What’s needed is a way of using data that doesn’t interrupt people’s train of thought. Aiming for data-driven management throughout the company
Establishing a culture of decision-making based on a firm grasp of data
Major contribution to service expansion and work style reform
NTT Docomo doesn’t just provide mobile phone services. It has also developed multiple services centered on its d POINT CLUB. In order to get a better understanding of its customers, it built a new data platform in March 2017. Tableau plays an important role as the front end of this platform. So why did they revamp their data platform with Tableau? And what kind of effects will they achieve with it? We spoke to Taku Hasegawa, an executive officer at NTT Docomo who is also a key player in promoting utilization of data.
Even if you can process a huge amount of data quickly, I don’t think that users would want to use it with a traditional BI that requires the intervention of a report writer. Also, if you provide an environment in which users can access the database by themselves, only a limited number of users can use the database if it’s complicated and difficult to operate. In order to broaden the unmediated use of data by users throughout the company, we need to provide tools in a responsive format that makes them want to use them. This is made possible by Tableau.
I want us to provide tools in a responsive format that makes users want to use them
Proactively taking advantage of data to get a better understanding of our customers. Recently, the number of companies promoting efforts to realize this kind of “data-driven” management has increased sharply. One company that has already implemented this on a big scale is NTT Docomo (“NTT”). “We sell through Docomo shops operated by third party distributors, which severely limits opportunities for direct contact with our customers,” says Taku Hasegawa, Executive Officer and General Manager of the Information Systems Department at NTT Docomo. He has long considered the effective use of data as indispensable to understanding customers. “We had already accumulated a huge amount of data internally about our customers over the last 25 years. We already had granular data at our fingertips, such as information about when each customer ordered what, and through which channel. If you can aggregate and visualize all of that data, you should know what kind of problems that products or channels have and what kind of services the customers want. I have come to consider this as the foundation of data-driven management”. Mr. Hasegawa has been pursuing this kind of data-driven management at NTT Docomo for more than 20 years. However, at one time there were many obstacles, and it was difficult to realize in the way he wanted. His breakthrough was triggered by the introduction of the SAP HANA in-memory database in March 2017. This enabled the aggregation of huge amounts of data that could be searched at lightning speed. However, you can’t realize data-driven management with just high-speed search functions. There also has to be a mechanism for visualizing the searched data and extracting insights from it. That’s why Tableau was introduced with SAP HANA. Even if you can process a huge amount of data quickly, I don’t think that users would want to use it with a traditional BI that requires the intervention of a report writer. Also, if you provide an environment in which users can access the database by themselves, only a limited number of users can use the database if it’s complicated and difficult to operate. In order to broaden the unmediated use of data by users throughout the company, we need to provide tools in a responsive format that makes them want to use them. This is made possible by Tableau”.
The beauty of Tableau is its expressive capabilities. Employees’ curiosity and motivation also increase
NTT Docomo owns 6,000 servers. The systems running on these servers contain a huge amount of transaction data (approx. 62 petabytes). They aggregated this data in SAP HANA and established a platform that enabled real-time data analysis. They also deployed Tableau within the company and built an environment that allowed about 1,800 members of the sales team to use it. After that, they expanded their userbase in the Management Planning Department, Finance Department and Service Department. According to Mr. Hasegawa, it now has more than 11,000 unique monthly users (as of October 2019). To promote user education, they set up an “Ambassador Academy” with Tableau Software, Inc. They expanded end users by training key people as “ambassadors” who could analyze data using BI tools and train talent and by giving them promotional roles in each branch office. The idea behind this was that the whole company had to become data driven. There is no domestic precedent for operating an Ambassador Academy on this kind of scale. “It’s only about two years since we introduced Tableau, but I feel that we are in the process of establishing a culture of decision-making based on a firm grasp of data. This is because the hurdles to data usage have shrunk while the speed of data use has also increased dramatically. This has also allowed us to run our business processes faster. Tableau has now become an integral part of daily work, to the extent that we can’t remember how we managed to do our jobs before it”. Beforehand, whenever they had a managerial meeting, the staff had to come to the office at 6am to prepare materials for it. This involved extracting the data and creating graphs in Excel, but Tableau has rendered that work redundant. The freshness of the data that can be used for meetings has also improved. This is because the Tableau dashboard, which can be viewed on handheld devices, shows you data from the morning of the meeting. “After using Tableau in practice, the thing that I thought was fantastic is its expressive capabilities. With just a few intuitive user actions. it displays the data that you want to see in the format that you want to see it in. It also displays the data quickly, allowing you to look at successive sets of data without interrupting your train of thought. Every day I’m impressed by how amazing it is to be able to able to use data flexibly”. If you can utilize very fresh data immediately, you can also speed up hypothesis testing cycles. You can speed up things like establishing a hypothesis after looking at data, formulating a solution based on that hypothesis and then establishing the next hypothesis after viewing the data from the result of implementing that solution. Mr. Hasegawa says that being able to do things like these without interrupting their train of thought has increased employees’ curiosity and motivation. “The introduction of Tableau has allowed us to realize the kind of “self BI” that we found difficult previously. It also provides an environment in which users can create their own dashboards. As a result of this, the previous work we had to do creating materials is no longer required, saving us several billon yen each year. We started promoting Tableau from the top down, but once employers saw its benefits, they asked to use it of their own accord. It generated a cycle of success stories thereby increasing users who then create even more success stories”.
Major contribution to service expansion and work style reform. The ultimate aim is for use by all employees
So, what kind of results can be expected on the business front from a Tableau-based self BI? One of the benefits pointed out by Mr. Hasegawa is the strengthening of their relationship with customers through d POINTs. “Our mobile phone business is already saturated, and the market will also taper off in the future due to a decreasing population. So, it will become important to widen our relationship with customers by providing services other than mobile phones. If you become a member of our d POINT CLUB, you can use services, such as “d magazine,” “d shopping” and “d travel,” even if you don’t use the NTT Docomo mobile phone service. By digitizing contact points with customers through these services, we can collect data that allows us to understand more about our customers. Visualizing this data in Tableau enables us to provide services based on this deeper understanding, which should help drive our continued growth in the future. The advent of the 5G era and gearing up of the business development of digital twins should increase the importance of these kinds of data platforms”. He goes on to point out that an expansion of data use also makes a major contribution to work style reform. “We have already created a personnel management dashboard in the HR Department and have started to automate the personnel management work that used to be done manually, such as aggregation and tabulation. This has allowed us to detect overwork and variations in workload at an early stage while increasing the efficiency of our HR management operations”. They also plan to progress collaboration with RFA and AI in the future. This is because it will allow them to concentrate their limited manpower on more essential work. For example, he expects AI to allow them to automatically customize the dashboard for each user and to advise them on how to look at it. They are also aiming to realize data-driven management on a company-wide scale, as mentioned earlier. They are currently strengthening their data infrastructure in order to support that target. “In order to put the whole company on a data-driven footing, we first need to provide data in a usable format,” says Mr. Hasegawa. A lot of companies are currently struggling at this stage, but he says that the really important thing is the next stage, in other words, how to present that data. “You need tools like Tableau to do this properly, but you also need the enthusiasm to change the company culture with strong leadership. Company culture doesn’t just change naturally all by itself. However, once you start that process and can share its results, a positive feedback loop kicks in and it snowballs its way across the company. We still have several challenges in our company too, but I would like to continue our proactive efforts to achieve data-driven management”.