2 minutes with… Nelson Davis of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

 

Welcome back to what is now the second best BI interview series out there! Sob sob. Hey I can handle that Dan stole our idea, mainly because his Interworks interview series is so damn good!

But that doesn’t stop us bringing you some top guests. And this time it’s new Zen Master Nelson Davis of Slalom

So who are you then and what do you do?

Nelson ProfileI am Nelson Davis – a good southern gentleman born and raised in the beautiful city of Atlanta, GA. Just over a year ago I join Slalom Consulting to focus on Tableau and since then I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do amazing work. As of a few days ago I became a Solution Principal of Data Visualization for the Information Management and Analytics practice for the Atlanta office. I use Tableau in almost every aspect of my day to day work.

Tell me about your organization

Slalom is a consultant’s dream place to work. Rather than getting on a plane each week and traveling across the country, Slalom employs a local model, serving clients in each of 15 our markets (newest one is in London – and looking for amazing people). Because of this, we’re invested in long term relationships with our clients – in Atlanta this means I’ve had the opportunity to do work for the likes of Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, AT&T and Cox Communications. It also means that we get to be invested in the community – over the course of the year a group called Slalom Cares Atlanta organizes Backpack drives for school kids in need, Holiday Gift Drives, Can Food Drives, and more. And the people of Slalom are amazing themselves. It became clear to me when I first walked in the door that Slalom goes out to find the brightest people in the marketplace, puts them together to work on the most challenging projects, and gives them free reign to own the outcomes – which are often time amazing.

Last thing I’ll say is that we’re Tableau’s North American Alliance Partner of the Year for 2013, and we have an internal Tableau Community that is very collaborative and working to push the envelope in every direction when it comes to Tableau.

How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

My path to Tableau is a bit odd. In school I studied Civil Engineering with a focus on Transportation (I like connecting things). After graduation, my wife and I did a year of mission work in Mexico, only to return home in the Spring of 2009 to near double digit unemployment. With my Master degree I landed a systems analysis internship (yay $15/hr!) and got to play with data for the first time. Many months later I landed my first Transportation Engineering job – and almost immediately realized that data was more fun. After a little over two years as an engineer in a two person office, my boss was offered another job and he parleyed a spot for me – they were looking for a transportation data analyst.

After a few months of Excel (the gateway drug of data nerds everywhere) and some cool GIS stuff in Google Earth, I was ask to find a way to create ‘dashboards’ with ‘live data’. I said sure and promptly Googled ‘what the heck is a dashboard?’ and Tableau popped up (v6.0). That afternoon I made my first dashboard, and things just kinda took off. I got really involved in the Atlanta Tableau Users Group and started raising my hand when they asked for presenters. Within a few months I was using Tableau on projects coast to coast, and traveling to support them. I started to realize the amazing potential of Tableau and how to hack it to push the limits. When I showed off Google Street View integration in a Tableau Dashboard to the TCC13 speaker selection people, I got an invite. TCC13 opened my eyes to the amazing Tableau Community and the transition over to Slalom helped me to take my Tableau work to the next level. I’ve done everything from Black Friday Analytics, to Social Media Reporting, to Online Merchandising, to Logistics Networking and much more – all in Tableau. It’s been a lot of fun.

Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

There are a number of people in the community that are putting out amazing things. Like many others I point at Joe Mako, Jonathan Drummey and Andy Kriebel as kind of the Godfathers of the community.

However, I find that the stuff the most inspiring, technical, and what I want to emulate comes from the likes of Mark Jackson, Ryan Robitaille, Ben Sullins, and Russell Christopher. These guys are the boundary pushers, extending what’s possible in Tableau with some crazy integrations, customizations and making Tableau not look like Tableau. My goal in my work is to make the tool disappear – allowing the user to focus only on the analysis.

You do tons of work with the Atlanta Tableau Users Group. What makes you so keen to help others?

I’ve presented at ATUG four or five times and will do so again in December (email me if you want to join the webex!). I think my mom, who taught for over 30 years, instilled a love of teaching in me. The best part of my job is working with clients and watching for the light bulb moments, when everything just clicks in to place and they see or understand something for the first time. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning – helping people connect the dots. This same thing is at the core of what Tableau’s all about – the belief that seeing the data visually will fundamentally change the user’s understanding.

So I guess you could say Tableau and I are kinda perfect for each other. I’m also just passionate about making complicated things simpler, putting power in to the hands of more people and spreading the word that there is a better way out there – and I think the secret is getting out.

You got the honour of being named a Zen Master this year. What does that mean to you?

Wow. Great question. Earlier this year Slalom did a professional workshop and asked about a career ‘bucket list’. One of the three things I wrote down was that one day someday I hoped I might be named a Tableau Zen Master. I never thought there was a chance it would happen this year, or if it might ever happen. It’s not something you can try to do, there’s no list of check boxes anywhere. The Tableau Community is full of bright and talented people, but you want to talk about some of the most amazing, cream of the crop people on the planet – that has long been my opinion of the Zen Masters. They put out the best work and they give of themselves relentlessly to help others in the community.

Finding out that I would become a part of this group was both amazing and terrifying, honoring and humbling, all at the same time. There were certainly moments where I thought to myself ‘but I can’t do table calcs like Joe and Jonathan, Alan’s mapping is way better than anything a can do, Kelly and Anya do such better designs than me….’ And yet I’ve come to realize that while all of that is true (and it is), there’s a place for me, and the passion that I bring, in this group. It is humbling in every way, and I believe there’s a sense of responsibility to the community and to Tableau that I will work hard to honor (though I’ve promised my wife, I’m not doing 30 for 30 ever again).

Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

Nelson Profile2I’m passionate about global missions and photography. I’ll be taking a big trip back down to Mexico at the end of March 2015 to help build a house for a family that lives in conditions that don’t really exist in our first world lives. I also (sorta) maintain a photography website – nelsondavisphotography.com – that

I enjoy sharing some fun work from the past. But I’m most passionate about my family – two young boys and my awesome supportive wife make it such that there’s never a dull moment.

Okay that’s it. Tune in next time for more guests before Dan steals them…

2 minutes with… Dan Montgomery of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

Hello everyone.

Really pleased to have Dan on this month’s show. Without further ado…

VN: Thrilled to speak to you, how are you doing?

259065_10100567987350728_5848874_oThank you very much! I’m doing well. It’s a sunny day in San Francisco, California. So after this interview and some additional Tableau presentation prep-work for Slalom and the San Francisco Bay Area Tableau User Group, I’ll probably go for a run.

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

I am Dan Montgomery, aka @danrmonty, an Information Management & Analytics Consultant for Slalom Consulting, Tableau’s North American Partner of the Year for 2013. I’m part of Slalom’s group that works to help organizations leverage the power of data to provide insight and awareness to problems they are experiencing or don’t even know are problems yet. Any time I get to use Tableau on those projects, I get really excited because it is probably my favorite data analysis tool, but my work history comes from an SAP BW and Microsoft BI stack background, so I’m pretty proficient in those tools as well.

VN: How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

A few years ago, I don’t remember how long, my boss told me to look into this tool he had heard about called Tableau. I didn’t have any training or preparation, so it was a very slow pickup initially, but pretty soon I was showing off different ways to look at and ‘play’ with data that tools we currently had on our team couldn’t do.

When I joined Slalom in 2012 in Chicago, where I’m originally from, I was only one of a handful of people that used Tableau and started to evangelize its use in that office, while also connecting with our other office that were using Tableau more prominently.

These days, I am using Tableau in my client work and my personal work. I’ll create PoC’s using Tableau to show clients the potential of Tableau on their own data, as well as lead server architecture and dashboard development for clients. Tableau is a great partnership for Slalom; clients really appreciate the quick turnaround time from design to execution, access their information from multiple devices, and being able to quickly share findings with anyone else.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

Slalom’s business model offers both technology and business consulting, one of the big reasons I wanted to work there. This means that we can start working with a client to help a specific need, but as time goes on and needs change, Slalom usually has a service that can support the changing environment. Tableau plays an integral role on both sides of that equation. Sometimes our IM&A group is brought in to do data analysis in Tableau, which results in the need for business process improvements or more organizational effectiveness, which are services we offer.

Other times, it happens in reverse: we can be doing program management work or infrastructure analysis and then Tableau can help take the results and present it fun and interactive way to our clients, which may lead to more IM&A work or selling Tableau software to the client. Tableau not only makes a great tool to have in our IM&A arsenal, but also becomes a way to compliment and transition the services we sell.

VN: How have you seen Tableau make an impact on businesses?

Tableau has a way of making people excited or engaged in data in ways that were never possible before. Hands off mangers can have content delivered to them in a number of flexible ways (email, mobile, web) and the dashboards can be designed to highlight a couple of key metrics or run the gambit of KPI’s. Hands on managers who used to have a series of analysts produce a series of reports and spreadsheets are now able to connect and drive the analysis themselves. Lastly, developers have a means to quickly respond to requests from said managers, while also share data sources they create with other developers to help manage a single source of truth.

We’re currently living in a data revolution and tools like Tableau are allowing people to stay up to speed.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

Oh my, so much. I really was living in a bubble for years when it came to Tableau development. Because I was one of the few people in my work circles that knew it, I was essentially a big fish in a small pond. Nelson Davis, an incredible Tableau developer and friend of mine, basically schooled me one day last fall, and from that moment on I’ve opened my eyes to the Tableau community and what people are able to do with the software.

There are too many to list, but these are my favorite developers to follow

  • Anya A’hern – Put simply, she makes Tableau art.
  • Kelly Martin – Never a lesson in simplicity that I can’t learn from Kelly.
  • Ramon Martinez – He takes incredibly complicated ideas and makes them digestible.
  • Mark Jackson – He is always pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Tableau and data visualization
  • Ben Jones, Matt Francis, Ryan Sleeper, Allen Walker, Paul Banoub, Jewel Loree,
  • Andy Kriebel – Continuing to put great content into the community and actively supporting others on twitter
  • John Mathis, Peter Gilks, Nelson Davis, Steven Carter – My Slalom partners in crime who regularly challenge and inspire me.
  • Karunaker Molugu – On the rise, just got his first VOTD and represents Chicago, my home town.

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

Respect for data and governance of data is the area I see as being a huge area that will be impactful in the near future. For years, data was ‘guarded’ simply by the fact that if it was in a database, only SQL developers knew how to access to it. Reporting tools like Tableau make data easier to access and interact with, and data storage platforms are making data available closer and closer to real time while also storing larger and larger datasets. ‘Turning everyone loose’ on data will not lead to more insight, and in fact may drive everyone further away from the truth.

Data isn’t just the numbers and text, it also includes data standards for how to represent information. This includes color schemes (what colors indicates good vs bad, progress vs decline, is this a gradient or is it stepped color), images (what are the accepted logos for different business units or vendors), fonts, and so many more areas that, as Tableau developers know, really become the measure of consistency and usability. Managing proper data definitions, hierarchies, calculated measures, etc. becomes more difficult and demands more attention, but the result is an empowered workforce that removes single points of failure and ensures consistent messages, regardless of the audience.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

1175648_10102743701092948_1357087646_nI never understood running when I lived in Chicago. Even though Chicago has an incredible running community, there’s only about 3-4 months out of the year where the weather isn’t trying to freeze you to death or melt you into a puddle. Now that I’m in California, where it’s between 50 and 65 F every day, I find I’ve really enjoyed getting into running. I’m actually running in a 191 mile relay the weekend of my birthday (May 2nd Slalom teams running to support organ donation. You can learn more and donate here if you would like. On top of that, I play competitive flag football to live a piece of my dream to play for the Chicago Bears.

VN: Thanks for your time Dan, see you soon.

Thank you for having me, Paul. I appreciate the support you’ve given me since becoming a part of the Tableau community and this was a great honor. Take care.

Awesome stuff. Tune in next time for more insight into the minds of the great and the good of data viz.

Cheers, Paul