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GoCardless gives 95% of its staff business intelligence at their fingertips

Fintech payments company GoCardless is enabling staff to carry out business intelligence queries themselves

Payments firm GoCardless is driving the use of business intelligence (BI) across its business through self-service software. The fintech firm will use software from Looker – which Google announced it was acquiring in June 2019 – to give its workforce of about 350 access to self-service BI report generation.

London-headquartered GoCardless was founded in 2011, and collects direct debits for businesses ranging from very large organisations, such as accounting software supplier Xero, right down to small window-cleaning businesses. It sets up direct debits for customers, does things like know your customer (KYC) checks, and works with the bank to receive payments.

Jon Palmer, head of business intelligence at GoCardless, says that before using Looker, staff would use either a combination of legacy tools for self-services – which he said was often “inaccurate, hard to scale and difficult to keep within obligations” – or they would raise tickets with the business intelligence team, made up of 10 people, to have their questions answered.

“We would get requests from all across the business,” says Palmer. “We are a very data-driven company from the CEO down, and there is enormous interest in what is happening across all functions, whether that is risk analysis or revenue drivers.”

Palmer says that from the day he started at the company, about 18 months ago, the process of replacing the legacy process began. “I was brought in to find a different way of doing this,” he says.  

The options available to the company were to persist with legacy tools and processes, scale the team with the business, or look for another technology. It chose Looker, which provides self-service BI functionality. This was the main attraction for Palmer, who had used the software in the past. 

“Everyone is asking us for a lot of stuff, and that is now available through Looker,” says Palmer. “We wanted to deliver a single truth across the company – not just to people but to applications.”

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The software is hosted by GoCardless, although there is an option for it to be hosted by Looker. It’s used across the business, and being a tech-driven company, the IT department is a major user, with access to services to test websites, monitor DevOps processes and test the effects of using machine learning models. 

A year after its introduction, 95% of staff are using Looker, with 75% using the service “in a meaningful way” on a monthly basis. The company is seeing 7,500 Looker queries on average every day. “Less than a third of staff would have had access to any kind of service like this,” says Palmer.

The company’s financial planning and analysis team saved four days per month by using Looker to automate the process of data analysis at the executive and board level. This freed up time for the team and data analysts supporting this process on a regular basis.

At the top of the company, GoCardless executives can pose questions about the take-up of its services when services or regions of operation are launched. 

Training was provided by looker to ensure staff take-up levels were high. “The Looker team has been integral in on-boarding and training our employees to enable a self-help culture across the company,” he says. “The levels of engagement testify to its ease of use.”

Palmer says many BI tools are not user friendly for most workers because they focus on dashboards that require the staff to find all answers. “With Looker, you ask a question and the answer leads to another question,” he says. “It enables users to drill down and bring in more ingredients.”

The high take-up has freed up the analysts to focus on business strategy. Separately, the company recently moved from an IBM infrastructure as a service to Google’s cloud platform. Its infrastructure handles about £850m in payments per month, and more than 42,000 merchants worldwide use the service. Most of these (40,000) are in the UK, but GoCardless is targeting international expansion.

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