INTERVIEW: Spreadsheets as the only source of truth14 July 2023
A unified data platform is becoming a standard that allows entrepreneurs to better understand their business and make the right decisions. It is a tool that is currently gaining popularity in both large companies and smaller enterprises. We discuss the role of unified data platforms with Tomasz Mirowski, CTO of 3Soft.
For many years, entrepreneurs and managers have been saying that they make decisions based on data. Is this actually the case?
The reality is somewhat different. Our clients often come across a situation when reports, for example for the management board, are prepared under time pressure. When you are responsible for preparing this type of document, you quickly gather at least a dozen spreadsheets from different departments. In the meantime, you find that a particular file can be accessed only by one employee who happens to be absent. Or you obtain a file but have no idea which information is relevant. On top of that, you get some of the information in the form of screenshots from other external systems, like CRM, or accesses to those systems but without proper introduction. All of this comes with stress. You’re not sure if all of the data you’ve collected is related to the same period of time. It’s also possible that a human error, e.g. a misapplied formula, has crept into one of the spreadsheets. I could go on and on, and problems just keep piling up.
For example, during the presentation a report prepared in this way turns out to be… outdated. Because the source materials you had at your disposal did not cover the very recent days. And yet, key decisions are often made on the basis of such reports.
A real-life example: imagine that the meeting is scheduled for Monday morning, and due to a flurry of other tasks you start preparing the report on Friday. How will you get all the necessary data? If you use a unified data platform, you can present the data in real time or generate it even moments before the meeting without the slightest fear of not making it on time. In addition, thanks to the use of dashboards in PowerBI, everything is immediately presented in graphical form.
Are entrepreneurs who do not yet use data platforms trying to find solutions to these problems on their own?
Yes, they are. They notice that more thoughtful data collection and management could provide a true source of knowledge about the company. This would lead to more efficient and better decision-making. Organizations are starting to use several unrelated external systems on a daily basis. There is still a problem of high costs of data acquisition. Often such systems do not even have an easy method of exporting data to a spreadsheet. They require specialized knowledge, e.g. how to use the API provided. The lack of such competences in the organization makes using such sources impossible and is fraught with additional risks related to data acquisition and integrity. So we are back to square one: the information used to generate reports is entered manually, most often into spreadsheets, which exposes it to the risk of human error and is terribly time-consuming.
How to properly tackle this challenge?
The change is to implement a platform that incorporates integral data from various sources, and ultimately presents the actual state of the business. This will only happen if we understand the data and its sources, identify the processes causing analysis problems and align the data with business goals. At 3Soft, our activities start with Data Discovery workshops, which involve close cooperation between client representatives and our data and business process analysts. For example, this is how we operated when working with an e-commerce company. As a medium-sized enterprise, it based its business processes on independent SaaS solutions available on the market and on spreadsheet reports provided by external organizations. We carefully analyzed the client’s data, data sources, and business needs. We found, among other things, that the exported data was delivered in various formats, such as JSON or CSV.
How did you solve that problem?
The processes we had prepared automated manual data retrieval and report generation. In this particular case, the platform launched for the client is fed with data from logistics systems. It allows real-time tracking of sales and shipments, so the client can make business decisions based on up-to-date, reliable data.
Our analysts made an additional observation that what was being mostly shipped was… air! It turned out that the standard cardboard boxes for shipping orders were too large. Having the data collected on the platform, as well as access to historical data, we were able to prepare a Machine Learning model which indicated the optimal box sizes and it took us only a few days. For many orders the client was able to use smaller boxes which were cheaper to transport. Logistics costs were reduced by 17%.
As you can see, launching a unified data platform allows for natural use of artificial intelligence to optimize processes.
Can this solution be flexible and take into account the changes occurring in the company?
Of course. Our client started advertising on Instagram. At that time, it also turned out that cost settlements with subcontractors required a lot of involvement from the client’s finance department.
As the data platform was already implemented, it took only a few days to expand the environment by additional automations. Next, a fully automated report was created to track the impact of the marketing campaign on sales and subcontractors’ billing. What’s more, displaying the live campaign effects dashboard on a large TV screen transformed the client’s business process. Instead of analyzing the effects of the campaign after it was over, the client could make decisions while the campaign was still in progress! This increased the effectiveness of activities by 10%.
If the client decides to add further SaaS solutions, we can plug them quickly and efficiently. Data from these solutions goes into an easy-to-read and continuously updated dashboard. Such a system takes into account real-time variables. It doesn’t require another manual transfer of data and spending hours on the preparation of reports.
To sum up, what are the main benefits of having a data platform in the company?
Executives are starting to understand the available data, which, thanks to its consistency, becomes a reliable strategic resource. They receive the necessary information in a specific place and based on the most up-to-date data. All this without the need to collect a large amount of source materials and engaging many people. At 3Soft we take a comprehensive approach to such solutions – from Data Discovery workshops to building and implementing the platform. We create dashboards using PowerBI. If the client’s business undergoes changes, we can promptly take them into account. We accompany the client at each stage of the implementation of the solution.
Tomasz Mirowski – graduate of the Faculty of Information Technology at the Opole University of Technology. Completed postgraduate studies in Big Data and Advanced Data Analytics Systems at the WSB Academy. Holds numerous licences and certifications from, among others, Microsoft, Hortonworks and IBM, proving cloud competence, as well as knowledge of the Hadoop platform. Worked for one of the largest Polish banks as an IT expert at the beginning of his career. In 2017, joined 3Soft as an IT Architect. Since September 2021, responsible for the Data Management Department as Chief Technology Officer. On a private level, a husband, father and enthusiast of music, whatever the genre. Also a fan of new technologies and electronic gadgets.