INTERVIEW

Shota Okabe

On taking data from ‘available’ to ‘accessible’

Shota Okabe is one of the millennials that seem to want to conquer the world before getting into their thirties. Back in 2017, as a new graduate, he was assigned to the Performance Marketing Division inside Interspace. In just a couple of years, he became a consultant for sales expansion, set up a research and development team, and accelerated the company’s growth through affiliate marketing. He’s also involved in UI & UX projects. Data lies at the core of everything he does.

What caught our attention about him? He is the developer behind – in our opinion – one of the most useful Google Data Studio partner visualizations – the Mouseover Tooltip. As Shota puts it: “One of my goals is to make the data available to everyone in the company in an easy-to-understand manner”. But what he did with this tooltip took it one step further. That’s why we wanted to have a talk with Shota on how to take data from available and attain a state of data accessibility.

Shota, what drew you toward Google Data Studio?

(And by the way, is Google Data Studio called Google Data Portal in Japan?)

Yes, in Japan it is called Google Data Portal. The most attractive thing is that it is a product developed by Google. Many people of my generation have been using Google Spreadsheets rather than Microsoft Excel since we were students, as it is free to use. We are therefore familiar with Google’s products such as G Suite (Google Workspace).

We initially used Google Data Portal to visualize our spreadsheet data. We started using Google Data Portal because Google Cloud Platform is used in our company, and both the developers and the users who browse Google Data Portal are familiar with Google’s UI and UX.

The community viz you built, the Mouseover tooltip, is one of the elements we’re using in probably 90% of our dashboards here at KPIs Studio. What determined you to build this component and what made you decide to share it with the entire community?

First of all, thank you for using the ComViz that I created.

It’s difficult to understand how to use some of Google Data Studio’s standard components. Take the Treemap, for example. The treemap has the function to drill down on a group of data, but in order to drill down you have to select the data group you want to drill down to, right click, and then see the details. This can be a bit confusing.

However, writing instructions in the report not only spoils the design, but also fails to capture the reader’s attention, often resulting in a report that is unreadable and difficult to use. And unfortunately, many users never even read the helping text.

With the MouseOver Tooltip, you can deliver tips to the people who need them, when they need them, without having to write them in the report. If you can encourage this kind of single action, you can also attract the attention of your visitors. People who are new to the report will get the information they need from the tooltip, and people who have visited the report many times will not look at the tooltip because they already know how to use it.

It is often said that Google Data Studio cannot be fine-tuned in a delicate way, and I believe that ComViz is one of the ways in which we can solve these kinds of problems ourselves.
There is no particular reason why I decided to release it to the whole community, but right after I released MouseOver Tooltip, there were not many ComViz users, and I thought that if I made something useful, someone would need it.

In an article you wrote [in Japanese --Ed.] you’re mentioning that one of your goals is to make data available to everyone in the company in a graspable way. What can a business do to make sure it provides that?

As a first step, I think it’s important to make sure that the team members know that there is data in the company that could be used.
If your service has recently been launched, or if you are a founding member of the business, you will understand how important data is. However, if the business has been running for a long time, or if you are only involved in one part of the service, you may not know what data exists, or how to access it.

Therefore, I think it’s important to have a list of the data that you are collecting using BI tools, etc., in order to show your members what data exists in your company.

I think the key to making data accessible is to react quickly to resolve questions the moment they arise.

But is 'available' enough? How can a company turn the colossal sphere of available data into accessible data?

For example, I think your tooltip adds the extra important step of data accessibility. The data viz specialist is able to deliver the necessary information with it so that data becomes usable, even for those who see a report for the first time.

I also think that the MouseOver Tooltip adds an important step for data accessibility. No matter how carefully a data engineer produces a manual, most of it will never be read. This is because it takes a lot of effort to find the part of the manual that you need.

That’s why I think the most important thing is to implement a function that “gives the user exactly the information they want to know when they are stuck”.
Even if they have access to the data, most users do not know how to use it. They have to be guided to the data they need and supported in how to use it.
I think the key to making data accessible is to “react quickly to resolve questions” the moment they arise.

See Shota’s community visualization in action directly in a Data Studio dashboard

How do business intelligence platforms like Google Data Studio help with data availability and data accessibility?

In some companies, not only the engineers but also the sales and marketing people, are able to use SQL to collect the data they need.

However, such an approach relies on the SQL literacy of the members of the team, who are unlikely to enter difficult SQL unless they understand that by accessing the data they can make use of it.

BI tools are good for people who are in a position where they have to use the data themselves but don’t yet understand it. I think that BI tools can satisfy the slightest interest and curiosity of users, not only because a huge amount of data is visualized in a coherent way, but also because simple analysis can be performed instantly on BI tools.

“Data visualization is not the goal. It's just a starting point.”, it's what you were saying in another article from a couple of years ago. What’s your current perspective on this?

I have not changed my mind about this. Of course, data has a certain value just by accumulating it, but it is most valuable when it is used. It’s a bit like money. There is a certain value in having money, but I think that money is also most valuable when it is used.

After the data has been visualized, the real value of the data is how it is leveraged.

There's so much buzz around words like 'big data' and 'data-driven', but many companies still don’t know how to collect their data, gather insights, and use that data in their decisions. Why do you think that happens?

Most companies understand that using data is somehow important. However, I think the main reason here is that there aren’t many success stories of companies actually using data to drive growth. 

Traditionally, the most common use of data has been to support something. Although, as the term “data-driven” suggests, data must be analyzed to drive new actions, not just experience and intuition.
I think that people, especially those with longer experience, are too caught up in their past successes to make the paradigm shift.

Is data literacy important for all the organizational layers? Should all or only some people in a company know how to interpret and use data?

I think data literacy is important for all of us.

I believe that the 21st century will be the era of data. In the 20th century, oil was one of the most important factors for economic growth, with companies that had oil at the top of the market capitalization rankings. I expect data to replace oil in the 21st century.

There is no doubt that data can be a company’s weapon. The weapons of your own company should be understood by all the people in all the positions and departments.

One last question, Shota: you mention in your bio that you are a growth hacker. What does growth hacking mean and how does it really work? Is it related to data?

“Growth Hacking” or “Growth Hacker” is a term that has appeared recently and can mean many different things to different people. I think the role of a growth hacker is to maximize the results and value of a company, organization, and service from both the business and the development sides’ perspectives.

I think the main difference between growth hackers and other positions such as sales or marketers is that we are responsible for the assets and resources of the company, not the sales and profits of the business. There is little direct money to be made from using data. The key task of a growth hacker is to determine an organization to use data and to design services using the results of data analysis.

Want to keep up with Shota? Find him on Twitter.

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Shota Okabe

Shota Okabe

Shota Okabe is the PM of Interspace, the Internet advertising and performance marketing platform that operates AccessTrade in Japan and other Asian countries.

He is responsible for setting up the R&D team and managing products and projects related to the AccessTrade relationship as a growth hacker to accelerate the growth of the company, organization and services.

As an expert in iOS tracking regulations (ITP) and IDFA regulations (ATT), he is also responsible for ITP compliance and app measurement and is currently involved in literacy training for the entire company.

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This is Shota.

Shota knows the value of data.

Shota is smart.

Be like Shota.