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Data is not important. It’s what you do with it that makes it meaningful.

05_Jakki Geiger_Chief Marketing Officer
August 23, 2022

A conversation with the business analytics expert and professor, Gauthier Vasseur

“Data is not important. It’s what you do with it that makes it meaningful. Data is only valuable when people use it to explore, learn, and make better decisions to drive change in their businesses, their communities, and the world at large,” Gauthier Vasseur told me on a recent video call, face full of enthusiasm and passion for the topic.

“That said, too many people are not comfortable using data. My mission is to change the perception that data is hard and help people discover how interesting data is. I do it by teaching people how to explore data and use it to decide on which actions to take to drive change.”

Gauthier is a busy man who wears many hats:

He leads business analytics workshops and has taught thousands of students from 30 countries how to work with data and use it to drive change and pursue better outcomes across business, government, and community. At the core of everything he does is his passion for innovation, driven by data. And his timing is perfect.

Why? There are four megatrends happening at the same time, which are driving the need for change.

  1. An unprecedented amount of data is being created, but only 20% is used to make business decisions.
  2. More people everywhere want to use data to make more intelligent decisions, but less than 20% have the technical skills to explore and use data.
  3. There’s a growing appetite for more sophisticated analytics to solve business problems. But only those with data science degrees are equipped to use the tools to build predictive data models to understand better what might happen in the future. They are also performing what-if analyses with data blended from multiple sources, both internal and external, to understand which actions will lead to desired outcomes, also known as prescriptive analytics.
  4. There’s a growing imperative for humane, ethical, and inclusive analytics. 

Gauthier and I chatted about his work, his philosophies, why he chose Pyramid as the platform to teach people how to explore and use data, and how he hopes to change the world one class at a time. Here are some highlights:

JG: Recently, I published a blog, “Aha Moment: Why I joined the decision intelligence movement,” about the moment I realized the potential of data and the power of decision intelligence. How did you develop such a passion for data analytics?

GV: I started my career as the king of Excel. Then I discovered the power of data and analytics to make better decisions. After that, I spent ten years in Silicon Valley, working for Oracle, Google, Hyperion, Brio, and a few startups deep into data. And this is where I sharpened my skills with some of the best in the world at the time. I learned so much.

Then, four years ago, I said, “Now it’s the time to pass this knowledge on.” I wanted to change the world one class at a time because I’ve suffered so much without a basic understanding of how to use data to make decisions. I’ve seen friends of all ages, young women, and minorities being held back without these skills. This is unfair because the solution is right here in front of us. I can’t say, “I can fix climate change,” but I can fix this. I can empower others to use data to solve some of our most complex problems in fast and lean ways.

JG: You’ve had 20 years of experience with the traditional BI tools on the market. Tell me about the first time you got a hands-on experience with The Pyramid Decision Intelligence Platform.

When I was introduced to The Pyramid Platform, it was love at first sight. I had this moment of clarity where I was like, “wow, this is the power of analytics.” It doesn’t require you to get a lot of technical training. It supports the learning journey because you can focus on exploring and learning how to use data, not technology. I decided then and there to use the Pyramid Platform in all my classes to empower people—from C-level executives to ambitious young women, minorities, and people in underserved communities—to get comfortable exploring and using data.  Now I’m inspiring that same feeling of excitement in others.

 JG: How do you use Pyramid in your courses?

GV: The way we use Pyramid is quite inspiring in many ways, not only for women and minorities but also for professionals. The way we present the Pyramid Platform is a way to empower professionals who are now stuck in Excel and want to learn how to explore and use data. I’ve taught executives in Finance, HR, Marketing, Operations, Sales, Legal, CIOs, Executive MBA students, and young people in underserved communities. And it changes lives. It changes lives at any level because it is the ultimate door opener to a new world of possibilities.

JG: Why Pyramid?

GV: I believe in no-code for business. There will always be coders, but businesspeople are not coders, and no one should expect them to be. No-code business analytics is where Pyramid fits. I’ve used every BI tool on the market over the last 20 years. Pyramid is the next breakthrough innovation in analytics because it automates the difficult technical work needed to explore and use data. Pyramid enables me, in a very straightforward way, to allow people to do data capture, management, modeling, and prep to transform data before loading it. Then it gives you classic and advanced visuals—and the maps work well. And then, you can take it one more notch to no-code AI with smart insights, one-click explanations, and a chatbot that changes the visuals on your screen with natural language instructions.

Plus, it works on any machine—Mac, PC, Linux, Chromebooks—all you need is a browser. You don’t need to install Pyramid. It helps me cover the whole data chain—the core analytics chain from data to decision and all the little branches—in one place in any browser.

Throw in some ML: “Bam, you’re done.”

Throw in an advanced visualization: “Bam, you’re done.”

Tweak the data transformation process: “Bam, you’re done.”

That is phenomenal.

JG: Tell me more about the people you teach.

GV: I’ve taught classes and workshops to more than 2,000 students and professionals in 30 countries. The audience ranges from 16-year-old girls to senior executives. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do.  You need to get hands-on experience with data to learn how to use data. I show them the way. I walk them through a whole journey. Whenever I teach how to use data, I teach it with Pyramid. In five minutes, you’ll get the point. It’s very straightforward to use. And then you see how data works.

JG: What is the ultimate outcome after someone completes one of your classes?

GV: At the youngest level, they get it. Suddenly, data is no longer something complex and challenging. It’s like, wow, I understand data is something I can practice. That’s the most significant outcome. And it leads to something I often hear: “You made us love data. I never knew that data could be so interesting.” And there’s a trigger for passion. If you go all the way up to C-suite, the data class with Pyramid is a game changer—a mindset changer—for them. This was the catalyst to changing the way they thought about data. This is where it all connects because they see it in action, and Pyramid is intuitive and easy to use. I’m showing the business answer they need; I’m showing it live in Pyramid.

JG: Why is the diversity aspect of all this so important to you?

GV: Because if you want to do good analytics, you’ve got to have a diverse team. People should understand that. Please don’t do it because it’s good; do it because it’s necessary.

If you have twenty white males from big business schools, they may not find the right question to challenge your business. They might be single-minded in how they read an algorithm or an analysis. That’s not going to get you very far. You pretty much redo the same thing repeatedly without progressing. And because the world is changing, because we are so global, how can a room full of identically minded individuals in one location understand the diversity of a global world? No offense to them (I’m one of them), but it just can’t work. So, you need diversity at the table if you want to tackle new markets, understand new things, and have a wealth of innovative ideas. We need diversity around the table because we all have a piece of the puzzle.

JG: So, if you’re teaching these skills to diverse people, if they feel comfortable and confident with data, they can then take that learning and apply it anywhere.

GV: Exactly. We can transform people in 15 hours. I guarantee you’ll kill it in a platform like Pyramid. I mean, you’ll be unstoppable. Once you have this skill of using and exploring data, you can go wherever you want. And who am I to tell you which questions you should ask and what the business analysis should be? I don’t know. I just gave you the platform and the skills to explore and use data to make the best decisions possible.

JG: It’s like teaching them to ride a bike. At first, it’s intimidating, and then you get on the bike, a skill they’ll have for life that they can take anywhere.

GV: Exactly. I use this metaphor sometimes. I say: “Remember when you rode the bike for the first time? You injured yourself; you fell, and you cried. And then you realized it was not that hard. And now, when you ride a bike, you look around, and you discover. The point is not riding the bike anymore; the point is where you’re going. The destination. The journey. Well, data is the same thing. I’m going to make data your bike.”

JG: I love that.

GV: Sometimes, I start my class by saying data is not the important thing. The value of data is what you’re going to do with it, period. You don’t want data to be a focus because the focus is thinking about the problem and then solving the problem. And I’m going to make this painless and fast so you can return to your work. Data is not important; it’s what you do with it.

JG: It seems like you’re getting a lot of joy from what you’re doing and enabling and empowering people to do all this great work with data. What is your favorite part of it?

GV: I showed a 15-year-old girl from a program I run with the L’Éducation Française Bay Area (EFBA) how to use Pyramid. I said: “Here are the reports you created. Can anybody tell me why we do reports in the end?” And one of the girls said, “To drive a change.” And I’m like, “Yes! It’s to drive change. Now, I want you to go back to your parents and say, ‘Hey Mom, hey Dad, do you love to create or read reports? Are they useful?’ And look at their face.” She’s 15 years of age, and she just gave the perfect words of wisdom: You should not report on data if it’s not going to drive change.

Gauthier’s work with business and future world leaders has inspired us. We are supporting his 15-hour “Step Into Data Classes” with Berkeley AIAI and UC Berkeley Fisher Center. It’s a game-changer in the path from data to decision.

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