Francois Ajenstat

Data is not for the Few

It’s for everyone and it is being made more useful and simple with AI, Cloud, Synthetic Data and intuitive skills. Here’s why and how…

During his recent trip to India, Francois Ajenstat, Chief Product Officer, Tableau sat down for a chat with Dataquest and opened his mind and experience decks. In this quick tete-a-tete, he helps us make sense of the new forces, storms, and icebergs in data science and analytics.

The last two years have been pivotal for data and analytics – has anything changed for India in a big way when you look at this market today?

I will start with the global point-of-view, where we have been witnessing a new era of data. Specially with the unprecedented economic and political change we have been navigating. Data helps businesses to navigate a crisis. Businesses have realized this power. They know that now is the time to use data effectively. And data transformation is at the heart of every digital transformation. In India too, people are trying to build this power and improve data effectiveness. Data is the new air. It’s the new water. Businesses can’t do without it.

Take for example—Mahindra Finance that democratized data across the business—from HR to marketing—with a governance framework in place. Today, 3,000 employees, including senior decision-makers, rely on Tableau to make data-driven decisions, increasing the firm’s productivity and reducing costs.

Is that where Low-Code AI or Analytics-as-a-Service chime in?

AI is something that we see as a means for augmenting humans. We call it Augmented Analytics. We need to it discover insights; and in a fast, and usable, way. We have turned data into data stories. This is being done through heuristics, semantics, pattern-recognition and other AI facets. We are also working on ‘explainability’ of data.

Does it become tough when the pendulum swings between two extremes—from everyday or transparent or explainable data to data as a competitive asset? Also how do you make data usable when you call it the new ‘air’ or ‘water’? How to deal with ‘noise’ and ‘over-fitting’?

It’s about competitive advantage and differentiation that help companies to make better decisions and improve their customer experiences. Becoming as essential as ‘air’ is a huge change, and, also a big challenge. In the post-Covid world, where digital spaces are the new workplaces, data has to integrate well with this reality. But data has to be made trustworthy as well. That is what we are trying to do with our initiatives in data management. Data has to be made simple and useful for everyone, and not just for a select few.

And open data hubs can be plausible answers here?

First, an organization should be able to leverage its own data. We are trying to make this power easy, and with a 360-degree lens, with directions like ‘Genie’. The idea is to give a single source of truth with real-time intelligence. Now you are able to not just manage your own data but also integrate it with third-party data – for embedding with analytics, for collaboration, for monetization etc. Open data provides an opportunity to make data useful in a broader context, specially with government entities – for better accountability and transparency. It is also an opportunity to integrate with world data and provide better solutions.

How well can synthetic data fill the gap of ‘not enough data’?

When you look at AI, there are challenges around ethics and adequacy. That’s where synthetic data comes in. To operationalise these models, one needs strong and sufficient data. Our Einstein technology is quite powerful in that context and helps in optimizing use-cases.

Speaking of Einstein, can you share anything about some important synergy areas between Tableau and Salesforce?

It’s a journey that started three years back. And it was based on the realization that at the heart of a 360 degree analytics and CRM view, lies data. It’s about changing the mindset from a ‘System of Record’ to a ‘System of Intelligence’ one. It is about providing more value to one’s customers with smart CRM, and better marketing/sales effectiveness. We have unlocked some great synergies in our products, communities and vision.

What’s your biggest challenge or opportunity as a CPO?

It’s the same thing – to make data and analytics relevant for everyday people. It’s for everyone. We have to turn it from someone’s special job to an every-person’s power and skill. We are trying to help in that direction – to reduce technical gaps and strengthening data skills.

What’s new and exciting in the product basket?

Data Stories. It is one of Tableau’s hero products announced at Tableau Conference this year. Not everyone consumes data in the same way. Instead of making people speak data, Tableau made data speak the language of people, bringing to life what numbers and graphs say in text (uses AI and natural language to create data-driven stories in English text).

Then there is Salesforce Genie—a hyperscale real-time data platform that powers the entire Salesforce Customer 360 platform. It unifies data to build a real-time customer graph and single source of truth. Genie learns, predicts, recommends and triggers the most relevant actions a company should take in the moment with every customer, at any time, across any channel. With Tableau Genie, businesses can monitor KPIs in real time to inform action across the business e.g.: real-time case spikes for service, and real-time web traffic for marketing.

What would you recommend to CDOs or CIOs who want to tap the power of data? How to make use of data lakes and ponds but stay away from swamps and ice sheets?

A CDO has to align data strategy with business goals. With every digital transformation, you will start with data transformation. Data has to be viewed as an ‘everyone-skill’ if one has to succeed in the data economy of today. Think of data not as a cost but as a value-driver. Unlocking any data technology is ultimately about business goals and has to be a pervasive strategy.

Francois Ajenstat

Chief Product Officer, Tableau

By Pratima H

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