How These Companies Demystify Data With the Right Approaches and Tools

At Grainger and SimplePractice, you don’t have to be a data wizard to reap the benefits of valuable insights. Learn how each company has mastered the data documentation process.

Written by Olivia McClure
Published on Mar. 19, 2024
How These Companies Demystify Data With the Right Approaches and Tools
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Not all of us can be data wizards, conjuring meaning out of even the densest logs of information. 

But with the right data documentation practices, even the least technical-savvy person can reap the benefits of valuable insights. That’s why Senior Data Manager Daniel McGoldrick and his peers at SimplePractice ensure the company’s data documentation is accessible and digestible for everyone — data novices included. 

For McGoldrick and his teammates, maintaining this open approach to documentation requires a powerful toolbox. By leveraging dbt and Notion, they’re able to preserve consistent and clear business definitions while providing a user-friendly platform that allows employees to easily access their data. 

“Together, dbt and Notion empower us to create documentation that’s both accurate and accessible, supporting a culture where data is demystified and shared across the entire organization,” McGoldrick said. 

Effective data documentation can benefit organizations in countless ways. For instance, at Grainger, having greater access to data has helped bolster the company’s competitive edge. 

Manager of Data Discoverability Stewart Rivers explained that, by taking a proactive approach to data documentation, the company is able to stay ahead of the game when it comes to its customers and strengthen its own operations at the same time. 

“It helps us drive strategies that meet our customers’ needs and keep the world working, so its governance and documentation is more than just a best practice; it’s crucial to our business,” he said. 

Below, Rivers and McGoldrick share more about the data documentation best practices that have positively impacted their companies. 

 

 

Stewart Rivers
Manager of Data Discoverability • Grainger

Grainger is a B2B marketplace that sells maintenance, repair and operating supplies and services. 

What is Grainger’s philosophy around data documentation?

Data is a key to our competitive advantage. It helps us drive strategies that meet our customers’ needs and keep the world working, so its governance and documentation is more than just a best practice; it’s crucial to our business. When it comes to data documentation at Grainger, the rule of thumb is that preemptive documentation is infinitely better than retroactive documentation. 

We’ve come a long way in just a few years. In the past, individual teams maintained their own data dictionaries with spreadsheets or SharePoint sites, leading to a lack of structure and loss of content. We’ve since implemented not only a new catalog but a new way of working to ensure that we’re creating a single source of truth, which is what data is at the end of the day.

 

Are there any specific data documentation best practices and tools your team swears by?

Documenting data at the front is key. However, at Grainger, one of our best practices is ensuring the right processes and people are in place to make sure documentation can even happen. 

That’s not to say technology isn’t important. Having a modern data catalog matters, enabling our team members to quickly find what they need and make the data more understandable while they’re at it. As far as a tool is concerned, it’s critical to have a tool you can trust that’s also user-friendly. We work with many different tools, but our solution to data governance and documentation is a modern, cloud-based data catalog. We learned that we needed something that caters to engineers and data consumers, with features that benefit both of those personas and integrate seamlessly with our technology stack.

 

“One of our best practices is ensuring the right processes and people are in place to make sure documentation can even happen.”

 

How have these practices positively impacted Grainger?

With the data documentation changes to both our tools and our ways of working, we’re finding that people can now self-serve across the company which makes things much faster and is ultimately a better experience for our internal customers. 

With the new data catalog, we have roughly 2,000 successful searches each month. If asking around for a data definition before catalog implementation took five minutes on average, we’re saving people a ton of time and, as a result, saving company resources. 

Our investment in data governance and documentation sets the stage for future capabilities, as we know where our data is, what it contains and who owns it. We’re looking at how data sets are being used and seeing that team members are exploring data outside their domains to add value to the company.

 

 

 

Daniel McGoldrick
Senior Data Manager • SimplePractice

SimplePractice’s electronic health record software helps mental health and physical wellness professionals streamline administrative work, manage their finances and run telehealth sessions. 

What is SimplePractice’s philosophy around data documentation?

Data documentation is essential for supporting an organization’s needs, yet it presents its own challenges. As SimplePractice continues to scale, it’s critical to ensure our documentation is accessible and understandable to all users, from the least technical people to the most tech-savvy. Meeting the diverse needs of our audience ensures that the documentation is valuable to everyone and frees calendars from superfluous meetings.

Establishing a single source of truth for all core business logic is key. This involves centralizing the definitions with version control and ensuring these definitions are unified and agreed upon by all relevant teams. The data team might define things differently than the finance or risk team, leading to confusion or miscommunication. By harmonizing these definitions and aligning them with company objectives, we can foster a unified language that promotes clear and concise communication. Focusing on inclusivity and simplicity, the documentation process enhances organizational understanding and streamlines workflows, making every interaction and each piece of documentation more effective and valuable.

 

“Establishing a single source of truth for all core business logic is key.”

 

Are there any specific data documentation best practices or tools your team swears by?

At SimplePractice, we approach documentation with a focus on clarity and accessibility. Our key objective is to ensure that our materials are understandable for both data wizards and those less familiar with data jargon. The process of mastering the “how” and “when” of documentation is a common challenge across organizations. Developing a strong documentation practice is essential.

Our favorite tools are dbt and Notion. Dbt allows for version-controlled documentation, enabling us to maintain consistent and clear definitions across our ecosystem. This is critical for supporting most use cases, from machine learning to visualization and analysis. Notion complements dbt by providing a user-friendly platform for broader team access, making it less intimidating and more familiar for our teammates who aren’t versed in data jargon. Together, dbt and Notion empower us to create documentation that’s both accurate and accessible, supporting a culture where data is demystified and shared across the entire organization.

 

How have these practices positively impacted SimplePractice?

Adopting dbt and Notion for data documentation at SimplePractice has brought significant benefits, enhancing clarity and accessibility across the board. This strategy has democratized data insights, making them accessible to our whole organization, regardless of the teammate’s technical understanding. By establishing a single source of truth and aligning on definitions, we’ve streamlined workflows, reduced miscommunication and saved valuable time previously spent in meetings. 

This shift toward a more inclusive and transparent approach has improved collaboration and decision-making, nurturing a data-driven culture throughout SimplePractice. It’s always important to note that our journey in data documentation is ongoing. Just like any robust practice, it evolves with our team and company’s needs, embodying our commitment to continuous improvement and excellence.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

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