GoCardless turns to self-service BI to drive analytics across the business

The payments processing firm switched from Tableau to Looker to foster a data-driven decision-making culture

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GoCardless aims to build a business that's as data-driven as possible, but until recently, the payment processing firm was struggling to bring analytics into every department in the company.

Most employees had limited access to data, which forced analysts to dedicate much of their working day to responding to various individual requests from across the business. 

The company's leadership team recognised that this approach would struggle to scale alongside their ambitious growth strategy. GoCardless has already established a foothold in the UK, attracting customers including the Guardian and Thomas Cook, and recently announced a $75m (£58m) funding round that will be used to expand overseas. To achieve this, they needed to open up access to analytics so that all the company's 350-odd employees could use data to inform their decision-making and drive efficiencies.

In July 2018, the company recruited Jon Palmer as its new head of business intelligence (BI), and tasked him with finding a self-service BI tool that the entire workforce could use.

GoCardless’ primary BI product at the time was Tableau, which staff would use alongside other legacy tools to independently perform queries and generate reports. The results could be inaccurate and the use of multiple tools made it hard to govern data access.

When users felt uncomfortable running their own self-service queries, they would raise tickets requesting reports to GoCardless’ small BI team, leaving them a time-consuming task that required them to deliver various dashboards following the ad hoc requests.

Palmer chose to replace the system with Looker. He had already deployed the platform in his previous job at videogame developer King, where the self-service software had gained widespread adoption across the business. His faith in the product was such that he didn’t investigate competitors.

GoCardless began the Looker implementation process in November. The core infrastructure team at GoCardless got the system up and running in less than a day. Palmer’s team then spent a month building an early foundational product and trialling it with a small group of users. The next month, access to Looker was opened to everybody at the company.

GoCardless now uses Looker's regular dashboards and deep-dive capabilities for a variety of use cases across the business, from executives searching for insights into revenue growth in specific regions to the IT team removing bottlenecks in the company’s verification processes to create a faster, slicker experience.

The company claims that 95 percent of GoCardless staff now have a Looker account and that 75 percent of them use the data platform in a meaningful way every month.

Palmer credits this adoption rate to a combination of Looker being a user-friendly tool and the training programme developed for the software.

GoCardless partnered with Looker to tailor the training material to the company’s specific needs and use cases. They then adapted the training sessions to the individual needs and expertise of the different divisions of the business.

This has helped reduce requests to the data team from at least a dozen every week to nearly zero, which has allowed analysts to focus on more strategic issues.

“It was immediately apparent to them what difference it was going to make to their lives and they could focus on the more complex task rather than just trying to keep it up to speed with small alterations in dashboards," Palmer tells Computerworld.

"So we've been able to hire different types of talent and we've been able to focus the team that we already had on more valuable tasks.”

Palmer adds that Looker has improved regulatory compliance and data privacy at GoCardless by integrating the data in a single system that makes it easier to organise information at scale.

He now plans to shift his focus for Looker from better data management to developing new unique analytic tools that will support the growth plan of GoCardless.

“In the future, we will be building tooling around Looker to serve some of these really valuable data and insights we have internally, and to be able to scale those externally as well,” he says.

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