AirBnB is a burgeoning enterprise. To keep pace with their rapid expansion, AirBnB needed to really think about data and the extension of its’ operationThe Data Portal was born from this growing momentum, a fully Data-Centric tool at the disposal of employees.

This article is the first of a series dedicated to Data-Centric enterprises. We will shed light on successful examples of the democratization and the mastery of data within inspiring organizations. These pioneering enterprises demonstrate the ambition of Zeenea’s data catalog: to help each structure to better understand use their data assets.

AIRBNB TODAY

In a few years, AirBnB has secured their position as a leader of the collaborative economy around the world. Today they are among the top hoteliers on the planet. In numbers [1], they represent:

  • 3 million recorded homes,
  • 65,000 registered cities,
  • 190 countries with AirBnB offers,
  • 150 million users.

France is its’ second largest market behind the United States. It alone counts for more than 300,000 homes.

THE REFLECTIONS THAT LED TO THE DATA PORTAL

During a conference held in May 2017, John Bodley, a data engineer at AirBnB, outlined new issues arising from the high growth of collaborators (more than 3,500) and the massive increase in the amount of data, from both users as well as employees (more than 200,000 tables in their Data Warehouse). This is a confusing and divided landscape that doesn’t always allow access to increasingly important information.

HOW TO COMBINE SUCCESS WITH A VERY REAL MANAGEMENT PROBLEM? WITH DATA. WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THIS INFORMATION COLLECTED DAILY AND THIS KNOWLEDGE BOTH AT THE USER AND COLLABORATOR LEVEL? HOW CAN THEY BE TRANSFORMED INTO A FORCE FOR ALL AIRBNB EMPLOYEES? HERE ARE THE QUESTIONS ASKED THAT LED TO THE CREATION OF THE DATA PORTAL.

Beyond these challenges, a problem of overall vision has been imposed on the company.

Since its creation in 2008, AirBnB has always paid great attention to their data and their operations. This is why a dedicated team has positioned themselves for the battle to develop a tool that democratizes data access within the enterprise. Their work is simultaneously founded on analysts’ knowledge and their ability to understand the critical points as well as on their engineers who also offer a more concrete vision of the whole. At the heart of the project, an in-depth survey of employees and of their problems were conducted.

From this survey, one constant emerged: a difficulty of finding information, which the collaborators need in order to work. The presence of tribal knowledge, kept by a certain group of people, is both counter-productive and unreliable. The result: The necessity of raising questions to colleagues, the lack of trust in the information (data’s validity, impossible to know if the data is up-to-date) and consequently, the creation of new, but duplicate data, which astronomically increases the already existing quantity.

To respond to these challenges, AirBnB created the Data Portal and released it to the public in 2017.

DATA PORTAL, AIRBNB’S DATA CATALOG

To give you a clear picture, the Data Portal could be defined as a cross between a search engine and a social network.

It was designed to centralize absolutely all incoming data, whether they come from employees or users, by the enterprise. The goal of the Data Portal is to be able to return this information, in graphic form, to whichever employee needs it.

This self-service system allows collaborators to access necessary information by themselves for the development of their projects. Beyond data itself, the Data Portal lets you obtain contextualized metadata. The information is provided with a background that allows you to valorize the data better and to understand it as a whole.

The Data Portal was designed in a collaborative approach. With this in mind, it helps you to visualize within data all the interactions between the different collaborators of the enterprise. Thus, it is possible to know who is connected to which data.

THE DATA PORTAL AND A FEW OF ITS’ FEATURES

The Data Portal offers different features to access data in a simple and fun way, offering the user an optimal experience. You can see pages dedicated to each data set or a significant amount of metadata linked to it.

  • Research: Chris Williams, an engineer and a member of the team in charge of developing the tool, speaks of a “Google-esque” feature. The search page allows you to quickly access data, to graphics, and also to the people, groups, or relevant teams behind the data.
  • Collaboration: All in one sharing approach and implementing a collaborative tool, data can be added to a user’s favorites, pinned on a team’s board, or shared via an external link. Just like a social network, each employee also has a profile page. As the tool is accessible to all collaborators and intended to be completely transparent, it also includes all the members in the hierarchy. Former employees continue to have a profile with all created and used data. Always in a logic of information decompartmentalization and doing away with tribal knowledge.

  • Lineage: It is also possible to explore data’s hierarchy by viewing both parent and child data.

  • Groups: Teams spend a lot of time exchanging around the same data. To enable each to share information more quickly and more easily, the possibility to create working groups was implemented in the Data Portal. Thanks to these pages, a team’s members can organize their data, easily access them, and encourage sharing.

WITHIN THE TOOL

Democratizing data has several virtues. First off, this avoids creating dependence on information. An umbrella system weakens the enterprise’s equilibrium. If the information and the understanding of data are only held by one group of people, the dependency ratio becomes too high.

In addition, it is important to simplify the understanding of data so that the collaborators can operate them better.

Globally speaking, the challenge for AirBnB is also to improve the trust in data for all their collaborators. So that each can be assured they are working with the correct information, updated, etc.

AirBnB is no fool and the team behind the Data Portal knows that the handling of this tool and its wise utilization will take time. Chris Williams put it this way: “Even if asking a colleague for information is easy, it is totally counterproductive on a larger scale.”

To change these habits, take the first step to consult the portal rather than directly exchanging will require a little effort from collaborators.

THE VISION OF THE DATA PORTAL OVER TIME

To promote trust in the supplied data, the team wants to create a system of data certification. It would make it possible to certify both the data and the person who initiated the certification. Certified content will be highlighted in the search results.

Over time, AirBnB hopes to develop this tool at different levels:

  • Analysis of the network in order to identify obsolete data.

  • Create alerts and recommendations. Always with an explorative approach, the tool could possibly become more intuitive suggesting new content or updates on data accessed by a user.

  • Making data pleasant. To create an appealing setting for the employees by presenting, by example, the most viewed chart of the month, etc.

With the Data Portal, AirBnB pushes the use of data to the highest level. The democratization of all employees makes it possible to make them more autonomous and efficient in their work and also reconstructs the enterprise’s hierarchy. And with more transparency, it will also become less dependent. The collaborative takes precedence over the notion of dedicated services. And the use of data reinforces enterprises’ strategy for their future development. A logical approach that it is a part of and is promoted among their customers.

SOURCES

[1] https://www.usine-digitale.fr/article/le-succes-insolent-d-airbnb-en-5-chiffres-cles.N512814
[2] Slides issues de la conférence « Democratizing Data at AirBnB » du 11 mai 2017 : https://www.slideshare.net/neo4j/graphconnect-europe-2017-democratizing-data-at-airbnb
https://medium.com/airbnb-engineering/democratizing-data-at-airbnb-852d76c51770

https://searchcio.techtarget.com/feature/Airbnb-capitalizes-on-nearly-decade-long-push-to-democratize-data

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