To maximize the potential that data has to offer, most companies have identified the need to democratize data throughout their businesses. The goal is to make it easy for anyone in the organization to access the key metrics they need to make better decisions. In a recent survey of 500 executives and data professionals, Exasol found 90% of respondents said that data democratization was a priority for their companies and were actively taking steps to achieve it.
The most common way of sharing data with employees has been through dashboards and reports. In the Exasol study, 82% of respondents reported “regularly using dashboards to share and communicate insights with colleagues at every level of the business.” Unfortunately, more than half (53%) also reported that dashboards were often being disregarded due to the time it took to interpret them. At the organizations that struggled with using dashboards effectively, respondents indicated the top drawbacks with dashboards were inadequate context (61%), information overload (54%) and a lack of customization to individual user needs (46%). Unfortunately, these issues cannot be easily remedied with just better technology or design.
In the common scenario where people lack the skill or time to interpret complex dashboards, Exasol’s Chief Data and Analytics Officer Peter Jackson says, “That’s where data storytelling skills make a difference – data storytelling helps communicate insights to everyone, regardless of where they fall on the data literacy spectrum. It bridges the gap between obtaining insights and interpreting them.”
These survey results highlight some of the major limitations of dashboards, especially when it comes to communicating specific insights rather than just general information. Dashboards can be effective exploratory tools, but they only offer limited explanatory capabilities. Dashboards are not data stories. They can help cover the ‘what’ but can rarely explain the ‘why.’ For example, a dashboard can help you notice when a particular marketing campaign isn’t generating enough leads, but it won’t be able to pinpoint or clarify why it’s underperforming without further analysis or research. Without ample doses of ‘why,’ the full benefits of data democratization will always be incomplete and never fully realized.
Study Shows Executives Recognize The Importance Of Data Storytelling
Because business leaders crave the ‘why,’ they realize data storytelling offers significant potential to their organizations. In the survey, almost all the business leaders and data professionals (93%) agreed that “decisions made as a result of successful data storytelling have the potential to help increase revenue.” A further 92% of the business leaders and data professionals agreed that data storytelling is “an effective way of communicating or delivering data and analytics results.”
Interestingly, not as many (71%) were convinced that data storytelling skills were “very important when reporting results to the C-suite or other key stakeholders.” However, 87% agreed that their organization’s leadership team would make more data-driven decisions if insights were presented in a simpler and more understandable way, which is a primary outcome of effective data storytelling. In addition, they recognized the top two benefits of data stories as the ability to focus the story (72%) and add more context (64%).
If Data Storytelling Is So Vital, Why Isn’t It More Prevalent?
Even though most of the respondents were familiar with the term of data storytelling (82%), an entire quarter of the companies admitted they still hadn’t put it into practice. Exasol’s research found 77% of the people in charge of data communication were both data literate and understood the business. While being data literate helps with interpreting the numbers, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to communicate the insights effectively. In the study, organizations cited three main challenges that were impeding data storytelling:
- Their employees lacked the storytelling skills, irrespective of whether they were data literate or not (49%).
- Non-data literate people wouldn’t be able to understand data stories (48%).
- A lack of time to dedicate to developing stories from data (47%).
To address these hurdles for data storytelling, you should consider the following steps at your organization:
- Invest In Data Storytelling Training. This crucial skill set is important for not just data professionals but also business teams and leaders. The training should encompass more than just data visualization best practices and focus on the power of narrative that is the backbone of effective data storytelling.
- Advance Basic Data Skills. If certain audiences within your organization are lacking basic data skills and may struggle with grasping data stories, data literacy training can help level the playing field. Some individuals may resist these programs so tying their participation to compensation or other rewards may be necessary as a form of motivation.
- Create Venues To Share Data Stories. Seek out and create opportunities for people to probe the data for insights and share their findings. Whenever the audience members are less proficient at interpreting the results, the burden is on the data storytellers to ensure their insights are easy for others to grasp and act on. Over time, repeated exposure to data stories can enhance everyone’s ability to interpret and work with data.
- Make Data Storytelling A Priority. Data stories can take time and effort to build. Employees can become more efficient at storytelling when they have opportunities to practice their craft and be mentored or coached by others. Ensure promising data storytellers have the time, space and tools to hone their skills.
Dashboards aren’t going anywhere. They will continue to play a key role in the data ecosystem and how information is shared throughout an organization. However, data storytellers can help fill the gap between the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’ They can even help shape the ‘how’ – as in how to best move forward with the new insights. As the need to find and communicate insights continues to grow, data storytelling will eventually become a ubiquitous skill that’s present on all teams.
Giving your people access to data and helping them to be more comfortable working with numbers are essential first steps. However, providing them with the skills, knowledge and time to create and share data stories will help your organization leverage both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ together. As more and more data stories are shared within your organization, you’ll see your data culture flourish and expand – that’s when data democratization truly becomes valuable.
originally posted on forbes.com by Brent Dykes
Author’s Statement: I’m the Sr. Director of Insights and Data Storytelling at Blast Analytics. I’m also the author of Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative, and Visuals. As a data strategy consultant, I have over 15 years of enterprise analytics experience at Omniture, Adobe, and Domo. In 2016, I received the Most Influential Contributor Award from the Digital Analytics Association (DAA). I have a passion for helping companies to become more data-driven and embracing the power of data storytelling. Follow me on Twitter @analyticshero.