Seznam's Return on BI, Part Two

No one has been fired because of the data yet – Michal Buzek reveals the backstage of Seznam’s Business Intelligence

When we last spoke with Michal Buzek, we uncovered that Seznam’s investment in business intelligence paid itself off more than 10 times in only three months. However, we wanted to dig deeper into the specific changes GoodData made in the work of business teams, how it affects the running of their company and how Seznam will leverage data to evolve.

Does GoodData give you any answers out of scope of the regular reports?

What exactly do you mean by regular reports? The fact is our salesmen know their clients much better thanks to GoodData and this, in my opinion, is priceless. Today we know that our client invests tens of thousands with us, but at the same time spends millions on billboards. We therefore work with the seasonality, and we are approaching people according to the branches of their business. We can also analyze the portfolios of businessmen and business teams, and find clients who we can provide with better care. We were able to do all this before (and we did) but it’s incomparably easier and quicker today with the use of GoodData.

I think the key is not one all-encompassing report that opens our eyes – it is having a set of practical reports that are always on hand and are used to help in our everyday work.

Are the business people easily getting used to it?

A few times in Seznam I have heard that a business person is supposed to do business - not rummage in tables. That is why we debugged the reports and made sure the graphs are clear and understandable at first glance. Thanks to that, GoodData became an everyday tool for a business person, a tool that they use before every meeting with a client. This allows them to find out the client’s media strategy, advertising development, customs, and many other types of data before the meeting even begins.

Has analytics ever helped those business people that you thought wouldn’t have been as receptive to the technology?

Some have discovered GoodData already, others still have ways to go. But this year I have noticed a greater hunger for data among the business people. From some of them, I  absolutely haven‘t expected that. It‘s a pleasure to see that GoodData is not just a tool for the top and senior management. All employees can profit from using this tool and gain useful information from GoodData.

Have you let anyone go based on the data?

Not yet, or not that I know of.  But I must say, the business projects in GoodData allow the managers to control their people much more effectively.

Can you be more specific?

The manager is able to see the content of contracted advertisements and the number of visits of every single client. If for example, the client contracted orders of 50k and the business people came to visit 15 times, it tells you something is probably wrong. Conversely, it’s also a mistake when you see a client with advertisement costs of over 2 million and in the history of communication you can only see one record. Either the business person is extremely effective or he doesn‘t care about completing the records from the meetings. 

Do the managers use this information or are they just aware of it?

They use it. Based on detailed statistics they are able to talk to their people in a much more specific way. You can see immediately where a business person is wasting their time and what they should be focusing on instead. Of course you can’t exaggerate these statistics, but I hear a lot of positive feedback from the managers.

Has data analytics changed how Seznam functions?

Most of the people in our company know that the only correct and important numbers are found in GoodData. The top management gather the information necessary to manage the whole firm, the Product Managers follow KPIs and task fulfillment, the Controller sees the expenses and incomes, the Business Managers follow the results of their teams and clients, and the PR department see the statistics from social networks etc.

What about people from other departments? Do they contact you with report demands?

Yes, they do. It’s great that the grapevine works in Seznam. For example, last month the guys from Sklik came to me, as well as the Manager of Mobile Advertisement, and  the Planner of Media Space. They saw some useful reports that other people had and wanted to make their own. They saw that it could actually help them with their work.

How many people use GoodData at your company?

About 75, with 50 of those working in sales. Some managers even use GoodData to make XLS or PDF documents of which they share with others; so in the end there are many more people working with GoodData.

Have the outputs from GoodData found their way to your office meetings?

In the meetings of top management, reports from GoodData have become a standard for the past couple years. We have used these reports to review expenses, incomes, the fulfillment of indicators compared to plan along with other factors. At the meetings of business teams, they mostly discuss reports with advertisement monitoring, the history of communication, and the advertisement outputs in concrete advertisement products. Also, people from services, sales, and marketing regularly meet and watch their KPIs in Seznam.

What do you see as the biggest profit from GoodData/Keboola solutions?

I have mentioned many profits already, so I’ll share with you some of the other added benefits. The greatest pleasure for me personally, is when I see the people in company actually using GoodData and Keboola. I get to see them absolutely excited about the dashboards that we‘ve made for them, even though we are just showing them the data we have always had in Seznam. Before it just wasn’t so easily accessible and now it is all in one place. There also wasn’t the possibility of examining information in the detail there is now.

Is there any report that you prefer?

I think the strength is in its simplicity. The business people prefer that the tables are loaded with useful information. For example, rows show information on clients, columns show information of their price list expenses at Seznam and outside Seznam. The business people are thrilled when they’re able to find the place where our client advertised and exactly what they promoted all in one simple click.

I personally like the tab with two flow charts. For instance, on the left this tab shows the extent of a client‘s investments into advertising by their price list from the database of advertisement monitoring. The one on the right one shows the extent in real prices from the sales system of Seznam. 

You can therefore see things like this client advertised heavily in 2013 – but not at Seznam. Thanks to the data that fact was uncovered and our business people managed to put Seznam back in the game in October.

So what’s next? Have you got any ideas where to go next with this whole thing?

My goal is to help Seznam build extremely efficient business teams. As our sales director once said – “we should be able to send our business people to the right clients, in the right time, and with the right offer”.

How can data help that goal in your opinion?

I want the business people to see themselves in GoodData. Based on the data I want them to see what clients they should approach first. Expanding by more data sources would also help with this, as well as getting more detailed client segmentation. What’s important with all this is education. Right now we are preparing a workshop for business managers, so they can get the most information from GoodData for their work.

Do you think you‘d manage to work without GoodData and Keboola Connection today?

Well if you offered me a tool equipped at least as well as GoodData, then I would.  But I’m a realist. If there was anything better in the market, I would be aware of it. But certainly, I wouldn’t want to return to the Excel and Access times.

Do you feel you are more beneficial to your company thanks to data analytics?

That’s a very difficult question. I try to be that way. But the benefit doesn’t depend entirely on me or the guys who work with GoodData. What’s important is the support of the data from the sales department and from the whole company. In other words – it’s important how data is acquired and used in practice. I think that we have been able to convince more people in Seznam about the value of data. And hopefully, thats how the influence of the analytics department grows.

You’re not getting out of it so easily – has your value on the labour market grown?

When it’s needed, I’ll put it in my CV. I have been here since the very beginning of implementing GoodData into Seznam. I’m able to arrange datasets and build a data model in Keboola Connection. I’m no star, but I have gathered some experience and even if I didn’t need it anymore, the last two years with GoodData and Keboola were really fun for me.

Would you go into the whole thing again?

Definitely. If I ever finish at Seznam and some other company wants me to go through their data, I’ll totally go across Karlín in Prague.

Seznam's Return on BI, Part One

Seznam's Return on BI, Part One

The investment in Business Intelligence returned 10 times in three months, says Michal Buzek, the chief analyst of Seznam

Czech’s biggest web portal, Seznam.cz, has not only built a search engine to rival Google, but has also founded an empire of prospering services. From an email platform to a growing network of contextual advertisements (Sklik), Seznam has excelled at building a portfolio of complementary business ventures.

So how does this giant with thousands of employees, manage and understand the infinite amounts of data at their disposal? One word, GoodData. We sat down with Seznam’s Head Analyst, Michal Buzek, to dig deeper into this trade secret. The following two-part interview will uncover how an investment in their data has payed off by more than 5 million in profit.

How did it all start?

Some time around 2009, a decision was made to implement a Business Intelligence tool and an open competition took place. The former CEO of Seznam, Pavel Zima (now a deputy chairman of the managing board), invited GoodData to bid. At the time, I was part of the team that compared offers and provided recommendations to management. We met with Zdeněk Svoboda (co-founder of Good Data) a few times and he showed us GoodData’s capabilities using a sample of our business data from Sauto.cz. Compared to on-premise licensed BI tools, GoodData was extremely simple and quick; and on top of that, Mr. Svoboda was very smooth and natural in selling it to us. 

Why exactly did you search for Business Intelligence tool?

We needed to escape from Excel – when everybody was bringing their own report to a conference, and the quality of the data was unsteady. What’s more, we had about four different business systems at that time. Long story short, we were looking for an integrated reporting tool that would allow us to get all the data we needed under one unified dashboard. 

And how did you encounter Keboola?

We’d been using GoodData for about two years, but didn’t launch any big actions in that area. From time to time we asked for a modification of the data model, but it wasn’t until our PR department found out that GoodData had the capabilities to interact with social networks that we were introduced to Keboola. We were told that they had developed the best connectors of Facebook and Twitter data for integration with GoodData.  

What was your first impression?

Finally someone who resembles the types of people you can find here at Seznam. No suits.

So it all started with the project of getting the data from social networks?

Yes, but I had actually wanted to try something new in GoodData even before that. I wanted to expand the data models and play with other views on our data to see whether I’ll get someone else excited as well. I also wanted to accelerate additions of new items without the need to consult with GoodData each time.

Meanwhile, Keboola came and showed me some ways to improve the Dashboard in GoodData and also had their own tool, Keboola Connection. I won’t lie – I also read Tomáš Čupr’s (well-known Czech businessman, the founder of the most successful variation of Groupon – Slevomat.cz) post about the way they changed his life.  

So what happened next?

In March 2013 we started building a new project for the sales department. I wanted to give the salesmen a fundamental reason to use GoodData. We’ve been buying market research data for some years by that time – specifically looking at expenditures on big-format advertisement - but we haven’t had a chance yet to maximize its potential.

Recently, we connected this third-party data with our business system. In doing so, the knowledge of our current and potential clientbase shifted about five levels ahead. We gave our salesmen a simple tool to trend what types of advertising is purchased, how often and where from, so that they have a better understanding of the buying behaviour of our clients. This took us not one, but five levels beyond what we had before. 

Was it difficult to learn how to work with Keboola Connection?

No, there wasn’t much extra to learn. The data transformations in Keboola Connection are written in SQL, which already has been used by our team. I personally got the hang of it after a few weeks. My favourite toy is Sandbox, a “training environment” in which I can send input tables and play with questions long enough to get the appropriate result. 

What have you already managed to create?

The sales department of Seznam is quite big and the teams are diverse, so the demands for the statistics are varying. People from Sklik need one kind of report, the team specializing in serving large clients needs another. This is why we are continuously developing the project and we cannot just set things up once to be done with it. That being said, I have yet to see an inquiry that we couldn’t solve with Keboola Connection’s help. 

And what specific projects have you launched?

In GoodData we have taken on several projects, beginning with the social networks and ending with the buying behavior of clients. We divide clients according to their industries, we watch their seasonality according to the attendence of categories on Firmy.cz and we try to approach them proactively based on this gained insight. The salesman picks a category on his dashboard and is then able to see listed clients, their solvency and their spendings outside Seznam. From this, he knows exactly who and when to call. 

How is the sales team responding to Keboola Connection and GoodData?

The sales department has their people 100 % under control thanks to Keboola and GoodData, so their response is of course very positive. When you hear a sales manager with more than eight years of experience saying that he cannot imagine his work without GoodData anymore, it’s certainly something you like to hear. 

Does it pay off financially?

After three months of the project running, I could easily see the results (in dollars) through the business managers’ performance - of which we knew certainly was earned with thanks to information from GoodData. I can’t talk in exact numbers, but the investment into the database and BI consulting was in the hundreds of thousands range, and was payed off by more than 5 million in profit. 

So it does really pay off?

Sure it does. Not only does GoodData help us to generate more money, but also to find the areas where we can keep from losing it. A businessman can only use his time and energy where it’s worthy. Decisions are not driven by gut feeling anymore, they are based on hard data. We see costs drilled down to the tiniest of details. We can find the causes of growth and we are able to see what and how it exactly impacts our profit.

Seznam's Return on BI, Part Two