Data Pandemic Stories: How Data Drives Digital Transformation in a Crisis, by Tableau

Last Updated: April 6, 2023

We’re excited to debut our blog series on data pandemic stories with a story from Andrew Beers, Chief Technology Officer at Tableau, a Starburst partner. The year 2020 will be etched in history as rather an unusual one: One where the outbreak of a global pandemic wreaked havoc but also taught us important lessons. Behavioral patterns changed forever, data science models were put to test, and the need for fast data access and “analytics anywhere” emerged as a key growth driver. Companies with strong digital foundations thrived while others were forced to adapt. According to a report by McKinsey, digital transformation “vaulted five years forward.” If you have a compelling data pandemic story to tell and would like to get featured on Starburst Blog, please write to us at content@starburst.io.

—Your friends at Starburst



When the pandemic disrupted businesses around the world, everyone had to shift many real-life activities to the digital world. For brick-and-mortar retailers, it meant a radical transformation as they had to transition or even re-create the in-person experience online, while also trying to maintain excellent customer service.

At Tableau, we know data is an incredibly powerful way for people to connect and to fuel digital transformation. Here are two examples of organizations that efficiently used data and sharpened analytics strategies to navigate through the new realities of COVID-19. 



From the earliest days of the pandemic, when changes began to distance us from one another, Starbucks turned to data and analytics to adapt its business and find new opportunities for more human connection. 

The global coffeehouse brand relied on data to amplify innovations and serve customers however and wherever they want to engage with Starbucks. For instance, Starbucks customers can now order through a mobile app and safely pick up drinks, all contactless. Data helped ensure that the technology and the experiences worked flawlessly at every point of contact, whether it was in-store, curbside pickup, or an online order for delivery.

Starbucks also used data to quickly create new safety protocols and expand benefits and compensation to support store partners to ensure no Starbucks partner or employee would have to choose between coming to work and their personal well-being. As a result, Starbucks partners could focus on providing safe and excellent service to every customer that comes in through the Drive-Thru, Starbucks® Pickup or curbside pickup. 

And with Tableau, Starbucks’ Analytics & Insights and Technology Data & Analytics teams quickly developed a top-line report to provide their leaders and partners with a holistic view of what was happening across their business in almost real-time. This democratized the data and gave everyone the information they needed to quickly make confident decisions and move forward.

To their surprise, the data revealed a key metric related to customer service that the team didn’t foresee—bathroom availability. Many people seek out a Starbucks because they know they can count on their clean bathrooms. With this information, they were able to quickly develop a system for store partners to easily enter data about their locations and which amenities were available, then share this information with customers. 

Today Starbucks has nearly 33,000 company operated and licensed stores around the world. By 2030, the company expects to reach approximately 55,000 stores and they will continue to use data and analytics to develop relevant and rewarding experiences for Starbucks’ customers. This is an amazing example of what data can do.


The State of New York

Another example is The State of New York. About a year ago, cities worldwide were trying to coordinate responses to this pandemic. New York City was in the eye of the storm as COVID-19 cases surged, and officials needed a comprehensive citywide emergency response strategy. 

They turned to Tableau to securely combine data from several organizations, like government agencies and hospitals, to gain visibility and track and manage their pandemic response. This made it easy for government leaders to look at emergency call data and anticipate where the next outbreak could happen. It also helped them manage vital resources, especially routing ambulances to hospitals with available beds. 

Data was essential to New York’s COVID-19 response and continues to be integral to New York City’s recovery efforts. At the end of July, the city launched a first-of-its-kind NYC Recovery Data Partnership, a group of community, non-profit, and private organizations. The partnership will help leaders understand the economic impact of COVID-19 and inform programmatic and policy decisions.


Building a Data Culture helps prepare for anything

These stories of outstanding data uses emerged from a most unusual and trying year, but having effective data strategies in place can help any organization at any time. So how do you create a data strategy that will help your people make smarter, faster decisions while also delivering better service to your customers? 

We all recognize technology alone is just a small piece of the puzzle. It also takes people who use data and can help create a vibrant Data Culture inside your organization. Becoming truly data-driven requires embedding the practice into the very identity of your organization. Data informs every decision, from the top down, and people are encouraged to turn to the data first and share their findings with others to help ensure the best possible outcomes. 

One key aspect of building a Data Culture is encouraging data literacy among your people. By learning how to properly understand and use data, your people will be empowered to think more critically about how to solve complex problems. Building a Data Culture means there is no more guesswork or following anecdotal evidence or intuition. The data helps reveal the best path, so you can focus on thinking about the solutions that will get you the results you want.

We believe that investing in a Data Culture is the best way forward in this digital-first world. Whether we’re weathering a crisis, like a global pandemic, or navigating through times of great transformation, data will always be a reliable source to help inform your business and make the best decisions in almost real-time. And with the rapid increase of data emerging from all this digital transformation, being able to quickly see and understand data is more critical than ever before.

At Tableau, we’re dedicated to supporting all our customers and partners in building Data Cultures. We want to provide the best technology and resources for data and analytics to help them prepare their organizations for whatever comes next. We know that with the right strategies in place, we can all be data people. And that will help anyone not only survive but thrive in the years ahead.


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