- Centralised data has completely transformed the role of the Data Warehouse team from maintaining the warehouse to creating business value.
- With Fivetran and Snowflake, the Ignition Group is able to abandon its plan to bring its data sources into its existing SQL Server warehouse, saving 6 million rand (about 375,000 euro) and the efforts of three people across two years.
- The number of active Power BI users has grown from around three to around 300, with about 100 people actively building their own reports.
- Data science projects that previously would have taken 2-3 months now take around 2-3 weeks.
- The company hired two additional data scientists to work with the newly centralised data.
- Pipeline: Fivetran
- Connectors: Google AdWords, Facebook, Microsoft Azure SQL Database, Google Analytics, Mandrill, PostgreSQL, SFTP, SQL Server, Microsoft Azure Blob Storage and MySQL
- Destination: Snowflake
- BI Tool: Microsoft Power BI
The Ignition Group, a global business based in South Africa, provides technology, media, telecommunication and financial services to businesses, including performance marketing, virtual networks with half a million subscribers, and various insurance plans. As a company that helps improve other businesses through innovative technology, it saw the opportunity to improve its own business processes by moving to a modern data stack.
Moving Away from Ineffective Warehouses and Incomplete BI
The Ignition Group was struggling to generate effective BI with an antiquated warehouse. To replace it, the Data Warehouse team built a traditional on-prem warehouse using SQL Server and SSIS to ingest the data. While this was supposed to be an improvement, it was regularly out of sync, inaccurate, slow and connected to very few data sources.
In addition to warehouse issues, the company was having trouble with QlikView, which it was using for its reporting. Russell Stather, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer (CTIO), of the Ignition Group, found that a lot of the work that should have been done in the warehouse was being stitched together in the back of the QlikView model, extending development time. All of the data had to be reloaded into the model and if something broke overnight the company was blind to reporting for a day.
In an attempt to move to a more self-service model with stronger insights, Stather chose to adopt Power BI as its BI tool. But to make the most of Power BI, the business needed to amend its data warehousing issues and make the move to a modern data stack.
Fivetran and Snowflake Transform the Data Warehouse Team, Save Time and Money
The Ignition Group came across Snowflake and found that queries which previously took minutes to run were now taking a fraction of a second. Additionally, Snowflake is hosted in Azure, as is the rest of the Ignition Group’s infrastructure, so connectivity was excellent. After deciding on Snowflake, Stather was introduced to Fivetran, which he found simpler to use than competitor products for the sources he needed. He connected most of the Ignition Group’s sources to Snowflake within two to three weeks.
When Stather first told the Data Warehouse team about Fivetran, he experienced pushback over concern that Fivetran would mean more work. After using Fivetran, however, they’ve become some of the biggest proponents of the architecture. “Having Fivetran and Snowflake in place has transformed the Data Warehouse team’s job into something more enjoyable,” Stather shares. “The team is spending time speaking to people across the business. They feel they’re generating real business value rather than just supporting a piece of hardware.”
Rather than spending its time reviewing logs to ensure the data is coming in, the team now spends its time writing dimension views onto Snowflake, among other things. Stather recalls one developer saying: ‘‘Fivetran is great, it really is ETL as a service. If there is a problem I phone them up and they sort it, it’s fixed.”
The Billing team also feels the positive impact of centralised data. Previously, it wasted time looking at sales, against billing, against an additional database that was not completely represented in the warehouse. The team had to bring the missing data into PowerBI with an indirect query. With Fivetran, the Billing Team has 100% up-to-date, reliable data from all of its systems at all times in Snowflake. Users can refresh the direct query and know they have accurate data, making the self-service model much more simple and effective.
The Results Are In
The Ignition Group’s modern data stack has brought many positive business results, including:
- Major time and money saved. Choosing to buy rather than build has saved the company a massive amount of time and money. “Prior to Fivetran, we had planned to bring our data sources into the existing SQL Server warehouse,” Stather says. “This would have taken the efforts of three people across two years, and would have cost an estimated 6 million rand just to get us to where we got with Fivetran in two months.”
- More data users. Previously, the BI team (three people) and a handful of experts were the only employees building reports. Now, about 100 people are actively building their own reports and there are about 300 active Power BI users in the organisation.
- More value in time. 100% of the Data Warehouse team’s time is spent creating value for the company, compared to 10% in the past. Long gone are the days spent on unnecessary warehouse maintenance.
- Increased data sources. The Ignition Group has increased the data sources they analyze from two (sales and billing systems) to 10, with the intention of adding more. “We actually have insight now where we didn’t have any before,” Stather says.
- Faster decisions. The general decision-making process has been shortened from about one week to a couple of hours.
- Quicker project completion. Data science projects that previously would have taken 2-3 months are now turned around in 2-3 weeks.
Building Company Culture and Business Goals Around Data
The expectations around data at the Ignition Group have been heightened. “Our people now expect to be able to generate whatever report we need, whenever we need it,” Stather says. “We no longer have to ask ‘is the data all here?’ When we’re given a number, the number is right.”
The dramatic improvement in access to data has led the business to recruit two additional, highly qualified, data scientists and set bigger goals for the future. “We have a list of projects as long as your arm that we’re confident we can get working just because we now have access to all of our data, all of the time.”
The business is starting to look at new metrics with its data, including customer churn and QA analysis on sales calls. Having digital marketing and advertising sources connected has opened new doors for the Ignition Group. A new Digital Marketing team now works with Facebook Analytics data. As their capabilities expand, the business plans to move from a traditional outbound call centre to collecting responses directly from website interactions to evaluate the success of marketing campaigns. Additionally, Stather will integrate Snowflake’s Python connector, granting the company access to historical data that it has never been able to use before.
Overall, with its modern data stack, the Ignition Group will continue to gain a better understanding of efficiencies and inefficiencies across the business to make impactful changes to operations.
About Fivetran Our standardised technology delivers data into your warehouse the right way. Shaped by the real-world needs of data analysts, Fivetran technology supports agile analytics, enabling data-backed decisions across organisations. We’re focused, transparent and trusted by businesses that run on data.
After a five-minute setup, Fivetran replicates all your applications, databases, events and files into a high-performance data warehouse. Our standardised cloud pipelines are fully managed and zero-maintenance.
About Snowflake: Snowflake is the only data warehouse built for the cloud, enabling the data-driven enterprise with instant elasticity, secure data sharing and per-second pricing, across multiple clouds. Snowflake combines the power of data warehousing, the flexibility of big data platforms and the elasticity of the cloud at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions. Snowflake: Your data, no limits. Find out more at snowflake.com.
About Microsoft Power BI: Microsoft Power BI is a business analytics solution that enables users to visualise data and generate and share insights.