When Libby Hickey was 16, her mother insisted that her first job had to be with the John Lewis Partnership, the UK’s largest co-owned company. Today Hickey is Tableau Product Manager at the retailer and at the forefront of the Partnership’s push to bring self-service analytics to all of its Partners, as employees are known.
For over 100 years, John Lewis Partnership (JLP) has been a bye-word for excellent customer service. That remains the case today, but there are more challenges to be faced in what is an ever more competitive retail market. What JLP wants to do is use self-service analytics to find “ideas from anywhere”, Hickey explains:
We have to go bigger, we have to go bolder, and to do that, we know that data is key.
Hickey’s own involvement in this transformation journey starts a couple of years ago when as a Process Automation Manager in one of the John Lewis commercial teams, she was involved in managing Robotic Process Automation. Her robots were delivering lots of data, but not really telling her anything about either their operational performance or that of the wider team:
I knew that I wanted to turn this data into a story. Until you do that, data really is just a collection of information. How can I use this data in a creative way to show patterns, draw conclusions to the many different hypotheses that I had, or prove theories that would help me to drive actions within the team?
In pursuit of data visualization capabilities, Hickey came across Tableau and more specifically a two week free license key that she managed to sweet-talk the IT team into installing on her computer. Shortly after, she found herself in the role of Tableau Product Manager and by the summer of 2022, the foundations of the self-service analytics strategy were in place.
The starting point was to look at the data insights and analytics strategy which was to be the enabler of the entire plan as part of JLP’s first ever data strategy. One conclusion was that Tableau would clearly be critical to success. That still left a few questions, recalls Hickey:
Having established that vision, we knew what it was we wanted to achieve, why we wanted to achieve it. This was the why. How are we going to do it? And when would we know that we’d been successful?
Thus, the self-service analytics aspect came into being. Here too there were questions, this time around definitions. When talking about people about the idea of self-service, it became clear that not everyone was on the same page. Hickey explains:
I explicitly asked the question. I went to leadership, I went to Partners, and I asked, ‘What does self-service analytics mean to you?’. I had answers [that ranged] from, ‘I want my Partners to be able to sign into Tableau, self-serve through provisioned content, use dashboards to help answer their business questions’, all the way through to, ‘I want my buyers in the technology departments to be able to connect to data that a supplier sent through to them, interrogate that, maximize the value of that data through Tableau’.
There was a need to create a JLP definition of self-service. This resulted in what Hickey calls “our Netflix of insight”, which is the centralized provisioning of insight products for self-serve consumption, and secondly, self-service creation, which she refers to as the TikTok of insight:
Netflix’s vision is to set the quality bar in the provisioning of on demand video services. You sign into Netflix, and you’re self-serving through a curated list of content – documentaries, films, comedies – that has been provisioned to the site to enable you to self-serve from. We’re trying to replicate that same idea within the world of Tableau at the Partnership. You sign into Tableau and you self-serve through a curated list of content that has been provisioned to the site. Content in this sense though, unlike Netflix, would be a Tableau data source or a Tableau dashboard.
TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity. You can just pick up your phone, open the app and all you need is a profile and you can create your own content, share it with the community. To do that, you haven’t had to have anything provisioned to you to enable that. Again, we’re trying to replicate that type of self-service in the world of John Lewis. You can sign into Tableau, you have a login, and you can connect your own data, create your own data source, create your own dashboard, share it with the community. To do that you’ve not to have had to have anything provisioned to you to enable you to do that.
This two-pronged approach was designed to enable maximum impact, argues Hickey:
If you truly want to facilitate the delivery of insight, plus maximizing the value of the product, then you have to maximize the use of its capability. And if you maximize the use of its capability, then you maximize the value of your data. That’s our vision.
JLP wanted a platform for everyone and skills for everyone within the organization Every Partner has access to Tableau. Thirty in-person awareness sessions were run, as well as 15 four week, in-depth Tableau boot camps, attended by 500 Partners who wanted deeper product knowledge. Alongside this, the team curated five bespoke, on-demand learning journeys, and ran over 150 Tableau ‘data doctor’ sessions to offer one-to-one tailored support to anyone who needed it.
The Partnership also set up a center of excellence, known as the Tableau Biz Squad, which is embedded within six priority corporate functions. The introduction of the self-serve strategy has also resulted in the Partnership’s largest Slack community, with over 1200 members. Meanwhile 150 Tableau Champions have been placed in various business areas to help drive adoption. Finally, ten different monthly Tableau newsletters are sent around to create enthusiasm and keep everyone up-to-date on the latest developments.
There have been clear benefits accrued, says Hickey. She cites the example of the John Lewis Head of Branch in the Trafford Center in Manchester, the third largest mall in the UK, who wanted to have a say on the shape of the marketing strategy for the outlet:
He knew that if he wanted to influence this strategy, then there was no point in turning up to the meeting where he was going to challenge it without data. Thanks to the brand new collection within Tableau of the JLP shops having been provisioned to him, he had a whole array of data available to him to show the marketing team at the John Lewis at the Trafford Center that the customers that they were exclusively marketing to, were not inclusive of all of the customers that the John Lewis Partnership had available. He definitely influenced the strategy of the marketing team and that was thanks to ‘Netflix’ having provisioned him a brand new series of John Lewis shops collection…Imagine if we can put this kind of data into the hands of 80,000 different Partners.
As to the future, the tools are in place, the Tableau community is growing, and the Partners are displaying an appetite for this transformation. But there are still challenges, Hickey acknowledges:
We know that if we really want to continue to find ‘ideas from anywhere’, then we need to accelerate skills…We know that it’s proficiency that enables data discovery, it’s proficiency that enables use case growth, and it’s proficiency that enables value creation. At the end of the day, data really is just the sidekick; it’s our people who are the heroes.
To address this, JLP is creating a new proficiency program with its own brand identity, she explains:
We know that if we really want to foster that long-term data culture, we need to ensure that all of our Partners have the ability, but more importantly the confidence, to use and interpret data within their day jobs. The program starts with Tableau Mission Control. That’s for all of our Partners to come and really hone their core consumer skills within Tableau, and their data literacy skills, to really give them that data fluency confidence.
Then for some of our partners, they will launch off into the Tableau Mission. That is a five module journey where they can obtain five different Tableau certifications. They’ll also have the opportunity there to really get analytical excellence, community leadership and deep product knowledge.
At the end of the day, we don’t just have a vision for Tableau at the Partnership; we have our vision for our Partners. We want to create that culture of curiosity, a culture of learning, a culture of creating ideas, and more importantly, value from anywhere.