January 21, 2021

Realizing the True ROI of Analytics & BI

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Realizing the True ROI of Analytics & BI

How to Identify Untapped Opportunities and Drive Business Outcomes with Sigma

Understanding the return on investment (ROI) of a new software tool is critical to making an educated purchase decision. While many companies measure returns by calculating cost, time, and resource savings compared to alternatives, certain tools also drive value by addressing specific challenges or opportunities.

Traditional ROI Formula

For example, customer service software is built to help companies better manage support tickets. By delivering faster time to issue resolution, these tools function to improve customer satisfaction and reduce churn, which have clear and positive impacts on ROI.

However, measuring ROI for data analytics and business intelligence (ABI) software is far more complicated. These solutions can certainly save data and BI teams time and resources spent on reporting, as well as empower business leaders to make better decisions faster — line items that deserve to be factored into any ROI analysis.

But the true value of the data insights ABI tools generate can’t be measured based on a finite series of applications. The possibilities are endless, and it’s the unique or unknown opportunities these solutions can uncover and make possible — and the business outcomes they generate — that function as true measures of ROI.

Put another way, when considering the ROI of ABI tools, companies must factor in the cost of not being data-driven and leaving these crucial insights and business opportunities on the table.

Evaluating ABI tools through this lens behoves BI and data leaders. The ability to transform data into a company-wide asset that drives business outcomes is the key to becoming a true organizational leader and securing a seat at the table.

To help data decision makers more effectively evaluate and determine the true ROI of ABI solutions, this guide examines two real-life use cases of companies that were able to tap into new opportunities that generated a variety of business outcomes using Sigma. We will also provide relevant analyses around traditional cost, time, and resource savings metrics along the way.

1. Payload Unlocks a New Revenue Stream in Record Time


Payload is an easy-to-use cloud application for logistics and supply chain management, delivering simple, accountable logistics tracking and reporting. Companies turn to Payload when seeking to digitally manage field tickets, drive operational efficiencies, and manage compliance requirements.

Chris Lambert Chief Technology Officer

Iain Letourneau BI Lead & DevOps Analyst

ROI Highlights

$8,000+ cost savings per report

7x faster report delivery times

50% BI resource savings

  • Increased customer retention and new business opportunities
  • Creation of a new revenue channel
  • Lower Snowflake compute costs

The Opportunity

After spending years focused on perfecting application functionality, Payload realized it needed to change its strategy to truly differentiate itself from the competition. “To improve retention, generate new business, and ultimately enable customers to get the full value of our application, we needed to build analytics solutions into our product, ” recalls Chris Lambert, CTO at Payload.

This shift also presented Payload with the opportunity to monetize the vast amounts of data it collects through its application. This includes real-time coordinate capture, field ticket data for pickup and delivery, events that occur along a route, and much more.

The ability to quickly analyze this data in real-time would provide Payload customers with the insights needed to streamline operational efficiencies and create competitive advantage. It would also position Payload as a truly differentiated industry leader.

“This was a major opportunity for us to jump leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, ” says Chris. “The cost of not doing this was incredibly high — we had to make it happen. No one else in the industry was providing this type of insight to customers. And it didn’t take us long to figure out why!”

The Challenge

It soon became apparent to the team at Payload that they would not be able to fully realize this opportunity and achieve their goal with their current BI tool. “We used Fivetran to ingest data across sources and pull it into Snowflake, which was working great. But then we were using Looker to analyze and visualize the data, and CSV exports to share reports with customers,” remembers Iain Letourneau, Payload’s BI Lead.

Reports had to be created ad hoc and required significant development effort to build, deploy, and release. “You have to know Looker’s proprietary coding language, LookML, to use the tool, ” says Iain. “This really limited the number of people who could generate and manage these reports without exporting them. Not to mention, one small schema change in our cloud data warehouse meant hours of manual updates in Looker.”

Report lead times reached an average of 4-6 days as request queues grew, rendering the data stale and insights outdated by the time they reached customers. Building an analytics solution into the Payload application was projected to take 2 full-time employees 6 months with Looker.

“People won’t pay for week-old insights — and they shouldn’t, ” says Chris. “Hiring the number of BI experts needed to build an analytics solution using Looker in a relatively timely fashion and then maintain it over time simply was not a cost-effective option. It simply wasn’t scalable, and the ROI just wasn’t there.”

The Sigma Solution

Payload began the search for a new ABI solution that didn’t require teams to learn a proprietary coding language or export data to spreadsheets. After a series of trials, the team chose Sigma for four key reasons:

1. Spreadsheet UI

Sigma’s spreadsheet-like user interface gives everyone the power of SQL without having to manually write any code. “Business people who had never seen Sigma before were able to jump right in and start creating reports, whereby with Looker I had to train them for weeks just to be able to do basic edits to LookML, ” says Iain.

“Business people who had never seen Sigma before were able to jump right in and start creating reports.”

Iain Letourneau BI Lead & DevOps Analyst

Sigma empowers business teams to visually analyze data by taking the familiar Excel-like functions they know and love to the next level. “Now anyone on the team can spin up a customer dashboard or dig into an existing one to do further analysis, ” Chris shares.

Iain continues, “Business teams being able to explore data independently with Sigma is extremely valuable. As those closest to the customer, they’re able to surface highly relevant and impactful insights that the BI team simply doesn’t have the domain expertise to tease out without a ton of back and forth.”

2. Purpose-built for the Cloud Data Warehouse

Empowering business teams to independently explore and analyze data with direct, real-time, governed access to the cloud data warehouse drastically reduces time to insight. Eliminating reporting request queues and time-consuming back and forth also frees data and BI teams to focus on more strategic and innovative projects.

“With Sigma, our workflow is very fast and fluid, ” says Iain. “Everyone on the BI team felt like a weight was lifted off their shoulders when we moved off of Looker. It was such a roadblock that the BI team had to get involved and update the layer between Snowflake and our Looker reports everytime a new question or schema change arose.”

In contrast, Sigma doesn’t require any updates to the central data model to access or analyze data. It sits directly on top of the cloud data warehouse, so any changes in the warehouse are immediately reflected across reports. “Not only does your data stay safe inside the warehouse with Sigma, but you also get a complete log of every query your team runs, ” Chris says. “So it’s really easy to see who did what and even roll data back to a specific point in time.”

3. Unlimited Scale

Sigma never moves, stores, copies, or caches company data. This significantly minimizes the need for risky CSV extracts, which are quickly outdated and can easily fall into the wrong hands. Leaving the limitations of CSV extracts behind has also made it possible for Payload to easily query the large volume and variety of data captured by its application.

“With Sigma, you can analyze data at the lowest level of detail and literally query billions of data rows at once and not run into any scale issues.”

Chris Lambert Chief Technology Officer

“We work with a ton of data, so we needed a tool that wouldn’t choke on us or force us to do reduced data extracts, ” says Chris. “With Sigma, you can analyze data at the lowest level of detail and literally query billions of data rows at once and not run into any scale issues.”

4. Analytics in Action

Confidence in the security and scale of Sigma’s tool made it possible to share data externally with customers using Sigma’s Embedded Analytics functionality. “We embed Sigma dashboards into Payload and authenticate our customers through our own application, ” continues Iain. “Sigma’s modern approach to data governance keeps our data safe and secure, but does it in a way that enables data access, visibility, and insight, rather than forcing our team to act as gatekeepers.”

What’s more, BI and business teams can work together in Sigma to build contextual, reusable datasets and conduct complex analyses at scale. “You can still write SQL in Sigma, ” tells Chris. “I like that there’s one tool where business and data experts can each harness their expertise, collaborate with one another, and work the way they want.”


The Payload team began seeing results and generating critical business outcomes in extremely short order after deploying Sigma as its new ABI solution of choice:

Business Outcomes, Key Savings, Non-quantifiable Benefits

Business Outcomes

Using Sigma’s Embedded Analytics functionality, Payload has launched two new data products for its customers: Service Vendor and Oil & Gas Client Data Analytics Packages. These packages provide clients with actionable insight into load utilization, field ticket visualization of events, vehicle speeds and safety, carbon footprint, and more.

“We built these data products plus more than 30 other standard reports in just a couple months without having to add any additional headcount, ” recalls Iain. “Harnessing this untapped market opportunity and achieving our goal of building an analytics solution into our product was a huge win for Payload and our customers, and would not have been possible without Sigma.”

Payload provides all customers with a standard set of Sigma dashboards, significantly up-leveling the value of its application. They have packaged the more advanced analytics as an additional feature that must be purchased separately, effectively monetizing their data and generating a new revenue stream.

“Adding Sigma dashboards and insights to the Payload application has had a huge impact on the perceived value of our product, ” says Chris. “It’s not only helping us retain current customers, it’s enabling us to expand these accounts as well.”

“Sigma’s ABI solution allowed us to create an entirely new revenue stream and now plays a key role in generating and closing new business.”

Chris Lambert Chief Technology Officer

Payload has already identified additional business opportunities using Sigma, and plans to roll out a prescriptive analytics solution over the coming weeks. “By using Sigma to quickly and effectively analyze the dense volumes of data we collect with our application, we’ll be able to help our customers determine what receiver stations on which days of the week yield the best cost savings, which routes are safest and result in the least fuel consumption, and so much more, ” shares Chris.

Key Savings

Payload has been able to achieve their goals and drive these business outcomes quickly and cost-effectively with Sigma, providing additional proof that their ABI investment is generating significant returns.

“We were up and running reports in Sigma on day one because it was so easy, ” says Chris, “while we had to wait a week before we could even get set up — let alone run reports — with the other ABI tools we tried.”

Organization-wide access to real-time data inside Snowflake and Sigma’s spreadsheet-like UI have enabled anyone at Payload to quickly create up-to-the-minute reports, visualizations, and dashboards that meet customers’ needs. Not only did this cut the dedicated BI manpower Payload needed to provide customers with an analytics solution by 50%, but it also reduced report delivery times from 4-6 days to 4-6 hours.

“If you add up the time and the manpower we needed to generate standardized customer reports in Looker, each report came out to about $9,500 to build, test, and deploy, ” calculates Chris. “Sigma has brought that number down to $1,400 per report. That’s over 600% cost savings due to the fact that anyone on the team can go into Sigma and generate an analysis in seconds.”

Snowflake compute costs have also decreased with Sigma compared to Looker — even though the team is running more queries than ever before. “Sigma allows us to write better queries and pull only the data necessary, ” says Iaian. “The SQL created by Looker includes many unnecessary steps like inline transformations and casting of the data, so it slows things down and drives up compute costs.”

Non-quantifiable Benefits

“Peace of mind is worth a lot, ” says Iain. “Sigma’s support team is second to none. They respond to questions extremely quickly and always go above and beyond to make sure we have what we need. You just don’t see that with many companies.”

“Sigma’s support and product teams have far exceeded my expectations, ” agrees Chris. “We’ve sent a number of feature suggestions and requests over time, and they always find a way to roll them out within a few weeks. It makes you feel like you really have a stake in the product and a voice in the company.”

2. Migo Achieves Transformational Customer Retention and Recovery


Migo is a cloud-based platform that enables B2C companies in emerging markets to offer credit to their customers. By augmenting the traditional bank and payment card infrastructure, Migo helps those in developing countries to obtain the life-changing loans they need to grow their businesses while enabling merchants to strengthen relationships with their customers through credit.

Joseph Bates Analytics Architect

Alex Harvey Marketing Lead

ROI Highlights

47% increased recovery campaign response rate

11% improved marketing campaign ROI

1w→1h from 1 week to 1 hour accelerated time to initial marketing analysis

  • Swift and successful pivot to recovery-focused marketing strategy in 30 days to support business needs during global pandemic
  • Secured executive alignment to relaunch marketing growth strategy in 1 week

The Opportunity

As a start-up in the fast-paced tech industry, Migo understands the importance of business agility. “Markets change and opportunities present themselves in an instant, especially in the financial services space, ” says Joseph Bates, Migo’s Analytics Architect.

For people in emerging markets and underserved communities, having reliable access to credit can make the difference between being able to pay a medical bill, secure a bus ticket out of a dangerous area, or save the family business. “Quickly identifying roadblocks and opportunities isn’t just critical for our business, ” shares Alex Harvey, Migo’s Marketing Lead. “It can actually significantly impact the trajectory of our clients’ lives.”

To serve those in the developing world without banking history, Migo generates alternative credit scores based on a variety of personal factors, and then uses these scores to approve loans. “Data is literally at the core of how our business operates, ” says Alex. “So it was extremely important to Migo’s leadership to put the infrastructure and tools in place to empower everyone in the company to make data-driven business decisions quickly.”

“Because of job security or data governance concerns, a lot of BI professionals feel the need to keep data locked up behind closed doors where no one else in the org can get to it, ” Joseph says. “But it was very clear to me that as a data leader my real success would come from empowering domain experts to make data-driven decisions that led to true business outcomes. So I was excited and determined to get the right tools up and running as soon as possible.”

The Challenge

As Migo looked for ways to instill a data-driven culture in its workforce, it soon became apparent that the company’s current analytics tools and processes were holding teams back. Data was housed in MySQL Database, and the team was using Superset to pull reports using SQL.

“We had to have a dedicated analyst who could write SQL pull reports for everyone in the company, ” recalls Joseph. “We wound up with this huge backlog of requests that not only impeded timely decision making but also frustrated everyone involved.”

“Not to mention, every time there was a new data source or use case, we had to rebuild the database, ” he continues. “We didn’t have a true, unified data store with front-end tools that non-technical teams could use to easily access, combine, and analyze data. Everything was siloed.”

After establishing a “hub and spoke” systems architecture with Snowflake’s cloud data warehouse at the center, Joseph led the search for a BI and analytics tool to replace Superset. This new tool had to give business teams direct, governed access to explore and analyze all of the live data inside Migo’s Snowflake instance.

“We considered Domo, Quicksight, and Looker, but none of these tools were built with the business user in mind, ” says Joseph. “Domo puts your data in a black box, Quicksight is inexpensive but requires SQL, and Looker forces teams to use its proprietary language, LookML. What we really needed was a solution that would enable domain experts to answer their own questions, allow our data experts to focus on more complex projects, and ultimately bring these two groups together in one tool.”

The Sigma Solution

After significant research, Migo decided to replace Superset with Sigma. Sigma has transformed BI and analytics workflows and turbocharged data-driven decision making across the company thanks to four factors:

1. Purpose-built for the Cloud Data Warehouse

Unlike traditional on-prem BI tools that have been retrofitted for the cloud, Sigma was built specifically for the cloud data warehouse and takes full advantage of its speed, scale, and power. “Sigma was so fast and easy to set up, and requires zero maintenance on my end,” says Joseph. “I never have to worry about whether it can handle a new data source or type — even extracting and analyzing JSON takes just a couple clicks.”

“Sigma makes it so much easier to ensure the entire company is speaking the same language.”

Joseph Bates Analytics Architect

Sigma’s direct connection to the cloud data warehouse means that data never has to be cached or extracted, so access is easily governed and analyses are always fresh. “As a data-driven organization it’s critical that everyone is working off of current data, the correct tables, and using the same definitions and calculations, ” Joseph says.

“Not only is everyone accessing and analyzing the same data in one governed place, but their data modeling tools are great.” Advanced Sigma users can query tables directly from the cloud data warehouse without any premodeling required, and can also curate datasets and prejoin different sources to give others a clear, endorsed path for exploration.

2. Spreadsheet UI

Because Sigma’s UI looks, feels, and functions like a spreadsheet, it empowers anyone who knows how to use Excel or Google Sheets to conduct complex analyses without coding assistance. “The learning curve for Sigma was pretty flat, ” says Alex. “I picked it up really quickly.”

“We used BigQuery at my previous company. The only way for me to get my hands on any customer data was to have an analyst send me a data dump in Excel, ” he continues. “It was painfully slow, and the data was outdated the second it was extracted. Sigma is like I’m working in a spreadsheet, but all the data is live. I can have much more confidence in the integrity of the data when working with large datasets.”

Business domain experts are able to visually create and iterate on reports and dashboards, rather than waiting on data and BI teams to generate analyses and answer additional questions. “I love being able to join my own datasets based on unique customer identifiers and build on dashboards in real-time without having to go back to Joseph and re-work things, ” Alex says.

“I’ll be honest: I rarely go into Sigma anymore, ” admits Joseph. “Marketing, finance, and others are able to generate their own insights and analyses now. Even our CEO goes in and pulls his own reports and builds his own dashboards. So I spend most of my time onboarding new data sources and doing more complex projects like that.”

3. Unlimited Scale

Sigma helps teams eliminate data silos by giving them direct access to live data at the most granular level — no summaries or aggregates required. “We have dozens of applications porting data into Snowflake every minute, ” tells Joseph. “Having to aggregate or extract that ahead of analysis really defeats the purpose of BI.”

“It’s a ton of data from dozens of sources. But Sigma lets you explore all of it at once and do ad hoc analyses in real time without any limitations.”

Alex Harvey Marketing Lead

“As a marketer, I want to understand where the business stands and then be able to connect that to what’s happening with customers to identify trends and behaviors impacting performance, ” says Alex. “It’s a ton of data from dozens of sources. But Sigma lets you explore all of it at once and do ad hoc analyses in real time without any limitations.”

4. Analytics in Action

As a data-driven organization, it’s important that individual teams and departments within Migo are able to access and build on each others’ analyses. In addition to offering team workspaces and easy sharing, Sigma makes it possible for teams to work off the same live data together in real time so they can collaborate and repurpose each other’s work.

“Everyone in the organization brings unique expertise to the table, ” says Alex. “Being able to share data and collaborate on analyses in Sigma really brings all areas of expertise together and makes the analyses we run and subsequent decisions we make that much better.”

Migo also utilizes Sigma’s materialization feature to write datasets back to Snowflake and automatically update them on a regular schedule. “Not only does this cut down on compute costs and make things more performant, but it also allows us to reuse these datasets in other tools if we need to, ” shares Joseph.


Armed with an analytics and BI tool that enables business domain experts to make independent decisions quickly and effectively, the Migo team found itself well-positioned to manage unexpected market volatility brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic:

Business Outcomes, Key Savings, Non-quantifiable Benefits

Business Outcomes

It’s no surprise that small family-run businesses and those in already disadvantaged markets get hit the hardest and the fastest by economic downturns. “Migo’s marketing team was in growth mode when COVID hit, ” explains Alex. “We had to very quickly shift gears and focus on customer retention and loan recovery.”

Using Sigma, Alex was able to better understand and segment Migo’s population of defaulted borrowers and the most effective channels to reach them. In short order, the team then built out and launched a series of robust recovery campaigns to re-engage these customers.

“Sigma made the transition from growth marketing to recovery marketing exponentially faster, easier, and more successful, ” says Alex. “We’ve already increased our recovery campaign response rate by 47%.”

Migo’s ability to get a 360-degree view of the customer journey and clearly segment their audiences has also improved overall ROI on marketing campaign spend by 11%. It didn’t take long for the executive team to acknowledge these materially improved results.

“The onus was put on marketing to give the executive team confidence that we could return to growth without adversely impacting key credit and liquidity risk metrics, ” Alex says. “Using Sigma, we collaborated with our finance and risk teams to do scenario planning based on historical data. We were able to effectively model and forecast credit and liquidity risk metrics and use that analysis to secure executive alignment around returning to growth in a much more deliberate way. We were able to justify a customer-focused growth strategy, while simultaneously satisfying the needs of internal finance and risk stakeholders.”

Key Savings

Not only was Migo able to rapidly pivot their marketing strategy twice, but the company was also able to drive executive alignment and make these critical data-driven business decisions in record time. “At other companies it took me an entire week just to go back and forth with the BI team and get an initial cut of the data I needed, ” says Alex. “With Sigma, it takes me an hour.”

“At other companies it took me an entire week just to go back and forth with the BI team and get an initial cut of the data I needed. With Sigma, it takes me an hour.”

Alex Harvey Marketing Lead

“Because we had immediate access to all of our data, could run any analysis without the assistance of the BI team, and knew the data was accurate, we were able to pivot and relaunch our entire marketing strategy in just 30 days, ” he continues. “When it came time to pivot back to growth, we were able to assess risk, do scenario planning, offer up recommended strategies, forecast results, and lock in executive alignment — all within a single week.”

“The level of business agility we’ve been able to achieve thanks to our ABI investment is really remarkable, ” adds Joseph. “Those of us in the data community have been hearing about ‘self-service’ for years, but no one has ever truly delivered. Sigma is the real deal, and Migo’s story is a testament to how efficient teams can be when they’re given the right tools.”

Non-quantifiable Benefits

The benefits of ABI extend beyond quantitative business performance — these tools also have the power to impact the quality of employees’ and customers’ daily lives. “At the end of the day, Sigma makes working with BI and data teams more enjoyable, ” says Alex. “Collaborating is so much easier and more fun because we get to dive right into strategy and business initiatives, instead of constantly rehashing things like data quality.”

Working more closely with Joseph and getting hands-on with data has also helped Alex expand his analysis skills. “I’ve learned a lot by exploring data in Sigma and being able to collaborate in real-time with Migo’s data and BI experts. And that knowledge is something I’ll take with me for the rest of my career, which is priceless.”

“Nothing makes me happier or feel more like a leader than empowering other people to harness the power of data, ” says Joseph. “Enabling domain experts to achieve things like greater campaign conversion rates or faster product adoption is really how folks like myself can add value and secure a seat at the leadership table.”

Migo is more than a business — it’s a lifeline for individuals in the developing world. “Being able to reach our customer base and be there for them when they need us is really what it’s all about, ” Alex shares, “and Sigma helps us do that.”

3. What Could You Accomplish with the Right ABI Solution?

Whether you’re considering purchasing a new ABI tool or re-evaluating your current vendor, remember that measuring the ROI of these solutions goes far beyond time and resource savings. Instead, consider the opportunity cost of choosing one option over another.

Ask yourself: What insights and opportunities could you be missing out on, and how do you discover and take advantage of them as efficiently as possible?

For Payload, it was the opportunity to outpace the competition and generate an entirely new revenue stream. Replacing an existing solution is never an easy decision, but the company’s investment in a more flexible and user-friendly ABI tool the entire team can use to generate and drill into data visualizations has paid dividends.

The team at Migo knew it was sitting on a goldmine of data that should be driving critical business decisions, but an organizational lack of SQL knowledge and BI request queues held them back. Putting an ABI solution in place that addressed these roadblocks has empowered the marketing team to make two critical pivots and ultimately drive marketing ROI, retention, and recovery.

What about your business? Are certain teams underserved by your data and BI team? Are some questions too difficult or time-consuming to answer? Are data governance concerns holding you back from giving teams the direct, real-time data access they need to identify untapped opportunities and drive business outcomes?

As the first enterprise-ready cloud business intelligence and analytics solution designed to run natively inside cloud data warehouses, Sigma helps leading companies like Payload and Migo unearth insights that drive business outcomes:

SaaS Tool Built for the CDW

  • Say goodbye to stale, risky data extracts and access live data directly from your cloud data warehouse (CDW)
  • Easily query the ever-expanding universe of data sources and types, including JSON
  • Explore raw tables with no modeling required, and curate endorsed, reusable datasets for business teams

Familiar Spreadsheet USER INTERFACE

  • Empower teams to independently do complex, iterative analysis in an interface they know and love: the spreadsheet
  • Give business users the full power of SQL without having to write a single line of code
  • Allow teams to go beyond the dashboard and dig into the underlying data to answer follow-up questions

Unlimited Scale

  • Take advantage of the scale and speed of the cloud — Sigma auto-generates SQL and pushes it to your CDW
  • Query billions of rows of live data with dozens of joined tables and get answers in seconds
  • Analyze live data at the lowest level of detail — no summaries, reduced extracts, or aggregates required

Analytics in Action

  • Extend and monetize the value of data by embedding dashboards across internal, external, and custom apps
  • Collaborate across stakeholders and easily share and repurpose analyses
  • Get the right data delivered to the right people at the right time for action with automated alerts

Let’s Sigma together! Schedule a demo today.