Data Storytelling: The Last Mile in Analytics

By Heather Fitzgerald

Technology and innovation have propelled organizations, and their data, into new realms — companies have started, expanded and advanced their business intelligence and data-centric teams in order to drive better decision making and strategic planning. Due to this innovation, organizations are able to collect data and better understand end customers, accelerate new business pipelines, and drive more efficient and effective selling strategies. Gone are the days when reporting was fully manual in nature, and data took a long time to collect and sift through — platforms in the cloud allow for faster, better and more accurate information. But successful companies, however, can’t stop there with their analytics — how the data is translated, by way of data storytelling and insights generation, is the last mile that will separate businesses from their competitors. All too often, this last mile is overlooked.

What is data storytelling and why is it so important? Data storytelling is the process and ability to translate data into simple, business-oriented terms to influence or impact a business decision or action. It involves using the often complex and disparate data within an organization to provide actionable recommendations that can change the course of the business — influencing new product introductions, competitive analysis, customer behavior, workforce productivity, etc.

Data Storytelling can be successful in an organization based on four main components: people, processes, platforms and data. The people aspect is absolutely paramount to drive a successful business intelligence/analytics function, and often these people are hard to find. They have to be able to speak the language of the business while understanding the technology side as well. They also need to develop the story surrounding the data and the business problem by using not only numbers, but visualization and a compelling and engaging narrative — all at the same time. Ultimately, they bring the data to life!

These roles are critical because stories beat data points — and business decisions are not made on logic alone. Telling a story with data can drive an audience from point A (where they are) to point B — and this is where that ‘a-ha’ moment can occur. Data storytellers build a bridge to the unconscious side of a decision maker’s brain, which is often driven by emotion. When insights are packaged as a data story, businesses are able to influence both the logical and emotional side of a potential customer’s brain.

Although surrounded with more data than ever before, companies still struggle to turn data into valuable insights. People remember stories versus data points. The simple usage of a compelling narrative can persuade an audience more than pictures or numbers alone. When people read or hear a story surrounding data, they drop their intellectual guard and are often less critical and skeptical.

Data storytellers drive decision making by defining the data story and using the best visualization methods to display the data, thereby simplifying the information so that it resonates. While finding effective data storytellers isn’t always easy, once you do find them, you hang onto them. They are the ones who help businesses complete the last mile of the race and cross the finish line first.

Heather Fitzgerald is an SVP of Business Intelligence and CRM Strategy for a large retirement and financial services firm.

Listen to the Tech Talent Today episode featuring Heather Fitzgerald “Achieving the Last Mile: How To Use Data Storytelling to Drive Decision-Making with Heather Fitzgerald, Ep #16”