How Non-Data Tech Employees Are Learning To Run the Numbers

Data analytics is now an inextricable part of the tech industry. For three Boston tech companies, leveling up means taking a data-centric approach to work culture.

Written by Anderson Chen
Published on Oct. 25, 2022
How Non-Data Tech Employees Are Learning To Run the Numbers
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To the untrained eye, data used to be the realm of scientists, statisticians and hardcore sports fans. Today, data is part of societal discourse.

Democratized and disseminated, data is the distilled fuel of analytics-fed engines powering tech companies, research projects and everyday life. For data scientists and engineers whose job it is to charter their companies through increasingly complex waters, it’s become all the more important for their colleagues to understand and use the numbers-backed foundation supporting their work. Its importance — much like tech literacy was for IT departments in the startup era — has become a knowledge standard to which a company’s employees should align. 

According to Tariq Qureshi, director of data science and analytics at Agero, building a data-literate culture has enabled his team to dig deeper into more advanced analytics and explore more ambitious questions. With no hand-holding required by his data staff, Qureshi sees a distributed support of business needs — even from the top. “Our executive team is using the dashboards we have created for them and conducting an appropriate level of analysis on their own.”
 

It’s become all the more important for their colleagues to understand and use the numbers-backed foundation supporting their work.” 


Using data literacy as a support foundation also goes a long way for smaller companies looking to make an outstanding impact. At tech nonprofit ActBlue, Brett Wejrowskim, the company’s director of data science and engineering, opted to foster a data-centric culture instead of mandating its necessity. 

“The first step was building a culture of curiosity,” he explained. “It started with the leadership team and has been historically supported by a core group of experts that work closely with various departments to understand their data, improve workflows and develop metrics and objectives.” 

Ben Tengelsen, VP of data science at IntelyCare, agrees that a modular approach to outfitting the organization with data knowledge is preferable to a drastic overhaul. Something simple like their “Chart of the Day” email blast ended up influencing culture in the long run. “The power of this program is it’s a small dose of data literacy every day,” Tengelsen said. Now, even non-data colleagues at the company run their own controlled experiments. 

Data is now at the forefront of tech companies of every sector and size. But it takes time and purposeful intention to build a culture around it. For examples of its payoffs, Built In Boston sat down with leaders at IntelyCare, Agero and ActBlue to see their blueprint for data-oriented success.

 

Tariq Qureshi
Director of Data Science and Analytics • Agero

Agero is a driver-assistance platform that works with automakers and insurers to innovate roadside processes for drivers. From accident management software to connected vehicle utilities and consumer affairs, the company’s platform involves many players in a crucial space for the average person. 

Naturally, balancing over 30,000 drivers and insurance companies a day requires a system anchored by robust data processes, a point not lost on Tariq Qureshi, director of data science and analytics. “Having a data literate organization has allowed us to focus on more advanced analytics.”

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for your company?

Literacy, by definition, is competence or knowledge in a specified area. Data literacy, therefore, means having the ability and critical thinking skills required to interpret data and communicate its significance to others — a skill that is absolutely essential in a fast-moving, digital business environment. 

Understanding what our data is telling us empowers us to ask questions, make informed decisions and collaborate better across the organization. At Agero, we use data to drive all of our decisions, from understanding financials and forecasting based on historical information, determining cost drivers and evaluating the impact of product features, assessing channels of communication, and more. With data, we are able to be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of asking why something happened, we can hypothesize outcomes and impact before the company makes a decision or change.

Not only that, but our customers love data. They are data-driven and they want data from us that will help them run their own business. Data literacy powers our ability to be a value-added partner and encourages growing levels of trusted partnerships with our customers.
 

We have truly created a data-driven culture, where everyone is able to use data to support their business needs.”


What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

We use A/B testing experiments to test changes, making sure the impact is as intended and the results are communicated. We have a test drive team with associates from the data science and analytics (DS&A) team, business stakeholders, operations counterparts and others, all working together to test and measure the impact of the change before final decisions are made. Our DS&A team itself is set up with three squads — analytics, data science and data engineering — and is responsible for maintaining our single source of truth.

Using our tools Sigma and Snowflake, we have created key data sets that individuals and teams across the organization can leverage, ensuring they are accessing data that is high quality, accurate and timely. These reports share key business insights and are a one-stop shop for all our metrics.

We have partnered with HR to host regular BI platform trainings and lunch and learns for the entire company, making sure everyone has a base-level understanding of key definitions, how to use the right descriptive analytics and more. We also have a support channel in Slack for help with day-to-day questions.

 

MORE ON AGEROHow Snowflake and Sigma Help This Company Be Nimbler and More Agile

 

What new capabilities has data literacy unlocked for your team?

Having the right tools in the right hands and having more associates across the organization empowered to self-serve, the DS&A team no longer needs to spend as much time answering basic data questions or worrying about where individuals are sourcing their data. We now have more freedom to be more predictive, not just reactive. We are digging into more advanced questions, questions that require more advanced data to be joined together.

From the top down, Agero is data literate. Our executive team is using the dashboards we have created for them and conducting an appropriate level of analysis on their own. We have truly created a data-driven culture, where everyone is able to use data to support their business needs.

 

Ben Tengelsen
VP, Data Science • IntelyCare

IntelyCare is a staffing platform that connects nursing professionals with open assignments at post-acute care centers. As a digital app, IntelyCare uses machine learning and behavioral analysis to give nurses the flexibility and freedom to choose their workplace. 

To handle such a large network of health professionals, the company relies heavily on data. For Ben Tengelsen, VP of data science, data literacy across the company is necessary to avoid pitfalls. “Even experienced data experts are fooled sometimes, but most mistakes can be avoided with a small amount of data literacy.”

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for your company? 

It is really easy to be fooled by data, especially in a company with many moving pieces like ours. We often run into patterns in data that appear legitimate, only to be debunked later. Our company lives and breathes data. Every department has its own dashboards, metrics and experiments, and makes decisions based on this data. If we’re interpreting patterns in the data incorrectly, we’ll make poor decisions and end up worse off.

 

MORE ON INTELYCARE6 Boston Companies Redefining Their Industries and Hiring Now

 

What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

First, we have a daily, company-wide email called the “Chart of the Day” that includes a chart and a few descriptive sentences. This gives us all a regular opportunity to practice data literacy and learn about other parts of the business. Someone brought it from a prior company and it’s sparked many ideas across the company. 

Next, we undertook an initiative last year to organize our data in a centralized data warehouse. This required each team to meet with our data engineers and determine if any data they collected would be interesting to other teams. Data in the warehouse is searchable and thoroughly documented, via a tool called DBT, so that anyone can find what they need. This has also eliminated the “multiple sources of truth” problem since everyone powers their dashboards through the warehouse.
 

Our company lives and breathes data. Every department has its own dashboards, metrics and experiments, and makes decisions based on this data.


What new capabilities has data literacy unlocked for your team?

Years ago, we could manage to run three to six experiments in a year. It was manual and time-consuming, and we only had a small number of people with the necessary skills to run well-designed experiments. Today we’re running more than 50 experiments in a year and many people — including non-data scientists — are independently running campaigns with randomized control groups and coming to us with the results. We’ve unlocked millions of dollars in saved costs and increased revenue by rapidly experimenting with promotions, product features and life-cycle marketing.

 

actblue office with two employees working on laptops
ActBlue
Brett Wejrowski
Director of Data Science & Engineering • ActBlue

ActBlue is a nonprofit tech organization that helps Democratic candidates, progressive organizations and other non-profits build grassroots campaigns. With a focus on small-dollar donors, the company’s platform aims to give them a more streamlined way of supporting causes and movements. 

Like with any platform that works with a network of users and organizations, ActBlue’s work with data is core to its operations. As such, Brett Wejrowski, director of data science and engineering, prioritizes data literacy across teams. “Building a data-literate culture throughout the organization has allowed our data department to be more effective and our support to level up.”

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for your company? 

Data literacy is key to informing decisions, validating ideas and measuring progress. That makes data literacy a core competency for nearly every role in an organization. This is especially true for a company like ActBlue, which sits at the intersection of politics, technology and payments.

Given our scale of impact relative to our size, we are an organization that relies heavily on well-informed individuals and teams making distributed decisions. That requires a relatively high degree of understanding of our unique dataset and knowledge of the best practices for using that data. One of the most important best practices involves developing a level of comfort with balancing qualitative and quantitative data. In order to effectively use data, leaders and practitioners need to understand what can be measured and what assumptions are made when performing analysis. This aspect of data literacy is fundamentally important to ActBlue’s success.

 

What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

We have worked over the last few years to establish an organization-wide business intelligence tool that interacts with a centralized data warehouse. This data platform allows individuals in any role at ActBlue to access repeatable, reusable and consistent reporting and analytics, expanding the reach and efficacy of those experts.

An incredibly important aspect of our work involves developing resources in support of the data and tools, which includes establishing training programs, maintaining documentation, holding office hours and creating cross-team working groups about topics such as data governance and user research.
 

The first step for ActBlue was building a culture of curiosity.”


What new capabilities has data literacy unlocked for your team?

Elevating everyone’s understanding and access to relevant data has allowed many of our experts to focus on core data platform efforts and larger research projects, which enables more self-service analytics. ActBlue has also seen many leaders and individuals with varying roles build deep data expertise within their vertical so they can develop best practices for their teams and support their colleagues directly.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

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