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Siemens and Anthony Nolan getting the most from analytics

Electronics giant Siemens and blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan are both improving their data practices with a self-service analytics platform. Toni Sekinah hears from Jon Cajacob and Franky Stephenson who say that self-serve analytics is making their organisations more efficient and more productive, and the charity data is no longer in a ’shack’.

The group is solidified through a work social network with approximately 100 people using a Yammer group where Siemens-specific ideas and solutions are exchanged. One of the solutions was a tool that enabled the transfer of data from Alteryx to a Tableau server; this tool is now used widely throughout the company. They also have biweekly key user sessions where users are encouraged to share use cases thus facilitating peer-to-peer learning.

As a project manager of data and analytics in finance, Cajacob is dealing with a lot of financial data and so he uses the analytics platform to connect many different data sources. He said: “The entire consolidated financial data of the entire operating company, we joined that data with a lot of other different data sources, for example, market growth rates, productivity data, customer products and integrated all these sources.” Then the data was transformed so that it could work for the front end and then be transferred to the Tableau servers where those building dashboards and creating reports for the analysts, could access it.

The entire process is fully automated, there was no IT involved and no technical experts required to implement the new process which are key benefits for Cajacob as he is working with very complex data and data structures. Furthermore, there is a lot of risk involved when working in finance where small errors can be very costly but using automated processes that reduce the reliance on spreadsheets reduces that risk.

“The organisation was choking on its data.”

The stakes are also high for the data professionals working at Anthony Nolan, the charity for those suffering from blood cancer. The core pillar of the charity is its stem cell donor register, therefore it is imperative that data is clean, organised and accessible. When Franky Stephenson, head of business intelligence, joined the charity five years ago, this was not the case. “The organisation was choking on its data. Data was everywhere. There were thickets of impenetrable Excel-based data systems. It was an absolute mess,” she said.

She “accidentally” got her hands on Alteryx and promptly increased the number of days she was working from three to five as she explored its capabilities and functions. For Stephenson, the great benefit of Alteryx was that it allowed her and her team to think in the manner of Shirley, the mother of Anthony Nolan, the organisation’s namesake. Shirley had set up the world’s first stem cell register in a hospital car park in 1974 because her son needed a stem cell transplant which was an emerging medical science at the time. As such, any ideas that they have now have must be innovative and “Shirley-worthy” so that despite being surrounded by “swamps, buckets and puddles of mucky data” they can innovate at pace.

The Alteryx platform at Anthony Nolan is used almost like a data warehouse, although Stephenson calls it a “data shack.” She said: “We keep copies of all the data that’s needed for compliance and workloads that spit out compliance level pieces and the rest of it.”

Like Siemens, Anthony Nolan also has an analytics community centred around Alteryx with 25 people using 11 licenses. Stephenson explained that the others without licenses use R, Python or create visualisations, but even people in the wider business are taking an interest in data and get ideas from the analytics team of how they can use data to generate change in their business area.

In summary, Cajacob said: “We need to be productive in finance, so getting people away from manual repetitive spreadsheet work into focusing their efforts on actual analysis work. With that, we are also getting more insights out of the data.”

For Stephenson, a positive consequence of using the analytics platform is the reduction in silos. Before analysts were stuck at their desks, not knowing the business very well and vice versa. But now, the analysts are able to suggest productivity savings by altering working patterns, for example. She said: “This has got them talking to each other a lot more, using Alteryx within our data strategy and understanding what is going on.”

Jon Cajacob and Franky Stephenson were speaking at the Alteryx Inspire conference in London.

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