Global design firm uses Tableau to more efficiently plan its future

Gensler is a global design firm with 5,000 people working in 46 offices around the globe. Some of the San Francisco-founded firm's most innovative projects include China's Shanghai Tower, the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Los Angeles Football Club Stadium.

Patrick Robey, finance manager, talks about using Tableau to allow the company to project performance.

Tableau allows the firm to:

  • Plan more effectively
  • Gain deeper insight into its own best practices
  • Better allocate resources

Tableau: Can you tell us a little bit about Gensler?
Patrick Robey, Finance Manager: Gensler is an architecture and design firm. We are professional services, so that's what we make our money on—selling our time and our services to build people a better environment.

Tableau: Did you have specific plan in mind when you adopted Tableau?
Patrick: So there are some specific KPIs that we use, as many other professional service firms use, things that track the way people spend their time, the accounts receivable that we bill to our clients, the amount of backlog we have, how much money do we have under contract that we've not yet invoiced to our clients.

We wanted to make sure that we were marrying past performance with projected performance in the future. I don't hear of other professional services firms really taking that forward-looking approach. And that's something that Tableau has really enabled us to do in a way that is empowering to the business.

Tableau: Can you give me an example?
Patrick: So an example might be, “Hey, I've got a renewal project that's performing poorly. Why is that? What sort of changes might we make to help that project deliver a better result for our client? How are we projecting that project to perform relative to what we initially thought it would?”

And so it just helps us deliver for our clients better. It helps us understand what we're doing in a more robust manner. And put resources where we know we need them.

Tableau: Has Tableau had any affect on your business?
Patrick: We're seeing it just change the way we do business. And I think that is something we rarely see with software. There's a lot of software that comes through our doors and that we'd attempt to use, but Tableau is something that is going to stick around, and it's changing the way we do business today.

Tableau: What specific needs led you to Tableau?
Patrick: The ability to digest information in a tabular format is just vastly different than what you get from something that is visually-oriented.

The ability, I think, that has been really strong in the response from a lot of the leadership is that, “I have a question, I need to get it answered, and how quickly that can be done?”

The information was always there, but they may have had to have gone to one, two different, three different places to actually tie this information together. And now it's all sitting there for a lot of our leadership just to go in and not just have to do the data mining, the visualization actually leads them to the answer.

Tableau: What tool are you using most often?
Patrick: The most popular viz at Gensler is an operations dashboard that allows us to take a look from a high-level view at five core metrics we focus on at Gensler, but then able to drill down. It's answering questions that people may have been able to find the answer to before, but now it's intuitive within the application and it's quick.

So Tableau is providing the answers to questions that people may have had to hunt around for a long time and now can do literally in a few seconds.

Tableau: What was the on-boarding process like? Was it difficult to get your staff to warm up to the software?

We have these graphically-oriented people that aren't necessarily financially-oriented. They now are beginning to understand the impact of their behavior upon our results.

Patrick: It's been surprisingly easy to get employees to understand Tableau. And the reason for that, I think, is because we've created visualizations that almost self-train and self-educate people around the metrics themselves.

They've been built so that people can intuitively see a visualization, and it tells a story of what's actually happening. So there's this idea around educating people with our metrics, and without having to write up a long page or summary of what a metric is. The visualization actually tells the story.

We have these graphically-oriented people that aren't necessarily financially-oriented. They now are beginning to understand the impact of their behavior upon our results

Tableau: Do you have further plans for Tableau?
Patrick: We recently went to a core license, so we're going to be expanding that to a large swath of different business unit owners. Over the next year we know Tableau is going to really skyrocket in its use in our firm, and hopefully provide that value for change of behavior and understanding the questions that people have around our clients and the services that we're providing.

We've built some in-house applications to help us track projects, and over the next six months we plan to move that from these in-house built applications to within Tableau, because we think the front end of Tableau is that much easier to build off of.

The enrichment and understanding and having one place to go, and people are already responding in such a positive manner to the front intake of information into their brain, that's not necessarily an architecture-specific item, but it's something for our business and for Gensler that is really important.