Advancing Literacy, Access, and Quality with Atlan and Snowflake
Founded in 1992 and managing more than $45 billion (as of 9/15/2023) in client assets, Sands Capital is an investment firm with an active, long-term strategy focusing on high-growth businesses. With “analytical rigor” as a pillar of their expectations of their employees, data is crucial to Sands Capital, and is supported by a creative data team, including Akriti Shrestha, Business and Data Associate.
“I don’t have a technical background, and I started as an Executive Assistant. I got into Sands Capital working for the CTO as a Technology Coordinator, and was exposed to developers and tools,” Akriti shared. “Our CTO thought I’d be a great fit, and that’s how I got into the Data Initiatives Team.”
A Modernizing Data Stack, Powered by Snowflake
At Sands Capital, effective use of data starts with an open culture, and is supported by technology.
“For us at Sands Capital, our vision is literacy, access, and quality in data,” Akriti shared. “We have a Data Literacy Club that we set up where we bring them content on data, or sometimes we lure them in with a happy hour to get them engaged and talking about data-related stuff. That’s never been done at our firm before.”
These regular meetings, along with ad-hoc interactions called “Data Therapy Sessions” are key to their firm’s data team’s success, driving open conversations between technical and business teams, and unveiling opportunities for improvement that would not have been uncovered otherwise. And supporting this cultural shift is a quickly modernizing data stack, guided by Adam Rosenbaum, Data Governance Analyst.
“Sands Capital was moving from Excel-spreadsheet-heavy sort of work, which is natural in the financial services sector, and looking for some support as they stood up a data warehouse,” Adam shared. “We’re now fully cloud-enabled, which is the first step, and we’re flowing all kinds of data, mostly into Snowflake.”
Despite maturing by leaps and bounds with modern data platforms like Snowflake, these new tools and processes have introduced a more complex series of events between data producers and consumers, driving numerous questions about their data assets.
“Our business users are none the wiser in terms of what transformations have to happen for their data. Chances are the same people that are producing the data are also consuming it,” Adam explained. “The technology team transforms it, turns it upside down, groups it, counts it, sums it, and gives it back to them. And then their first move is to go back to their front-end system and compare the two. If there’s a discrepancy, they’ll ask why it’s wrong.”
And while more and more data and workloads moved to Snowflake, a portion of Sands Capital’s data remained in spreadsheets, making it difficult to govern, and to make available to their growing number of data consumers.
“We’re not unique. Every company suffers from this. But with all of that movement of data and trying to better understand it, there was a need to look at some transparency, governance, and accessibility solutions. Governing it will take time, but we’re paying attention to it,” Adam shared.
Active Metadata for Discovery and Governance
Sensing an opportunity to improve data discovery and their consumers’ trust in data, and to advance an emerging need for Data Governance, Akriti and Adam turned back to their Data Therapy sessions, listening carefully to the needs of their stakeholders.
“As we were doing our research during our Data Therapy sessions, we were trying to figure out how they use data, what they needed, and what the company, as a whole, needed,” Akriti shared. “We realized there was a need for a Metadata Management tool.”
These sessions revealed a business team eager to engage with their data team, and to make the most of their data. With an escalating number of project requests, and a data team willing and able to help, the missing piece was a single point of access where the firm’s consumers could discover and trust available data.
Furthering the business case for Atlan was the nature of Sands Capital as a regulated entity. With the amount of data in Snowflake increasing, mitigating the risk of improper storage and distribution of data was a growing priority.
“We all know a three-letter institution that would levy a large fine if we were careless with our information. So, it was really important to start thinking about that pretty heavily, especially as our warehouse evolved,” Adam explained.
Responsible for vastly different needs; data consumers that needed accessible, trustworthy data, and data practitioners that needed a better way to govern a growing data ecosystem, Akriti and Adam chose Atlan.
It helps us save money and save time. It enables business stewards, because they often ask us what’s in our warehouse, and it’s very hard to explain or even show them the tables they have access to, and which are verified, which are approved, tagged, and classified. During the demos, we realized that this was going to be a great fit.”Akriti Shrestha, Business and Data Associate
Bringing Light into Data with Atlan
Quickly getting to work, Sands Capital’s data team integrated Atlan with SQL, Snowflake, and Salesforce to crawl their data estate, then Jira to accurately track issues around their data assets, and Slack to better communicate with data consumers.
With their data estate visible and accessible, Sands Capital’s data team’s first priority was addressing context around data, and reducing the volume of distracting, repetitive questions directed toward their Data Engineering team. Using Atlan, data consumers can now browse and discover the specific data assets they need, rather than asking Data Engineering what’s available, or which asset is the correct one to use.
“You’re going to be hard pressed to get a Data Engineer to say, ‘Sure, here’s the username and password, take a look, take a tour.’ To give that visibility and observability to what’s in there, to actually to see a column and the first 20 rows? It’s truly helpful,” Adam shared. “We have limited time, limited resources, and having a tool that takes the pressure off of them, where someone like myself could help narrow down a requirement for a project is invaluable.”
Furthering the use of Atlan, Sands Capital’s data team is turning their focus toward data quality and accuracy. Where questions about data or broken dashboards once meant numerous messages to Data Engineering and Data Governance, and a lengthy back-and-forth and investigation, their team now uses Atlan to proactively communicate breakages using alerts on data assets, and messages on Slack.
“That gives people visibility, and they might say ‘I’ll pump the brakes. I don’t need to start firing off Slack messages to the whole staff. It’s helpful,” Adam explained.
In a short period of time, Akriti and Adam have driven substantial value with Atlan, enabling both data consumers and practitioners across a spectrum of use cases.
It’s being able to use the Chrome extension to show not just the technical stewards, but the users of our dashboards the definitions, the glossary, what’s verified, and the tags. It’s being able to use the Jira and Slack integrations. It just brings a lot of light into the data. Even if we have issues or bugs, we try to mark them via the plugins, and everything is visible. If someone’s working on the bug, you can see it’s in progress. If it’s resolved, the communication is so fluent. That’s been amazing.”Akriti Shrestha, Business and Data Associate
Driving a Culture of Data Fluency
When asked what the future holds for their team, Akriti and Adam point toward their desire to enable access to data, improve their colleagues’ understanding of it, and build an internal community around shared interest in data.
“In the cataloging space, specifically, I’m excited. I believe these products open up a window to the non-technical consumer of our data,” Adam shared.
Furthering this vision of data enablement is an eye toward improving the onboarding experience, giving new team members access to Atlan where they can learn about the assets available to them.
With tenured employees and new joiners, alike, equipped with the right context and access to data, a cultural standard of data fluency is emerging at Sands Capital. And with the right tools in place, and data consumers eager to make the most of their data, Akriti and Adam are the glue holding teams together; A relentless, positive force for improvement.
I think we’re a driving force for data quality at Sands Capital. We have so many tools, and so many systems. Everybody’s using something, and we’re here to bring more observability into data. We’re making sure our stewards have what they need to build reports, analyze the data they send to internal and external clients, and accelerate their process. We want to enable them, and we want to make sure they never feel like they don’t have the data they need. That’s where we’re headed.”Akriti Shrestha, Business and Data Associate