By Mariska Veenhof, bol.com
Bol.com is the largest online retailer in the Netherlands and Belgium, selling a wide range of products—similar to Target in the U.S. As of 2020, we serve 12 million active customers and offer over 30 million items. Bol.com has nearly doubled in size since I joined the company in 2018, and that kind of growth requires a rapid scaling of technical resources.
A big part of supporting bol.com’s growth is empowering everyone across the business with data literacy. Data literacy is a big part of ensuring that the entire organization is self-sufficient when it comes to accessing and analyzing data to drive business decisions.
Data Literacy To The Rescue
Gartner defines data literacy as, “...the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application, and resulting value.”
We couldn’t agree more with this definition. For bol.com, data literacy is crucial. As the business grows and more data flows into our business intelligence software, technical teams cannot become a bottleneck. Everyone in the business needs to be able to access, interpret, and make decisions based on data on their own.
Bol.com’s data literacy journey began in 2015 when the company was half the size it is now. At the time, we had a centralized business intelligence team working with a very simple tech stack to process our business users’ data and analytics requests. This team was managing all of bol.com’s data analytics using Oracle and an on-prem Hadoop cluster to help them work with clickstream data. The data from our website activity came in such large volumes that our existing technical stack couldn’t handle it. We migrated to Google BigQuery to solve the technical scale limitations, but that was only part of the solution. Our centralized BI team couldn’t keep up with the flood of requests for new analytics and reports from the business. It was clear that we needed to enable the business to perform their own analytics rather than relying on a single BI team..
We realized we needed something different to empower our employees with data self-sufficiency. Enter: data literacy.
Making The Data Literacy Dream A Reality
To make this data literacy dream a reality, we developed an innovative training program and a data-driven culture that enables all of our users to become self-sufficient with data. Bol.com’s data literacy program revolves around two pillars: trusted data and empowered professionals.
When we think about trusted data, a key area of focus is implementing data governance. Implementing data governance includes determining the correct owners of certain data sources and making sure they understand the responsibilities that come with their data ownership role. We’re also implementing initiatives to enhance data quality, requiring quality checks on data sources and reconciling data sources against each other. Using a semantic layer within our data and analytics stack improves the accuracy of our data even further. It allows us to define a single version of the truth and ensures consistency across our business users’ queries.
For our second pillar, empower professionals, we created and implemented a program where we train and coach teams on various aspects of data literacy. The program outlines different levels of data literacy maturity to encourage employees to work up to the highest level. To ensure that the teams are getting the data literacy support needed to succeed in its program, we also developed a data literacy framework where a user can access courses and other resources across three key skills: reading, writing, and speaking data. You can see an example of a data literacy framework program below in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Example of a Data Literacy Program Framework
We want to make sure that our teams have an understanding of data sources, analytical methods, and techniques in each of these core areas. Our training program covers:
- Reading: Analyzing data, and understanding KPIs and key drivers
- Writing: Creating or editing dashboards and data models
- Speaking: Presenting, discussing, and asking the right questions of data.
The end goal is to empower our users to seek answers from data independently. That’s what makes a true data-driven organization work.
Bol.com Consistently Nurtures An Environment Of Success
What makes this data literacy program so successful is that we make it a priority to train and coach people based on the maturity level they’re currently at. This allows people to gauge what skills they need to learn to move up to the next maturity level themselves. Bol.com also works to create and manage a community of data professionals from various organizations to have discussions, exchange best practices, and learn from other data and analytics professionals.
The real key to success in a data literacy program is making sure that everyone involved has more information than they need. If our business users can answer data analysis questions themselves, IT teams can focus on the work only they can do, like facilitating a move to the cloud.
If your IT teams are struggling to keep up with the growth of your company’s analytics needs, providing everyone across the business with access to a data literacy program could be the solution.
About The Author
Mariska Veenhof is Teamlead Business Intelligence at bol.com.