How to Make Better Decisions Together with Collaborative Analytics

Breaking down some of the problems I’ve seen in data collaboration and offering advice on how to make better, faster decisions with collaborative analytics.

How to Make Better Decisions Together with Collaborative Analytics
Photo by Mitchell Luo / Unsplash

We all know how analytics can help make businesses make better decisions. Being data-driven just simply isn’t an option anymore. Startups are collecting more data than ever before and are increasingly using that data to eat the world. We’ve seen the rise of OKR goal-setting, reporting tabs in nearly every SaaS tool, and metrics dashboards lining the walls in office hallways.

Yet for all of this progress, the ways we share insights and make decisions together haven’t evolved over the last decade. Too many companies spend too long collecting, preparing, and reporting on data to improve. In this post, I’ll break down some of the problems I’ve seen first-hand in data collaboration and offer advice on how you can create a better environment for creating, sharing, and measuring data together.

The problems

Finding a Source of Truth

Startups now have a plethora of dashboards in our tools to find data. But it’s still too challenging to find the data you need. Legacy BI tools suffer from dashboard sprawl and poor search experiences. It’s challenging to agree upon and standardize metrics to get common questions answered in a scalable way.

To fix this, we’ve tried creating data catalogs so operators can more easily answer FAQs and find the data they’re looking for. We’ve tried to provide definitions for data to help operators understand what tables entail, how metrics are calculated, and what a particular column means. These efforts result in incremental progress towards becoming data-driven, but more is needed.

Data Breadlines

Too few employees have access to real-time data to make everyday decisions. When operators need to query the database or ask a question involving data from multiple sources, they’re forced to ask for help in a shared analytics channel or submit a ticket to their data or engineering teams.

This process results in a painful waiting period until the technical team can prioritize the request. Even when the data or engineering team can prioritize a request, there’s typically a frustrating back-and-forth of questions and answers across Slack, Email, and Zoom.

Operators shouldn’t have to wait days or even weeks for the answers they need, while technical teams should be able to focus on strategic work without constant pings for help on tactical, ad-hoc questions.

Siloed, Broken Workflows

Stop me if you’ve gone through this process before. You need to prepare for a presentation. You go to your apps, pull CSVs, build some metrics, screenshot some charts, and throw them into a deck. You present the information and get some live questions about the data. Unfortunately, because the chart is a static screenshot, you can’t dive into the data live, so you promise to follow up afterward.

The hours-long workflow we endure to prepare presentations across a suite of apps is fundamentally broken. There’s no connective tissue between the data sources, the analysis tools, the presentation, and the feedback on the data.

Because of these silos, we may get fewer eyeballs from peers before a presentation. We might forget to include a killer insight or make a potential error in our analyses. Because it's too difficult to answer questions together live during a presentation, we can get caught flat-footed and look unprepared. And because it's so difficult to measure and discuss progress on metrics together, we fail to monitor updates closely and act quickly and decisively as teams.

How Collaborative Analytics Helps

To help teams move quickly to get the answers they need, you should consider investing in collaborative processes and tools. See below for some key components you should consider.

The Warehouse as a Source of Truth

Having a single source of truth that’s accurate and up-to-date ensures your teams can all work off the correct data independently and confidently. Best-in-class companies typically use a data warehouse and ETL tools to centralize data from multiple sources in one place. If you don’t know where to start, check out my guide on navigating the tools in the modern data stack.

Suppose you don’t have the bandwidth or technical experts to implement a data stack correctly. In that case (time for a quick plug), Canvas provides a managed data stack for centralizing your apps and modeling your data in one place.

Reusable Datasets for Fast Discovery

With your data in one place, you’ll need to organize it, provide context, and make it easy to find. Key metrics and common areas should be searchable and social proof should help teams quickly identify the right data to answer their questions.

You should have clear owners for building and maintaining dashboards on the company and team levels. They should define and document data clearly and ensure a clear process for getting help on questions. You should be aware of which dashboards are frequently used and invest accordingly, while continually improving or pruning dashboards that are ghost towns.

Collaborative Workspaces for Exploration

Shared, collaborative workspaces are critical in breaking down silos and helping teams share and discuss insights with others.

Yes, having dashboards are a must. But as I pointed out, your teams will still have everyday questions that dashboards don’t answer. Instead of a ticketing system, you should have a way for your operators to answer these questions without knowing SQL.

No-code and spreadsheet-like interfaces help your operators gain self-serve access without going days or weeks for technical teams to answer strategic and tactical questions. And when they have a question, operators and technical teams can collaborate and comment right where the data lives. This way, you can ditch the screenshots, snippets, and Slack channels and start making decisions together from anywhere.

Canvas, the Collaborative Analytics Platform

At Canvas, we’re thrilled to be working on the future of data collaboration. Unlike legacy BI tools, Canvas has:

  • Integrations to over a hundred apps so you can centralize and explore your data without a warehouse
  • A spreadsheet-like interface for your teams to pivot, write formulas, join, and create charts without SQL
  • Figma-like collaboration lets your teams communicate where the data lives
  • Out-of-the-box usage metrics inform data teams of who is using specific models so they can invest in popular areas or fix problems affecting less helpful models
  • Role-based access control so you can make sure the right people have access to the right data
  • A native dbt integration so your data models and documentation about the tables and columns are automatically synced and surfaced directly to operators

If the pains in this post resonate, you can connect your data and start exploring it in minutes for free by signing up on our site. I’d love to hear what you think.