DATA ANALYTICS

How Spreadsheet Gurus Use Sigma

Daniel Codella

Data Evangelist, Sigma

Of all of the tools humans have developed to improve their decision making, none has been as impactful, or prolific, as the spreadsheet. Information has been represented in rows and columns for thousands of years — the oldest versions are ancient Mesopotamian ledgers written on clay tablets.

But it wasn’t until the digital spreadsheet was born in the late 1970s that it began to impact nearly every part of the business world. Case in point? It’s estimated that up to 2 billion people use spreadsheets monthly.

While they may have gotten their start in the world of commerce, spreadsheets are now used for all kinds of things, from tracking stock trades to measuring marketing campaign performance. But they were never meant to be.

Not your great grandfather’s spreadsheet

As the demand for data began to be felt in every part of the modern business, powerful cloud data platforms emerged to replace costly on-prem data centers. Cloud data platforms have enabled companies to cope with growing data needs due to their scalability and performance advantages.

Improving data access, though, has remained a thorny problem. The workaround up until now has been dashboards created by BI teams with all manner of fancy visuals, charts, and graphs. Although beautiful, the dashboards created by most modern BI tools are failing to drive successful business outcomes.

It remains difficult to drill into the underlying data and impossible to ask further questions without requiring help from IT. And forget about real-time, on-demand data exploration. This leaves non-technical but data hungry business users with no other choice than to turn to risky CSV extracts and Excel when they want to ask questions of their data.

But spreadsheets were simply not built for the cloud-enabled world. Despite being around since the dawn of civilization, the spreadsheet really hasn’t changed much. They buckle under the weight of large datasets, aren’t built for collaboration, and present all kinds of security and governance issues.

Fortunately, a renaissance is underway. Sigma has taken a tool billions of people know how to use and delivered a spreadsheet experience at cloud scale and speed. This is enabling people to break free from the traditional analytics workflows where their only options are to wait on BI to answer their followup questions or resort to using stale extracts that are mere subsets or aggregates of larger datasets.

Let’s briefly look at how a diverse array of teams at some of the world’s leading companies are using the Sigma spreadsheet to build their business.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

How Teach:able Gets Fast Product Feedback to Enable Rapid Iteration

Teach:able is an all-in-one platform that helps people create and sell courses online. More than 100,000 creators trust Teach:able to manage everything from web hosting to payment processing.

In the competitive world of online education, it’s critical for every team to make data-driven decisions. But Teach:able’s former BI solution, Looker, required knowledge of a complex business logic layer called LookML, which prevented most of the company from running their own reports and required two full-time employees to spend their time answering ad-hoc data requests

“A few real power users in the company could do their own work in Looker or directly in SQL,” says Peter Jaffe, Head of Data at Teachable, “but the complexity of Looker was too high a bar for most users to get past. They could use the platform to consume reports prepared by the data team, but virtually no one was able to generate or even edit their own dashboards.”It quickly became apparent that the company needed a BI solution that truly enabled self-service. After investigating several solutions, the team chose Sigma due to its intuitive spreadsheet interface and ability to directly connect to their cloud data platform, Redshift.

“Two main things attracted us to Sigma when we were selecting a platform: One was the ease of use for ‘non-data’ people, and the other was the operational model in which end users can add and connect to datasets on their own,” explains Jaffe.

Any user in the company can connect to and join any table they have access to in the data warehouse, without need for the data team to set anything up. This is the true ideal of democratized data.

Peter Jaffe

Head of Data at Teachable

Since implementing Sigma, teams across the org are seeing immediate ROI. But Teach:able’s product team has had some of the most quantifiable success using the product. By building custom tailored dashboards around a specific set of new features, the product feedback cycle has been reduced from 2-4 weeks to mere hours, enabling rapid, data-driven iteration.

“We have a new product called Coaching where people can sell blocks of their in-person time through the platform. The PM for that release posted a PDF of a dashboard she had setup and scheduled with Sigma. Everybody was excited that something like that could be posted automatically. It gave everyone a lot of immediate insight into how the product was doing that otherwise would not have been seen,” reveals Jaffe.

OPERATIONS

How Agero Uses Data to Improve Their Services

Agero develops technology-enabled driver assistance and safety services and solutions for the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers and insurance providers. It’s a data heavy service that safeguards millions of consumers on the road every year.

But Agero’s former data analytics tools were not delivering the self-service analytics workflow the organization envisioned and was struggling to achieve. “Data was largely siloed across teams and really only accessible to experts. Only a few people in the org. had access to data through SQL or were trained in specific tools,” explains Michael Bell, Sr. Director of Data Science and Analytics at Agero.

With accelerating growth and a significant organizational transformation underway, it was clear to the team at Agero that they needed to modernize their data analytics tool and move into the cloud. After evaluating several solutions, the Agero team picked Sigma because of it’s balance between powerful data governance features and ease of use. The spreadsheet UI in particular was a key selling point. “When we saw Sigma, it became clear it could help us with our strategy of getting more people access to data when they need it,” Bell explains.

Within weeks of implementation, the Agero team was able to use Sigma to improve their products and deliver a higher level of service to its customers and clients. The increased level of data access and transparency that Sigma provides enables Agero’s product team to zero in on and fix bugs faster. “Our team is able to ask questions, identify opportunities for improvement, create a hypothesis, develop an A/B test, and within minutes build a dashboard in Sigma to visualize those test outcomes. It allows us to iterate and improve our product very rapidly,” says Bell.Reflecting on the impact Sigma has had across the business, Bell sums up the results this way:

After being in business for nearly 50 years, our teams can finally access and leverage all our legacy data to improve our products and services. Sigma helps give us that competitive advantage.

Michael Bell

Sr. Director of Data Science and Analytics at Agero

MANUFACTURING

How Fictiv Uses Real-time Data Analysis to Rapidly Uncover and Fix Design Flaws

Fictiv is a digital manufacturing ecosystem that helps brands in the robotics, healthcare, automotive, aerospace, and consumer electronics industries bring products to market faster. Working with dozens of manufacturing partners producing hundreds of thousands of parts each month, Fictiv relies heavily on data insights to help steer product improvements and business strategy, improve system design, and increase workflow efficiency.

But Fictiv’s previous BI tool, Domo, is not a true self-service solution and requires a deep technical skillset to uncover answers to everyday questions. Ficitv’s Chief Architect, Jim Ruga, set out to build a more modern data analytics stack. His goal was to simplify analytics workflows, reduce the number of human resources required, and provide an analytics tool that delivered the same spreadsheet experience business teams were comfortable using.After exploring a few different solutions, the team discovered Sigma. Ruga was impressed by SIgma’s ability to directly connect into Snowflake, their cloud data platform, without requiring SQL knowledge so non-technical domain experts could harness insights for themselves.

“Sigma offers a simple and intuitive analytics interface based on a spreadsheet. Everyone knows how to use a spreadsheet, so it was natural for them,” says Ruga. Thanks to the powerful spreadsheet interface, Sigma has been quickly accepted across the organization and has drastically reduced the number of ad hoc requests every week — freeing data team members to focus on higher priorities, like system integration, and the development of algorithms to catch design flaws early.“Sigma insights are the source of a lot of our ability to rapidly discover manufacturability flaws in design. We examine hundreds of thousands —sometimes millions— of different design permutations to discover manufacturability flaws in design rapidly,” says Ruga.

The insights discovered with Sigma are allowing Fictiv to drive down manufacturing costs. These cost savings are critical to the success of Fictiv’s digital manufacturing model and secure Fictiv as a leader in their space.

Sigma’s spreadsheet interface provides business users with an analytics environment they are already comfortable with using. And because it’s backed by the power of the cloud and automatically generates SQL under the hood, Sigma delivers rapid insights into the common questions business teams ask.

Jim Ruga

Chief Architect at Fictiv

FINANCE

How Cowen Manages Rapidly Expanding Trade Volumes and Compliance Needs With Ease

Cowen is a diversified financial services firm that offers investment banking services, equity and credit research, sales and trading, prime brokerage, global clearing, and commission management services.With as many as 11 million trades managed by Cowen every day, the company must continuously process and analyze enormous volumes of data as well as both store and retrieve that data to meet regulatory requirements and remain in compliance. The results are staggering large data sets that pushed the company’s traditional spreadsheet tool, Excel, to its limits.

Excel’s scale restrictions prevented the data from being delivered in a single, comprehensive spreadsheet. The only solution was to break it up into multiple Excel worksheets, which slowed down the analysis process, made it difficult to get a holistic view of the data, increased the possibility of copy/paste or formula errors, and made responding to regulatory requests extremely labor intensive. It became obvious they needed a new tool that could handle the scale and volume of their data but was still accessible to non-technical business users.

Sigma checked all the boxes for us. It connected directly into Snowflake and had a spreadsheet interface similar to Excel that our business teams felt comfortable with.

Ross Levin

Managing Director, Global Clearing, Settlement & Securities Finance at Cowen Inc.

Using Sigma’s powerful spreadsheet, everyone at Cowen, regardless of technical skills, are finally able to access live data in the Snowflake Data Cloud. Sigma’s ability to manage Cowen’s 5 billion+ row worksheets and drill down into row level data while remaining performant has significantly eased the challenges of compliance.

“We store trading data indefinitely,” says Levin. “If we receive a regulatory inquiry or an inquiry from auditors, anyone can now go into Sigma, easily retrieve those records for any given date, and provide them with confidence, knowing the data is accurate.”

MARKETING AND SALES

How Yesware Optimizes Marketing Spend Attribution to Cut Acquisition Cost in Half

Yesware is a popular add-on for O365 and Gmail that gives sales professionals everything they need to prospect, schedule meetings and follow up – right from their inbox.

With massive amounts of website and product data being collected in their systems, Yesware knew they were sitting on a gold mine of information. But data silos combined with the sheer volume of data available to comb through made it nearly impossible to surface impactful insights.

This frustration led to lackluster business outcomes. “It was a disaster before,” explains Ian Adams, Yesware’s VP of Sales and Marketing. “We spent a lot of money on marketing campaigns that didn’t go anywhere and didn’t produce desired results. That’s expensive.”After an exhaustive search, the marketing team found Sigma. Working backward from four years of page view and trial data stored in Snowflake, their cloud data platform, the marketing team at Yesware was able to build data tables for every single page view made to the site along with anonymous IDs and tables for every tracking event.

Using Sigma’s spreadsheet UI, joins were easily made without ever typing a single line of SQL. Once an ID was known through a trial signup, they were able to backfill the data and map anonymous IDs with email addresses. Combined with other data from Customer.io, Google Analytics, Salesforce, Zendesk, and Google and Facebook ads, the Yesware team now has a complete view of user behavior at each stage of the funnel. They can analyze every touchpoint, past and present, and optimize every interaction. The result? A 50% reduction in customer acquisition cost.

We now make decisions based on data we see in Sigma, we can finally tie together the complete buyer journey from the first impression with our brand to the time they buy and then even through customer lifecycle marketing.

Ian Adams

VP of Sales and Marketing at Yesware

A Powerful Spreadsheet for a New Era of Business

No longer encumbered by dataset size limitations, the security risks of downloaded CSV files, restrictive data models, or the complexity of database languages like SQL, a new generation of domain experts across industries are transforming their businesses.

Sigma’s ability to make the power, scale, and speed of the cloud data platform available in an intuitive spreadsheet interface is empowering them to fully leverage their organization’s data.

The result is powerful, ad hoc analysis, data-backed answers to even the most complex business questions, and unbridled data exploration that leads to successful business outcomes.

Are you ready to use your spreadsheet skills to truly move the needle?

Ready to visualize your data for actionable insights?