Robust upskilling program empowers transformation to a data culture at e-commerce leader Mercado Libre
Designed a hybrid data learning path of self-paced and instructor-led learning for more than 30K employees
Scaled up the training program to keep pace with rapid company growth— more than 3X since 2014
Gained 5X in Tableau adoption over the past 2 years with 12K active users, 9.4K data sources, and 9.5K workbooks
Founded in Argentina and headquartered in Uruguay, Mercado Libre is the most popular online retailer in Latin America with more than 176 million users in 18 countries. Each of its 67 million customers in 2021 averaged 500 visits to the Mercado Libre ecommerce site, purchasing a total volume of over $28 billion in merchandise at a rate of 32 purchases per second. The company employs more than 30,000 people and has operations in countries across the American continents.
A Tableau user since 2013, Mercado Libre went from just a few users that first year to more than 12,000 active users today, publishing more than 9,500 workbooks and nearly the same number of data sources—with a 5x increase in Tableau adoption in the past two years alone. During that same interval, the company thoroughly realigned its approach to using data to redefine the way it conducts business in every part of its organization. The level of transformation needed to accomplish this has been a key change agent in how Mercado Libre views its core business, its methods of modernization, its competitive market position, and the quality of its employees’ working lives.
“Data is most powerful when everyone can use it to enhance not only their job performance but also their overall wellbeing and the world around them,” said Adrián Quilis, Senior Director of Data & Analytics at Mercado Libre. “At Mercado Libre, we prioritize giving our employees access to analysis tools, insights, and on-the-job training to help create and nurture a data-driven culture.”
Covering the “last mile” of connecting business units to the BI team
“We started our current data journey around eight years ago,” said Quilis. “We had not yet fully implemented Tableau, but we saw what it was capable of doing for us. We had only a few reports being generated by our team, using data from the previous day. We knew we needed to make this scalable, and for that we needed to make some real changes to our overall data strategy.”
These strategy changes, Quilis explained, broke down into three main areas:
- Technology – incorporating tools like Tableau to help enable self-service analytics.
- Data – changing collection methods from batch updates to dynamic updates to provide data in real time.
- Culture – upskilling employees to help rescale the entire organization with new levels of data competency.
On this last point, culture change, the idea of upskilling was to empower analysts within each business unit to become data experts, so that the “last mile” of analytics knowledge could be achieved. Previously, with all data knowledge centralized in a single team, the act of fulfilling data requests was extremely challenging due to the lack of capabilities within business units to fully understand and adapt to the tools they were given. Today, the process is much smoother and more connected, thanks to the data education that business units have received.
Joining forces to produce a comprehensive approach to data culture
The transformation started small but grew fast. Key users in each business unit were trained to become “BI cells” within the company, examining and communicating their teams’ analytics needs and learning Tableau to create the necessary workbooks. But the company grew fast as well, doubling in size between 2014 and 2017 and expanding even more rapidly since then, creating a moving target for bridging the disconnect between the company’s culture and its existing BI strategy. To keep up with the pace of growth and reach new users with training and tools, Mercado Libre needed a manageable approach to achieving scale.
You realize you have a data-driven company, a true data culture, when in every meeting, every business review, people are using Tableau dashboards to report on the status of KPIs. Or when you’re developing a new product, and everyone asks to see data before beginning to assess the requirements for design.
At this point, Quilis and the BI team quit trying to do it all on their own, and partnered with the company’s human resources organization to build out a more structured approach. One result was the Data Culture team, whose mission was to centralize and scale up Tableau and data analytics education efforts company-wide.
“We created a Data Culture team within the Data Analytics team,” said Quilis. “This is a small team, focused on learning and community initiatives. Before that, all of that knowledge was isolated in the BI team, and nobody was really in charge of promoting an actual culture of using data.”
Data learning paths: An integrated approach to addressing the skill levels of each person and team
The other key result of reorganizing and intensifying the Mercado Libre data transformation efforts at scale was a robust training center. The company created a multi-part, multi-level training curriculum focused on meeting employees wherever they were with their current knowledge of data, and empowering them to make analytics a more meaningful and productive part of their day-to-day work. The team also created a data-driven index that gauged the capabilities of individuals and teams in order to assess needs and track learning progress.
We can make our culture more data-driven every day. The index we created not only identifies which users are beginners, but also tracks which ones have reached an intermediate or advanced skill level. We want those people to be our next Data Champions.
The learning paths Quilis and his team created comprise two main curricular areas: self-paced, platform-based learning for individuals; and instructor-led, classroom-based learning for teams. Self-paced learning currently includes the following programs:
- Data Academy, focused on helping individuals build autonomous capabilities for data analytics. Currently, the company offers Data Academy for its Marketplace and Shipping divisions, with more instructional development coming soon in the areas of Finance and Customer Experience.
- Data Boarding, providing an introduction to the new data-driven culture at the company, including an OWNBoarding track covering the basics of data autonomy for each worker, and a Data Explorer track for helping new users discover the company’s data ecosystem and tools.
On the instructor-led side, teams can take classes at varying levels of technicality, from a basic orientation to the languages of data, SQL and Python, to focused sessions on treating business pains with the aid of data and developing your first data analytics or data science project. Advanced teams can take the Data Champion certification course and become official leaders within the Mercado Libre data community. And for beginner teams, the company will soon offer a Data & Analytics track within its existing IT Bootcamp program, a technical orientation to the company for new hires.
The Data Champion course in particular has been instrumental in landing last-mile coverage for the company’s BI education strategy. “We train these leaders so that they can train their own teams,” said Quilis. “We made a special effort to identify users who were already intermediate or advanced, so we could foster those skills and interests in them in ways that help elevate knowledge across our whole data culture.”
Withstanding change with a durable, evolved data culture
As data culture transforms, companies themselves transform as well—often in ways that are hard to predict. Even in the face of steep growth, or unanticipated disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercado Libre has successfully kept pace with change. The proof is in the agility with which the BI and Data Culture teams continue to train and empower the company’s workforce to integrate data into their daily working lives.
“Even though we grew a lot in the past two or three years, we only had to move some pieces in order to adjust our strategy,” said Quilis. “That’s because we had evolved already as a data culture, so responding to the acceleration in hiring was a natural extension of the plan we already had in place.”