Seznam's Return on BI, Part One

by Keboola

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