This article is based on a podcast Ron Powell conducted with Sharon Graves, Enterprise Data and BI Tools Evangelist for GoDaddy, about data curation, data stewardship, and data catalogs. Ron is an independent analyst and industry expert for the BeyeNetwork and executive producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward Series. His focus is on business intelligence, analytics, big data, and data warehousing.
GoDaddy is committed to being a customer-first organization. Can you explain what that means for your customers and your employees?
Sharon Graves: Certainly. What I’ve seen as GoDaddy has evolved over the nine years that I’ve been there is that we used to just put out products. We did not always follow through to see if our customers were activating the tools and proceeding along with the process to ensure that they were actually getting to a final success state. Now, we’re actually capturing the appropriate data to make sure that our customers are activating, setting up, building their website, or adding a shopping cart – that they’re proceeding down the path so they can be successful in building their web presence. That, in turn, makes us successful.
You’re really involved in the engagement, and the more you’re involved in the engagement and helping them, the more the product will stick.
Graves: Absolutely. If they’re successful, we’ll be successful.
What role does data play in your customer-first culture?
Graves: As I mentioned, one of the key things for us is that we sell web products for our customers to build their own web presence – domains, hosting, shopping carts, and SSL certs. We want to make sure that we’re capturing the data points to make sure that, for example, setup is easy. Are they stopping somewhere in setup? Maybe we have a step in the process that’s too cumbersome or too convoluted. If not, maybe they just aren’t taking the next step. Maybe they need to be encouraged, or maybe they need help. Or maybe they’ve set up a shopping cart, but they never set up an SSL for it. We can monitor all of that, look at all the data around our customers, and say to them, “You’ve set up a shopping cart. Let’s set you up with security now and make sure that you’re building an appropriate site.”
Capturing all of the data about everything that goes on in their customer world really helps us drive our customer success.
I understand that your transformation at GoDaddy involved getting the right customer data consolidated in one place and making it accessible for every employee for data-driven decision making. What did that involve?
Graves: One of the things that we found with our user population within GoDaddy, our business partners, is that we needed to get them information that they could easily use via self-service. We have a BI/BA organization that we wanted to keep focused on the very deep dive, heavy analytics and data science, but we needed to give our business partners the tools so they could do their own reporting, see the successes of their products and see the steps they needed to take. So we came up with a concept called a Unified Data Set (UDS). These data sources are packaged, managed and curated. They are groupings of data – order data, visit data or chat data etc. The intention is that our business partners should be able to answer 80 percent of their questions about their customers within this data source. That’s how we continue to grow that. It frees up our analytic side for the deeper dive but also gives our partners the deep data that they need.
Sharon, how were you able to get all your information in one place?
Graves: One of the tools that we’re utilizing is Alation, which is a data catalog tool. What it does for us is that it goes out and pulls all of the metadata in from a variety of platforms that we have data stored on, and it actually allows us to collaborate and define and propagate out information about what the data is. One of the issues that we had is that we built great data sources and enabled end users with a reporting tool, but we didn’t really tell them where it was. We needed to actually expand on that. So with Alation, our users can search for a data source or even search for a topic, and it will point them in the right direction to use for any analysis that they might want to perform.
From the standpoint of a data catalog and Alation, what are the benefits that it provides for you?
Graves: One of the biggest challenges with data that I’ve seen in my IT experience is that developers will create tables and processes, but nobody wants to do the documentation. Nobody wants to define what your data is because it’s cumbersome. It’s difficult. So having a data catalog such as Alation that can go out and actually pull in the foundation data, the schemas, the tables, the columns and the rows gives you a foundation that you can easily collaborate on top of to build out your documentation. It gives you a shell that’s much better than anything that you’ve had in the past where somebody just said, “I built this table. Here’s the DDL for it. Here’s just a list of the fields.”
Alation actually allows us to go out and define it. We can actually tell the end users how they might want to use it. We can tell them how other people are using this data source. We can actually point them to people if they have a question. They can look at filters that are being applied, and we can tell them which are the right filters to apply and which are not. We can tell them how they’re joining in this data source, and we can tell them whether that’s right or not. By having a collaborative environment where people are being data stewards on this data and identifying the appropriate way to use the data and what the data is for really helps expand the knowledge and usage of the data within our ecosystem.
There’s an old saying that by getting started, you’re half way done. So in reality, just getting the project started, Alation actually does 50% of the work.
Graves: Absolutely. It gives you the shell so people then aren’t afraid to continue on.
What are the main benefits GoDaddy is receiving as a result of your self-service journey?
Graves: First of all, our products are performing much better than they had in the past. We are more aware of any stumbling blocks that we may be causing for our external customers and more aware of what they may want. We can see their usage patterns and identify that there is something we should look into because a lot of people are asking about it. We’re really becoming better at understanding what our customers need and want.
Internally, we have the additional benefit in that we have our BI/BA organization analysts really doing true data science and looking into the hard questions as opposed to answering questions such as how did my product trend last year and what was my year over year variance. We now have our end users doing that themselves.
In addition, now they’re thinking more about data whenever they’re starting to make a change or add a product. They’re thinking about how they’ll be able to track it once it’s in place. From what I’ve seen in the IT world in the past, a lot of people would implement products or changes without thinking about how to track the success of it until it was in. Then they would have to back-build. So this is a huge hurdle our internal customers have jumped! Our internal customers are actually thinking about these things. They’re thinking immediately how they’re going to report it, how they’re going to show it in Tableau, and where the data is going to come from to prove out that it’s working successfully. This has changed the mind-set within our company.
From a data source perspective, how many data sources do you have?
Graves: As far as the curated ones, we’re running about 30. Again, they’re very topic focused – traffic, orders, chat and things like that. We have thousands, obviously, if you talk about the entire ecosystem of GoDaddy. Not all of them are curated. That’s where we’re trying to work on our balance of how far do we document, how far do we go, and should we present all of these or not. We’re working through that governance aspect right now.
Can you explain data curation and data stewardship at GoDaddy and what it means for the company, employees and customers?
Graves: For me, data curation was the result of the UDSs. We have data sources, again, that we feel will answer 80 percent of the questions. We work with the BI/BA organization to determine what should be in this data source to answer that, to address this, and to alleviate that from you. What can we provide your end users so they can answer these questions?
Secondly, now that we’ve built these data sources with our engineering team, we want to make sure that it’s going through the proper tools. If it’s going through change control and change is recommended, we want to make sure somebody is doing peer review on the code, that it’s documented and that it is scheduled. In addition to that, we have the monitoring and alerting, so we’re tracking to see if there are variances in the data that don’t look normal – if there are trending anomalies. Is the data current as of the expected time? Is it through last hour or is it through yesterday as it should be, depending on the data? We monitor that and make sure that the data is available and present for our end users.
In addition to that, in the data catalog we have the documentation spelling out what the table is for, spelling out what the fields are, how they’re calculated if they are calculated, building out the data dictionary to tie back to the data, to tie back to the table, to tie back to the fields – saying this is how it all is and this is what this all means. To me, that would be a curated data source. And, again, that builds confidence in our end users that they’re using the right data, they’re understanding how they’re using that data, and they know that they’re on the right path.
How do you ensure the data is right?
Graves: Again, we’re monitoring. Right now if certain KPIs are out of variance, we’ll alert our on-call team and they’ll check to determine the reason for the variance. We also track if a data source is current. For example, if it is supposed to be current as of the last three hours but is not, we alert somebody to check the job to be sure it’s running. So currently we monitor source to target variances, making sure everything is tying as it should be.
As you’ve been going through this, has the number of users using the data increased?
Graves: It is increasing substantially. We actually have some trending where we monitor the usage of our UDS data sources, and it’s in a constant climb.
That sounds wonderful. So you’re making everyone an analyst!
Graves: Yes, and that, in turn, helps our end customer because everyone is thinking about improving and how we can change and grow the company and support our customers even better.
From a growth perspective, how is GoDaddy doing?
Graves: We’re doing very well and our end customers are successful.
From a culture perspective, have you seen a change?
Graves: Early on, our culture was very tech-focused and we have evolved into a customer-focused company. So that has become our real focus – making sure that our customers are happy with our tools, are happy with our products and are happy with our support. That’s one of the key metrics that we’re always measuring. If they’re happy, we’re going to be good.
So from a technical perspective, a business user doesn’t really have to be very technical?
Graves: No, and that’s what’s been great. For Tableau, you don’t have to be very technical. It’s drag and drop. It’s very easy to use. We’re providing our customers with curated data sources that are consistent in terminology so they recognize the fields. Again, they know what they’re using. Then we have Alation that can define it further for them if they need to. It’s really all very easy to understand and easy to use.
It’s great to see a customer-first culture. Thank you Sharon.