A data platform built for action

Kaveh Rostampor
6 min readMar 23, 2022

At Planhat, we often talk about creating “real value” — it’s in our DNA to place value creation above other things. You have to obsess over value when you’re bootstrapped, because, frankly, the alternative is ….death. Customers don’t buy fluff, they pay for value.

Such a culture goes together with how we think about data: data by itself doesn’t create much value — to be impactful, it needs to generate insight and spur action.

Most of the executives we meet and partner with feel the same, but many haven’t yet found a scalable solution. A 2020 article by HBR and Google Cloud found the same thing: 2/3rds of companies believe democratizing data is mission-critical (97% for data leaders), but only 7% of most companies feel they are very effective at doing so.

We believe this is because players of the modern customer data stack often focus on utilizing “data” for “analytics”, where we think the priority should be to enable “action”. To enable action shifts who the user is — from ”data people” (a data scientist or analyst) to a non-technical “business user” — a line manager, a director, a marketing manager, customer success manager, a sales rep or a product manager. That shifts what a data platform for business users needs to be good at.

Bringing structured and actionable customer data to the business user, instead of only to an intermediate analyst, is a complex task. You need to both automatically structure and preventively clean the data — then you have to operationalize it: take away everything technical (like SQL), build advanced permissioning and embed it deep into actual workflows.

An actionable customer data platform is the first, critical, building block of Planhat. In this article, I’ll explain our thoughts on what this means and how we have chosen to solve it.

It starts with making customer data accessible to all

At the dawn of big data, each function wanted to understand their operations and customer interactions better. As a result, marketing, sales, finance, etc all got their own systems — like Hubspot, Marketo, Pendo, or Zendesk. This created data and decision silos, an inwards-looking organization, and disparate narratives about the customer. Support had one view of the customer, sales had another view (and sometimes didn’t really care after the deal was closed), marketing had a third view. None of them aligned and “customer centricity” was another buzz word in social media or at leadership off-sites.

The problem? It’s hard to get everybody in the company to get the same 360 overview when data is locked inside all these functional applications.

Enter the data warehouses: Redshift in the beginning, later BiqQuery, and lately Snowflake promising that as long as everything is dumped into their database, data will finally be democratized and accessible for all.

And while it’s undoubtedly clear that data warehouses will play an increasingly important role in this paradigm, it’s also fair to say that they solve one part of the problem (unified data), but not the other (”accessible for all” and actionable data).

Again, the end user is left out of the equation. Most non-technical “business users” cannot query a database, or perform cross-object calculations. And even if they could, then what? The excel analysis or Tableau widget spits out an answer — the end-user still has to run over to some “other system” of action and do…. something.

It seems like most of the solutions out there are at each end of a spectrum: either people build applications for specific functions to efficiently power customer workflows (product analytics/mgmt, onboarding, support, sales, success), or they build platforms for centralized storage and analysis (data warehouses, BI tools).

But they both lack the quality of the other: data warehouses don’t make the data easily accessible or actionable, and customer data siloed in your favorite application don’t have the full picture. Neither are accessible to all. The HBR/GoogleCloud’s research explained it well:

“People say data is the new oil, but for many companies it’s the old oil: predominantly sitting in barrels waiting to be processed in a refinery in order to provide value… They think data is worth money, but they haven’t seen it put any cash in the cash register. They need to view their data stores as not just oil stored in barrels, but something they need to process to turn into someone actionable and valuable across the business.”

Either way, we believe the critical link between “customer data” and the “end user” that is looking to take action is missing. And this has been the centerpiece of our vision for Planhats’ data layer.

Planhat’s data platform is built for action

As modern companies will need a continuous understanding of their customers to drive ongoing sales (discussed here), we believe that the first step is to give all employees access to a customer data platform that is built for action — enabling a better customer experience.

Such products built for “action” must solve the following use cases:

  • No-code cross-system queries to understand the customer, like asking “show me a list of all my customers on the West Coast of the US, that have been using our product for more than three years, pay between $20k-$60k, who have a 45% increase of usage of the reporting feature we launched last quarter, gave us a 9 on the NPS, where the Decision Maker didn’t show up to our last meeting, and all their critical support tickets have been closed” — and getting the complete list immediately, ready for action
  • Build data-powered workflows, like automatically placing each incoming customer into their predefined segment’s journey and workflow, assigning the right owner and workflow, and based on product adoption adjusting the process to catch at-risk end-users or drive up-sales

A data platform built for action must also meet the following requirements:

  • All use cases should be solvable by a “business user” who doesn’t know how to write SQL code or how to perform advanced excel calculations, by creating a UX/UI with them in mind
  • Time spent on data cleaning and unification must be significantly reduced by building a dedicated customer data model which performs parts of this automatically
  • Customer data should be accessible to everyone in the organization, by platforms adopting a customer-centric UX and pricing models with unlimited seats, which incentivizes every department to collaborate on a unified platform
  • Privacy and security is paramount, which requires a uniquely deep permissioning model where each user/role can be restricted on every single property in the platform, every workflow application/module, and every single company in the portfolio.

In sum, we see the business world exploding in data and many tools are being built to access, structure and manage that. But we believe there is not enough being done to help people take action with data, which is ultimately where the real value creation happens. Too often data is imprisoned: only accessible to a few technically proficient analysts who choose what happens next. At Planhat we want to break down these walls, we want to make your customer data accessible and actionable and enable anyone in your organization to use it. That is a complex but a very exciting mission!

If you are working in this field and interested in joining a team that is hard at work building a great product, then please reach out — I’d love to talk!

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