytics at Dell?
Robert: Dell has been on an interesting journey and we've seen a lot of investments that we've made over the past few years in terms of our data warehouse and master data management and governance and infrastructure. And we've actually seen by implementing tools like Tableau it's allowed the benefits curve to really accelerate rapidly. Now we've got the tools in the hands of the people who have the creativity, the knowledge and the understanding of how the business operates and how the data is structured to be able to produce something meaningful and insightful.

Tableau: Can you give us an example of how your analysts use Tableau?
Robert: In terms of a real specific example, this last cycle we got some really insightful questions from our investor relations organizations around some growth that was taking place in a particular business unit. And we were able to use Tableau to go in and really identify the key core products that were driving this growth. We were able to take a look at our workforce data and see the teams that were responsible for delivering that product; we were able to take a look at our sales pipeline and see how that ramped over time—and what it looked like for future quarters. In terms of product profitability, we were able to give some really precise feedback to our investor relations team.

Tableau has really allowed us to change the mindset internally within our company about what's possible in terms of collaborating with analytic tools. The bar has been raised.

Tableau: How did you implement Tableau at Dell?
Robert: I was the first internal user of Tableau for a task-driven activity; I had a specific deliverable. And Tableau’s value proposition became immediately clear to me. I saw that there was an even greater value in enabling my peer group to have that same type of capability to drive data discovery and data visualizations that make the learning around the analytics precognitive. You can look at a picture and it tells you something without having to really do the math inside your head. And so we started to build Tableau out as a grassroots effort. Pretty quickly, our IT organization saw the value proposition of shifting content ownership to the business, and it's been just a very collaborative approach internally since.

Tableau: Who uses Tableau at Dell these days?
Robert: We've seen a very diverse group across the entire functional area of Dell—HR, finance, operations, all of the functional areas. It has spanned the grade levels as well— from the analysts all the way up to the executive leadership.

Tableau: What is your data environment like at Dell?
Robert: I continue to be surprised at all of the different data environments that my peers across all of the functions have to navigate in order to get their jobs done. Some of them are very structured environments, some are in a warehouse, and others are in various states of evolution along that trail. We've definitely recognized that the tools that are more flexible, like Tableau, allow us to access data from a variety of different places and also shift that content ownership to the end users, which is just so powerful in terms of our ability to succeed moving forward.

Tableau: How has Tableau impacted you personally?
Robert: I think the most exciting part for me about using Tableau is it's really allowed me to discover a passion inside of me that I get from enabling end users. Even more so than producing something exciting, seeing a community of people produce meaningful and exciting thing.

I'm actually the user group leader for the Austin Tableau User Group, and I've started to working with a lot of nonprofit companies in terms of helping them see the possibilities of leveraging analytics to discover new and insightful ways around their business as well. The exciting part about being the Austin Tableau User Group leader is that I get to see this community of practitioners all representing different companies with different products and objectives and different functional areas across their organizations. And they are all faced with the same type of data challenges and the same objective of trying to produce meaningful insight from the mountains of data that they deal with on a daily basis. The bar has been raised in terms of what people see as the possibilities of the analytics they can produce.