UPDATED 10:28 EDT / OCTOBER 19 2020

BIG DATA

ThoughtSpot drives data analytics for NFL and Western Union during time of major change

The story of ThoughtSpot Inc., a $1.95 billion business analytics company, is about amplifying a data-driven culture, about using search to radically transform finding information, about democratizing the process of obtaining answers instantly from a vast sea of data. But perhaps more than anything else, it is a story about change.

“Change, as much as we romanticize it, is not one of those uplifting things that everyone likes or wants to do,” said Sudheesh Nair (pictured), chief executive officer of ThoughtSpot. “Change requires a lot of courage, and when we are talking about data and analytics, which is already a hard topic and not necessarily an uplifting and positive conversation in most businesses, change becomes all the more difficult. Change is like standing on the edge, waiting to make that one more step.”

Nair spoke with Dave Vellante, host of SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming video studio theCUBE, during the keynote program for Thought.Leaders 2020. Nair was joined by Cindi Howson, chief data strategy officer at ThoughtSpot; Michelle McKenna, chief information officer of the National Football League; Tom Mazzaferro, chief data officer at Western Union Inc.; and Gustavo Canton, executive analytics thought leader. They discussed ThoughtSpot’s approach to search and artificial intelligence-driven analytics, how the NFL and Western Union are using data to manage operations during the global pandemic and a need to close gaps in the data infrastructure. (* Disclosure below.)

Achieving granular insights

The concept of using basic search principles to derive insight from large datasets represents change itself. ThoughtSpot believes in the power of artificial intelligence and interactive storytelling to create a richer experience in the business analytics field.

“The current state of the art is what Gartner calls ‘augmented analytics,’ and at ThoughtSpot we call it ‘search and AI-driven analytics,’” Howson explained. “You have to look at the business intelligence and analytics tier in lockstep with the data architectures to really get to the granular insights and leverage the capabilities of AI. ThoughtSpot was the first to market with search and AI-driven insights.”

This has opened the door to another key area of change: Making data analytics available to everyone. A recent collaboration between ThoughtSpot and the “Harvard Business Review” produced a study that revealed a gap between the availability of data-driven insights and how organizations empower employees to find them.

“Eighty-seven percent said they would be more successful if frontline workers were empowered with data-driven insights,” Howson said. “The sad reality is that only 20% of organizations are actually doing this.”

Data drives NFL season

Despite the findings of the Harvard study, there are examples where data drives organizational performance from top to bottom. One of these is the NFL, where the global pandemic threatened to cancel a season’s worth of games for what has become America’s most popular sport.

ThoughtSpot’s engine helps drive analytics in the world of professional football. Data from a wide range of categories is available to coaches, players and fans. However, this is also a time when data has taken on new meaning beyond touchdowns and tackles.

“In the middle of a global pandemic, the way we are executing on our season is leveraging data from contact-tracing devices joined with testing data,” McKenna said. “Talk about data actually enabling your business; without it we wouldn’t be having a season right now. It’s very important to break the silos between the keys to the data and the use of the data.”

Much as data has played an important role for the NFL during the pandemic, the same can also be said for cross-border money transfer firm Western Union. The global crisis forced a shutdown of many agent-staffed locations, resulting in a rise in new digital customers for the 169-year-old company.

Western Union has relied on ThoughtSpot to provide data insight and rapid access at a time when its business delivery model transformed significantly.

“When you want to go and find something out, what do you do?” Mazzaferro asked. “You go onto Google or Bing or to Yahoo, and you search for what you want, search to find an answer. ThoughtSpot for us is the same thing but in the business world. It’s allowed us to enable our overall business teams in our company to actually have our information at their fingertips.”

COVID-19 has also accelerated digital transformation for many enterprises, resulting in change for what data is truly meaningful now for a business. At Schneider Electric Co., the pandemic has changed the role of data analytics so significantly that up to 90% of its reports became nearly useless.

“Are we really paying attention and closing the gaps in our data infrastructure?” asked Canton, who was previously vice president of People Analytics for Schneider. “If we don’t do that it’s hard to see the snowball effect or measure the overall impact, but the price tag goes up very, very quickly. You have to have the courage to make choices that are not well seen, politically speaking. You have to push through it.”

The complete video keynote interviews from the Thought.Leaders 2020 event by clicking are here. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the Thought.Leaders 2020 event. Neither ThoughtSpot, the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Image: SiliconANGLE

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