1 – What have been some of the highlights and challenges of moving from an Auditing-focused role into the rapidly changing and exciting Data Visualisation space?
When I first started in the Advanced Analytics & Visualisation (AAV) practice of Tridant, you could say it was a baptism of fire. The more I delved into Tableau and learnt about the industry, the more I realised how much there was to learn, and the fact that the analytics and visualisation landscape is constantly shifting year by year makes it all the harder to “keep up”. I quickly realised this was an unproductive mindset and now look at it as a positive – I won’t ever feel like I’m stagnating which is a big plus.
Audit for obvious reasons is extremely different. I do enjoy the fact that I now get to activate my creative side when designing dashboards for my clients. It’s something I find very stimulating and I love discussing ideas with my clients and observing how those ideas shift and mould into something concrete. Having an end product to show that is more colourful and interactive, i.e. a dashboard rather than a pdf report, like back in those audit days, is much more satisfying.
2 – Tell us the story of how you ended up at Tridant if you had limited previous experience in Data or IT in general.
Funny story actually….
In 2015 I regularly attended an amateur swim squad and became good friends with another squad member, Eva Murray. We obviously got to know each other quite well and sport-related talk progressed to job-related talk. Her eyes lit up when I asked about what she did for a career and she painted a most flattering picture of a place called ‘Tridant’, as well as what she did with Tableau. This was what started it all and it was the moment when Tableau transitioned from a side interest to a priority.
I was on holidays in Brazil during Carnaval season when I got a message from her asking whether I’d make a career change if given the opportunity. Next moment, I was updating my LinkedIn profile at 3am in the lounge area of my Rio hotel. You can imagine the grief I received from all the other guests who obviously thought I was mad.
The next step was a skype interview in Sao Paolo using a borrowed laptop from a very generous Brazilian friend of mine. As soon as I was back in Sydney, I interviewed with my boss Ian and our Director, Michael, before having my first taste of a Tableau event at the after party of the Tableau Conference On Tour in Sydney. The contract then made its way into my inbox and I officially became a ‘Triton’.
I do remember questioning my interviewers on why they would consider somebody with limited prior experience in Data. The argument was that it’s much easier to teach somebody technical skills than soft skills / other innate personal qualities. In retrospect, I think I totally agree with that.
3 – You are now working at a small yet successful business. What’s the best thing about working here at Tridant?
Definitely the Tridant culture. Yes, what a cliché and one might add that I’m expected to say it. But believe me, I sincerely mean it. Our Director in Sydney has done a fantastic job in ensuring that we live and breathe the term ‘collegiality’. We enjoy good banter and always have each other’s back.
The leaders strive for a high-performing culture where everybody is encouraged to get involved in decision-making. To give you an example, my boss Ian encourages me to make decisions normally reserved for the equivalent of senior managers and above in a Big4 environment. That is the beauty of working for a smaller firm. My official title is Consultant and certified Trainer, but in reality, I also get involved in writing articles for Marketing, Sales development and the bit I love the most – creating customised training curriculums for Tridant.
4 – You currently have one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings as formally recorded by one of the leading vendors. What were some of the challenges you faced during the certification process and what advice can you give those aspiring to become a certified trainer in the Analytics space?
One of the biggest challenges was the sheer amount of prep work necessary to pass the certification process. One area of advice would be to do every single exercise, and read the solutions, in whatever curriculum you’re training first. That way you’ll understand what the areas of focus are for each exercise.
Catering to people of different learning styles also poses a constant challenge. Sometimes I find that when I explain things a certain way, it makes complete sense to one audience type but confuses another, so then it really forces me to refresh my teaching style and think of other examples as a backup. The same could be said about catering to people of different skill levels and experience in the tool and as such, a good practice would be to compile a ‘contingency kit’ (e.g. a set of additional challenge questions) for those who power ahead. It works as it buys you time as you sit with those who have had less exposure to the tools.
An important piece of advice I could give would be to continually communicate with the vendor and try to understand the level of expectation on how their product is represented in the market. When you train using their product, you are being their spokesperson and they’re trusting you in that role.
And finally, I think just have fun being a Trainer. It is rewarding when you receive follow-up emails from attendees telling you what they learnt that was valuable and applicable to their role. But of course, that isn’t to say that you’ll never receive negative feedback from certain people. It’s almost always inevitable and the important thing is to not let that affect your morale for the next class.
5 – Data Preparation is often talked about as a key element to achieving effective Data Visualisation, what has been your experience so far?
Well, there is the old adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’; but that is a little too simplistic these days. Many of my customers find that most visualisation tools can do a decent job of blending data across a small number of sources within the tool itself, and getting this done very quickly. Beyond that however, for more complex scenarios and data sources, we find that there is a key role to play for more advanced data foundation tools and techniques. This includes handling things like Sophisticated Analytics, complex data manipulation, Geospatial pre-processing, Data Quality, drill-to-detail, and to help with things such as governance and performance.
In the end, it depends on the specific circumstance and capabilities required. I love helping organisations design the most appropriate outcome. Fundamentally, we believe that you do the processing where the processing power is and not whilst the user is in their ‘analytical flow’.
(Analytical flow is the state we use to describe the analytical thought process an analyst goes through; being able to ask questions of their data, unhindered by a technology/tool or processing time, consequently allowing the analyst to remain in their ‘flow’ of analytical thinking).
6 – For those organisations faced with the difficult task of selecting a Data Visualisation tool from the broad range of similar offerings, what should they be looking for?
I think they should look for a tool that offers flexibility, speed, and beautiful designs. It should get the creative juices flowing and encourage the data discovery piece. Apart from the aesthetic elements, other important aspects are the ease of integration with data sources, for e.g. Google BigQuery or Salesforce are becoming increasingly common sources. Cloud readiness and integration with common authentication mechanisms are also key.
At the end of the day, it all depends on each organisation’s objective. They must ask themselves how they’re intending for the data to be consumed by end users. If allowing end users high degrees of flexibility when interacting with a dashboard isn’t necessary, but instead a static dashboard showing a summary of KPI results is enough, then perhaps an alternate data visualisation tool will suffice or even the organisation’s legacy standard tool would be better-suited.
7 – Tell us about the coolest application of Data Visualisation you’ve come across so far?
So far the standouts are working with Wi-Fi data for a shopping centre owner /operator, as well as a zoo!
For the shopping centre operator, I have been using Tableau to connect to Google BigQuery in order to uncover useful insights from years of Wi-Fi data collected. It is refreshing to take a break from financial data and explore themes like retailer performance, SmartScreen (screens that measure customer eye movement) metrics, and ways to measure the success of advertising campaigns. They will then pass on those insights to retailers.
As for the zoo, my colleague Raymond has had the unusual experience of basing himself at a zoo for several weeks, performing analyses on ticketing data using a combination of Tableau and Alteryx. The aim of the project was to merge data from the zoo’s old and new ticketing systems and using the one dataset to create new customer visitation dashboards. It was pretty hilarious when I would call him and instead hear monkeys screeching or elephants trumpeting…..just another day in the office!
8 – Do you see Data Visualisation tools replacing or complementing Enterprise BI platforms such as Oracle, SAP, or IBM?
This is a great question, since we are seeing more and more of what we refer to a co-existence of platforms. That is, many of those legacy products and applications contain a high amount of historic and enduring value, and are very good at handling requirements such as automated Scheduling and Bursting, heavily formatted PDF-style reports, and multi-dimensional analysis. Data Visualisation tools target slightly different but complementary use cases, and are more targeted towards speed-of-thought analysis or Analytical Flow, and full democratisation of data. Many of the organisations we work with find Data Visualisation tools to be excellent prototype-companions alongside a gold standard Enterprise platform. For others, going full agile with Data Viz tools only is the right approach where it is a fast-paced industry. So again, it depends on the type and style of organisation and the end user audience.
9 – Tell us a bit about your next customer in terms of industry and line of business?
Well my next engagement is an internal training engagement for a customer in the Aviation space along with a combination of public classroom and customer on-site training sessions which I will be running on behalf of Tableau, both interstate and in Singapore.
Consulting-wise, once I finish up with the shopping centre owner/operator as mentioned above, the next one would be a customer in the Insurance industry with a focus on a capability uplift of their internal resources, instillation of visualisation best practices and ensuring the successful adoption of Tableau technology within their organisation.
10 – What is your favourite thing to do to decompress from a busy week?
Practicing figure skating elements at the ice rink, my place of zen….and delighting in the constant banter between myself and my two wonderful coaches!