Digital Transformation means that more data is available to the people that need it. By treating data as a first-class citizen and a core asset, enterprises can use that data to improve their operations.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Mariani.
Dave is the founder and Chief Technology Officer for AtScale. AtScale enables smarter decision-making by accelerating the flow of data-driven insights. The company’s semantic layer platform simplifies, accelerates, and extends business intelligence and data science capabilities for enterprise customers across all industries. Prior to AtScale, Dave ran data and analytics for Yahoo! where he pioneered the development of Hadoop for analytics and created the world’s largest multi-dimensional analytics platform.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Igrew up in Stockton, California, in a small farming town in the central valley, the only son in a family of seven. My parents were first-generation Italians who built a retail business serving the farming industry. I was in high school when I saw an Apple II+ personal computer on the “The Price is Right’’ game show on TV and knew at that moment that technology, not retail, was my path. After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, I joined a small startup in Los Angeles that was later sold to Oracle. I then started my own relational Online Analytical Processing company that I sold to Digital Impact in the year 2000. I am passionate about analytics and enjoyed the big data problems I was solving for the digital advertising industry which led me to the opportunity to run analytics for Yahoo!. After having a breakthrough on how to make analytics work on big data, I founded AtScale with some fellow ex-Yahoos in 2013 where I served as CEO until bringing in Chris Lynch to take over the reins in 2018 so I could focus on technology and customers as CTO.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we founded AtScale, we signed a lease for a small office in a run-down building literally on the wrong side of the (train) tracks. The office had mice and only one restroom for the whole building that we shared with the Social Security Administration. As you might imagine, we had to strategically plan our bathroom breaks alongside our product, sales, and marketing plans.
In terms of takeaways, we still talk about that first year fondly and we even call the first employees the “Claremont Club” after the street that office was on. That experience had a lasting impact on our culture. One of our core values is to “treat every dollar like it’s your own” and that value pervades everything we do and has helped us consume minimal capital and do more with less.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have a friend that was on a similar path to my own who later became a partner at a major venture capital firm after achieving huge success at Palm Computing and Twitter. One day, I was complaining to him about the sorry state of analytics and how someone needed to fix it. He turned to me and said, “why not you?” I answered that I didn’t know of a CEO who could raise the money and launch this type of venture. Again, he said, “why not you?”. My friend pushed me to stop thinking of myself as a “technology leader” and instead think of myself as just a “leader”. I followed his advice, raised seed capital funding, hired the founding team, and launched AtScale several months later.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love biographies and while in college, I read “The Journey is the Reward,” a biography about Steve Jobs. There have been much better biographies about Steve Jobs since then but this book had a lasting impact on me. There were plenty of stories about Jobs’ outbursts and mistreatment of others, but what stuck with me was his ethos around simplicity and attention to detail. Steve Jobs had an insane ability to simplify and challenge existing norms. This idea of challenging the status quo made me rethink everything and never give in to the notion that “it can’t be done”. Much later, Jobs’ iPhone drove this ethos home for me. While his competitors were trying to shrink the keyboard on their phones, Jobs tossed out the physical keyboard for a touch interface powered by hand gestures. I try to apply this “no one ever asked for an iPhone” example to find lasting solutions to customer problems by focusing on solving the root of the problem instead of the symptoms of the problem.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I’m a big fan of “living the problem” or “walking in a customer’s shoes” when thinking about solutions to problems. When I was running analytics at Yahoo!, my team and I struggled with wrangling big data into usable information for the business and our customers. It was clear that the business wanted to use the tools that were best suited to their use cases and wanted self-service access to all the data we collected. Making that happen at scale was just impossible with the tools of the day. I started AtScale to solve the problem that I myself had: the ability to provide self-serve, analytics-ready data to everyone who needed it at scale. It’s not an accident of the origin of the company name. After writing my business plan that was littered with the modifier “at scale” everywhere, it was clear what we should name the company.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
If your vision is big enough, your journey will never end. We’ve made huge advancements in making every decision a data-driven decision for our customers, but we’re not done yet. We’re moving beyond just connecting people to data and instead of making that data work for people. This means putting machines to work on uncovering the insights that will move the needle without forcing users to find the needle in the haystack. My continued focus is on merging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into business intelligence to make people smarter so they can spend more time improving the customer experience and less time wrangling data.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital Transformation starts with the data. Data is the foundation of everything and it’s imperative for enterprises to make sure that every business activity has a digital twin. This means that every customer interaction is captured and stored for later analysis. Yet, it’s not enough to just capture the data. Companies need to invest in treating their data as a product and making it available to everyone within the organization, not just the data analytics team. Digital Transformation means that everyone is using data to make decisions.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
Every business can benefit from Digital Transformation because every business has customers that they want to keep happy. Better use of data translates into a better customer experience. The leaders in Digital Transformation have been the retail and financial services sectors since they have a high volume of customer interactions that generate an enormous amount of data.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
During the pandemic, I saw firsthand how data made the difference between success and failure for our customers.
For one of our online retailer customers, its timely migration to the cloud and investment in self-service analytics not only saved the company from bankruptcy but delivered the best business results ever. The company’s data doubled in size in under a year and the cloud allowed them to scale out on demand, something not possible with their on-premise data center.
For one of our brick-and-mortar retail customers, its investment in sharing SKU level data with its suppliers helped them maintain stock in 3,500 outlets nationwide. By sharing inventory data with the supply chain, the company was able to deliver the right products to the right markets by leaning on its suppliers for inventory management.
In both cases, it was data and analytics that made the difference.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
Most companies get the data capture part right, but making the data “analysis-ready ” is often a bigger challenge. The key is to democratize access to data so that everyone in the organization is a data-driven decision-maker. However, without the tools to find the data, understand the data, and turn the data into decisions, it’s really hard to achieve the goal of democratization. At AtScale, we help our customers make their data accessible, understandable, secure, and easy to use so that anyone can become a data consumer.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
This is the video link of Dave explaining the 5 Ways to Digital Transformation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7P4R9mnEgc
1. Improve the Customer Experience
It’s not worth it if it doesn’t make customers happy. A successful Digital Transformation means that every customer interaction is not just captured but also analyzed to improve future interactions. During an extraordinarily difficult time like the pandemic, keeping shelves stocked with the products customers need was challenging to say the least. By sharing data with partners, one of our customers was able to delight its patrons by making the most critical goods available.
2. Improve the Bottom Line
There are two ways to improve the bottom line: reduce costs or increase revenue. The best performing organizations do both while continuing to delight their customers. We have several customers that are using AtScale and saving millions of dollars in their cloud compute spend while still making even more data available to their users for analysis. They no longer have to make the tradeoff between reducing costs through less compute spend and giving their users the data access they need to make more money for the business. They can do both.
3. Respond to Market Changes Faster
Market conditions are changing faster than ever and the pandemic made that clear. Data agility is key to responding to market changes and competitive pressures in a timely manner. This means being able to incorporate new data sources as fast as possible to augment existing data to make decisions. During the pandemic, a major food-producing customer of ours used third-party retail foot traffic data to predict when markets would transition from wholesale to retail due to infection rates. By investing in an agile data infrastructure, the company was able to deliver products to the markets that needed them most.
4. Make Better Products
Our customers use our products and services every day. By capturing and tracking their usage patterns, Digital Transformation helps companies adjust their offerings to better serve their customers. Companies that instrument their products can determine where customers struggle, allowing them to respond with improvements.
5. Make Everyone a Data Analyst
Digital Transformation means that more data is available to the people that need it. By treating data as a first-class citizen and a core asset, enterprises can use that data to improve their operations. The key is to create a data-driven culture where it’s everyone’s job to be a data analyst. By federating data analysis throughout the organization, companies can create a data-driven decision flywheel with more people using data, translating into more data analysis, which translates into more data-driven decision making.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
It starts with creating a data-driven culture. This means creating a culture where everyone is responsible for using data to make decisions. This is much harder than it sounds because to date, most companies try to centralize data access and put it in the hands of a few experts. To be truly innovative and to stand out from the competition, it’s important to invest in analytics self-service and data literacy so that every employee is a data analyst.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was growing up, my favorite saying from my dad was “A thank you is worth a million dollars yet it doesn’t cost a dime”. What this meant to me was to be grateful for what you have and share that sincere gratitude with others. I know it may sound corny but it helps me to always focus on the positive even when life has been challenging. I think that’s a big reason why I’m an entrepreneur — I’m a hopeless optimist!
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!