Why I Joined Alation: A Former Customer’s Story

By Aria Wornson

Published on July 26, 2021

Beginning a digital transformation journey in a big organization can feel daunting. This is not a simple or straightforward undertaking! How do you initiate change within a system containing many thousands of people and millions of bytes of data?

It begins with recognizing a problem. During my time as a data specialist at American Family Insurance, it became clear that we had to move away from the way things had been done in the past. We knew that truly embracing data as a powerful asset was extremely important, but we weren’t sure where to start. In other words, we sought to build a data culture and needed some guidance.

About American Family Insurance

About American Family Insurance

American Family Insurance, or AmFam, is a U.S.-based private mutual company that sells a suite of insurance products, including auto, homeowners, life, and business insurance. It comprises several subsidiaries, which together form the country’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, with revenues exceeding $12.9 billion in 2020.

So you can probably imagine: The company manages a lot of data. We sought a partner to support our digital transformation and help us leverage data as a competitive asset.

One of the first steps in any digital transformation journey is to understand what data assets exist in the organization. When we began, we had a very technical and archaic tool, an enterprise metadata management platform that cataloged our assets. It was terribly complex. So complex, in fact, that most of our data consumers were unable to get much value from the tool at all. We started hunting for a better way, and it wasn’t long before we found Alation.

Fast forward to the Alation team coming in and showing us an extremely intuitive, versatile, and intelligent data catalog. After a successful proof of concept, and learning how rapidly Alation could deploy its platform, we signed up. Little did we know that Alation would end up serving as the central enabling platform for our digital transformation journey.

The Alation-AmFam Partnership Evolution

AmFam first implemented the Alation Data Catalog in 2018. This catalog was implemented for the American Family Insurance brand alone (not any AmFam subsidiaries). Back then, our focus was three-fold, focused on:

At this time, I worked in the Data Enablement Team and my primary focus was data catalog adoption and training. I taught people how to use the data catalog to drive value for the business — something I enjoyed immensely.

As our internal Alation user community continued to grow, my role evolved into the product owner focused on the day-to-day management of the data catalog. My expanding role meant that I wore many hats: data catalog administrator, trainer, and leader of an internal community focused on innovation and opportunities within the data catalog. As use of Alation grew, so too did my responsibilities around managing it.

With time, I saw the data catalog becoming more than “just a data tool”; it was evolving into a true knowledge management platform. We worked very closely with the team at Alation to provide feedback on data catalog enhancements and share ideas based on how we were using it. Our feedback informed new data catalog features. Having those features implemented helped our internal Alation community grow and further solidified our partnership with Alation.

Data Catalog Success Begets Expansion

Our data management strategy evolved with the software. AmFam CTO Peter Settel’s “no legacy systems; no legacy mindset” rallying cry had been a central motivating force, drawn in part from success with Alation Data Catalog.

And as AmFam continued to expand, we reflected upon our success with the initial data catalog rollout. We decided to implement a much larger, enterprise-wide data catalog in late 2020, which would be rolled out to all American Family employees and subsidiaries.

It’ll come as no surprise that we picked Alation for this second rollout, too. This new data catalog would support the entire AmFam enterprise across all of the AmFam operating companies, and serve as the new “data hub” for the organization. We were moving past a “legacy systems, legacy mindset” approach to drive our path forward; the new enterprise data catalog would play a major role in achieving this goal.

I was very involved in this second implementation, from ideation to rollout. In helping to lead this change, I realized how much I truly enjoyed working with Alation and empowering people to get immediate value from the data catalog.

What’s more, Covid changed everything. With remote work becoming the “new normal” and the line between work life and home life growing blurred, I spent time thinking about what I really enjoyed most about my day-to-day work (as I’m sure a lot of us did during these unprecedented times).

From Alation Educator to Alationaut

During my reflection, I realized that my favorite part of every day was interacting with other Alation users, both internally and via the Alation Community. The team at Alation seemed more like true partners to AmFam, rather than just another vendor. Making the move from being an Alation customer to an official “Alationaut” seemed like a natural fit.

In May 2021, I joined Professional Services at Alation as a senior consultant. My focus is helping Alation customers quickly uncover the value of the data catalog. As part of my new role, I’ve been able to work with so many customers in a short amount of time, leveraging my perspective as a former customer to help them succeed in their implementation and rollout.

My favorite part? I get to spend every day surrounded by fellow Alationauts who are truly passionate about living Alation’s mission and providing ongoing value to customers.

Combining Data Intelligence and Human Brilliance

In my six years at AmFam, I got to see digital transformation first hand. I held four job titles, going from data citizen and bystander to data champion and advocate, training folks to use data more wisely, and playing an active role in our organizational evolution. And while data was our core focus, I found, in my interactions with Alation, that the human element made all the difference.

The people behind the data are key. An insight gleaned on your own is exciting, sure. But that insight grows exponentially more powerful when you can share it with your wider team — and enterprise at large. This is the level of empowerment Alation envisions for all people, at all levels. This mission is one I’m proud to play a part in today.

Learn how AmFam balances data governance with self-service analytics. In this webinar, Driving Business Value from Governance Programs with Alation, you’ll see how AmFam uses the Alation Data Catalog to power analytics stewardship, helping people use data as a competitive asset.

  • About American Family Insurance
  • The Alation-AmFam Partnership Evolution
  • Data Catalog Success Begets Expansion
  • From Alation Educator to Alationaut
  • Combining Data Intelligence and Human Brilliance
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