Argus Media scales up data-driven decision-making with Amazon QuickSight enterprise business intelligence software

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This is a guest post authored by Meltem Dincer, Paul Rogers and Dharmesh Chauhan from Argus Media.

In this post, Argus Media shares how they used Amazon QuickSight enterprise business intelligence (BI) software to build deep data and analysis capabilities across their organization, from sales to finance to marketing, all the way up to technology operations. Argus Media is the leading independent provider of market intelligence to the global energy and commodity markets. The company offers essential price assessments, news, analytics, consulting services, data science tools and industry conferences to illuminate complex and opaque commodity markets. With a staff of 1,300, Argus is headquartered in London and has 29 offices across the world.

Data is the core of our business. It powers indexes, market data, benchmarks, and insights that help our energy and commodities clients make key decisions for their businesses. Just as important is the data we maintain to run our internal operations, such as product usage patterns, sales and marketing performance, editorial workflow, software development metrics and cyber security controls.

A few years ago, we were looking at options for sharing data visualizations online and asked to meet the QuickSight team if their product was right for our use case.

Even though we were a small organization, we were able to meet with the QuickSight Product Manager, in person, who walked us through the whole product roadmap. We had a very productive and enjoyable conversation. While we took a different approach for our original use case, we were so impressed with QuickSight that we ended up adopting it as our strategic corporate data visualization tool.

The main factor that impressed us was the fact that their strategy reflected our own: perfect the fundamental data processes underneath. Instead of focusing on visualizations first, they were investing in getting the behind-the-scenes data aspects right. Their plan prioritized performance considerations, including speed, efficiency, functionality, as well as permissions management and control. Once those were in place, they would develop and refine visualization features.

We saw that AWS would add a huge value to our enterprise business intelligence. They were building a fast and highly functional product that would make it effortless to track, analyze, and share more data and insights.

We were right: QuickSight performs so well—and is so user-friendly—that we quickly started using it to track trends and drive decisions across our business. Some examples include:

  • Tracking against the AWS Well-architected scorecard to hold our teams accountable to best practices for cloud usage
  • Tracking the effectiveness of our Cybersecurity controls
  • Tracking the success of editorial assets that drive our business and using insights to inform C-level and make editorial decisions
  • Tracking Marketing and Sales operations

Democratizing data with QuickSight enterprise BI software

Data is a huge asset for our company. Being able to provide people with controlled access to the right set of accurate and timely information—and doing it in a cost-effective manner—is key to using data effectively.

There’s always a balance when you share data: you want people to have access and the ability to create new insight from it, but not become overwhelmed by it or draw the wrong conclusions. That can happen when people mis-combine data or represent aspects inappropriately—or present it to the wrong audience.

To build trust, we need everyone to have confidence that the underlying data is secure, curated, spoken with a common vocabulary, and easily consumable.

The right technology makes it possible to balance control and access. Dashboards can keep everyone on the same page, within the parameters you set for how to interpret data. We set access controls for each dashboard, but QuickSight also allows us to create more fine-grained permission controls with additional row and column permissions. These help us effectively manage our data visibility for different consumer roles and contexts.

The speed at which we can build dashboards in QuickSight has also been a huge boost in sharing data across the company. We can quickly identify challenges with data quality or collating and joining disparate datasets, giving us maximum time for resolution. Datasets are straightforward to build and super-fast in processing, thanks to SPICE (Super-fast, Parallel, In-memory Calculation Engine), the QuickSight data engine that lets us combine hundreds of millions of rows of data and analyze it in seconds.

That efficiency empowered our technology teams to focus on generating insights instead of figuring out how to build data collation, manipulation, and presentation tools.

Finally, the lower use-based pricing of QuickSight made it possible for us to open up data to everyone in our organization. With BI adoption and usage, you don’t know what levels of users you’ll need ahead of time. There are also many levels of users, from people who check a dashboard once a month to power users and developers. We could open QuickSight up to everyone with minimal risk because we only pay for what we use, rather than making predetermined per-user estimates of the licenses required every year, making us more agile to the needs of our business.

Solution overview

We use QuickSight in combination with Amazon Athena, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and Amazon Redshift. A completely unexpected bonus is that QuickSight moves data from a data lake straight through with Amazon S3 and Athena, which gives us access to new data in near-real time. It also means you don’t have to always know the schemas upfront.

The following diagram illustrates this architecture.

Use cases

The following are some of the use cases helping us move into a truly data-driven organization.

Cybersecurity

We spent 3 years building cybersecurity controls, and then built a dashboard to help enforce them—not just once, but every time. It’s a beautiful interface that gives us near-real-time data, with intuitive graphics you can drill down on. Previously, we had to rely on people telling us a new server was being created, and that they patched everything—and every time we checked, we found something that wasn’t patched. Now the dashboard tells us automatically. It also shows us where our gaps are and where we need to put extra resources, so we use it for investment decisions. Our team appreciates the security of not wondering if we’re missing something important.

Marketing and sales

Before we had a dashboard, sales and marketing would extract their own data out of our enterprise resource planning (ERP) related to leads and revenue—but come to different conclusions, because the ERP had accumulated years of complexity and quick fixes, and the data had to be interpreted by the user. The dashboard gets them on the same page. The sales team can categorize subscription revenue by market and sector, helping them engage with buyers and prioritize resourcing better. Our head of marketing editorial uses dashboards to create compelling insights and visualizations because we’ve built data rules and parameters into QuickSight. They use these insights and visualizations to present to our C-level leaders to make key business decisions.

AWS architecture scorecards

We built scorecards to track if everyone is following best practices and using AWS resources appropriately and efficiently. It’s visual and compelling, and everyone can easily see who’s green or red so we don’t have to point fingers. It helps us enforce best practices and save money.

Partnering with AWS

One of the biggest reasons we’re all in on AWS is their team. From the first time we met the QuickSight team, when they personally showed us the product and roadmap, to several in-person events they’ve collaborated on, the AWS account and QuickSight specialist teams have helped us advance data at Argus.

Over the last couple of years, AWS teams have hosted several in-person events. They hosted a QuickSight Immersion Day for 35 of our colleagues at their London office to provide exposure to hands-on learning. It wasn’t just for technical users: we had attendees from HR, events, finance, and more, and they were excited to build their own use cases, like a tool for monitoring recruitment status.

Our Technical Account Managers hosted similar events in their Houston and Singapore offices, and also brought in local specialists from the global QuickSight specialist team. The day after the event, those specialists were onsite and helping our Singapore team bring their ideas to life. People were excited about how their departments could use dashboards.

Our AWS account team attended our internal tech summit, where our tech team presents what we’re doing and how we can help to the rest of the business. Their participation and insight is helping advance the reputation and use of data across our organization.

Benefits of QuickSight

The speed and functionality of QuickSight has fundamentally altered how we approach projects: we work with more groups, are comfortable providing more self-service, and take on smaller projects than we used to because of the quick turnaround. It has greatly extended our capabilities. At Argus Media, getting up to speed with QuickSight was easy.

QuickSight solved so many problems for us:

  • Accessibility – QuickSight is straightforward to use—for developers, administrators, and end-users. This lets us work on more projects and provides more self-service options. The lower user-based pricing also meant we could make QuickSight available to anyone in our organization.
  • Performance – The tool is fast, with queries receiving nearly instantaneous answers. But it also does things others didn’t, such as handle larger datasets or pull near-real-time data right from a data lake for up-to-the-moment insight.
  • Security – It’s easy to manage permissions at the data level, so there’s no chance of someone gaining access to data they shouldn’t have. Because it’s zero-install (browser-based), we can also turn off data access to anyone as needed.

What’s next

We’re starting to think about how we use artificial intelligence and machine learning, with sales leading the journey. We are looking into using Amazon SageMaker to create a sales decision engine based on data in our warehouse and presented back through QuickSight.

We’re excited to think about how we can use Amazon Q in QuickSight, which lets you ask questions and receive contextualized visualizations as a response. Having data to inform every decision will be a huge advantage for our organization.

Get started with QuickSight

QuickSight is a powerful enterprise BI software tool that enables us to make data-driven decisions part of everyday life in our organization. We keep finding new use cases and capabilities. But perhaps the best part is AWS’s partnership with us: they keep refining the product and considering our requirements in their roadmap—we know if a feature we want isn’t available now, it will be tomorrow. To learn more, see Amazon QuickSight.


About the Authors

Meltem Dincer is Chief Technology Officer of the Argus Media group of companies. Prior to joining Argus Media in August 2018, she spent 4 years at John Wiley & Sons, Inc. as VP, Platform Capabilities, where she focused on defining the digital-first content strategy and building out the next-generation publishing platform. Meltem has held a variety of positions in the financial markets and the corporate divisions of Thomson Corporation and Thomson Reuters, where she had senior technology leadership roles in product development, corporate-wide strategic initiatives, core platform services, content technology, and data management. Meltem holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Bosporus University in Turkey and a MS in Computer Science from the New York Institute of Technology.

Paul Rogers is Chief Architect of the Argus Media group of companies. Prior to joining Argus Media in November 2017, he had over 18 years of experience linked to publishing companies covering architecture (enterprise, solutions, and data), design, software engineering, agile methodologies, and migration to cloud-based infrastructure. Paul holds a bachelor’s Computing & Mathematical Sciences Degree from the University of Surrey.

Dharmesh Chauhan currently holds the position of Lead Data Analyst in the Corporate Data Warehouse team at Argus Media, demonstrating a steadfast commitment over the past 4 years. His expertise encompasses a broad spectrum of data-related fields, including advanced data visualization and semantic data modelling. A lifelong learner and educator, Dharmesh is passionate about continuously upgrading his skills and knowledge and passing that knowledge onto those that are passionate about data. He has recently embraced QuickSight as his primary business intelligence tool at Argus, reflecting his adaptability and commitment to staying at the forefront of data analytics technology.

Sam Egerton is a Senior Technical Account Manager at AWS. He has over 14 years of experience in IT, building solutions across multiple industries, specializing in VMware and SAP. At AWS, he focuses on enabling customers technical journeys in the cloud to build highly available and cost-optimized solutions. Outside of work, he enjoys snowboarding and motorsports.


About Argus Media

Argus is the leading independent provider of market intelligence to the global energy and commodity markets. We offer essential price assessments, news, analytics, consulting services, data science tools and industry conferences to illuminate complex and opaque commodity markets.

Headquartered in London with over 1,300 staff, Argus is an independent media organization with 29 offices in the world’s principal commodity trading hubs.

Companies, trading firms and governments in 160 countries around the world trust Argus data to make decisions, analyze situations, manage risk, facilitate trading and for long-term planning. Argus prices are used as trusted benchmarks around the world for pricing transportation, commodities and energy.

Founded in 1970, Argus remains a privately held UK-registered company owned by employee shareholders and global growth equity firm General Atlantic.

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