The business value of data-driven storytelling

Today, business executives are most concerned with this: What’s the best way for us to extract value from the deluge of data we’re collecting every day?

As I talk with executives from around the world, it’s clear that their companies’ data to-do lists are changing. A few years ago, businesses were focused on gathering information — from internal systems, customers, suppliers, etc. But now that those aggregation hurdles have (mostly) been cleared, attention is shifting. Today, business executives are most concerned with this: What’s the best way for us to extract value from the deluge of data we’re collecting every day?

The challenge is incredibly daunting. After all, analysts predict that more data will be created this year than was created in the last 5,000 years combined! But raw, unstructured information is essentially meaningless. In order to benefit from the sea of available data, you need to filter, sort and synthesize it. Then, you’ll need the expertise of data scientists who can search for insights and effectively communicate their findings with other decision makers.

That last step is especially crucial. Why? Because in my experience, the people who determine company directives are usually: 1) time poor and 2) impatient in their requests for evidence. That means data increases in value when it’s carefully analyzed and presented in a way that prompts meaningful discussion and excitement.

Many have already seen the benefits of data and analytics, at least in some areas of their organizations. KPMG recently surveyed more than 800 senior business executives, and most reported that using data and analytics helps them make faster (86%) and more accurate (80%) decisions. In addition, two-thirds (67%) said using data and analytics helps them reduce business risk.

Visualization can be a particularly effective way to tell a data-driven story. In fact, research compiled by HubSpot indicates that when people hear information, they retain only 10% of it three days later. Present that same information visually with a relevant image, though, and retention three days later increases to 65%. The key —  and this will come as no surprise — is to keep the visuals simple. Too much information can become a distraction.

I’ve seen firsthand how visualization can make data more accessible… and therefore, more valuable. Remember: During discussions about data you’ve collected, the data analysts shouldn’t be the only ones who have a voice at the table. When the data is more accessible — when everyone can understand the information that’s being presented — discussion is stimulated and ideas start to flow. Individuals start interpreting the data based on their own filter, background and domain knowledge, and that, in turn, improves engagement and enhances decision making.

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