Can't Consume the Data? Can't Use the Data.

February 27, 2015

a nicely plated steak and fragile veggies

Photo courtesy Porto Bay

This post is a part of a series from the partners at Datascope, titled
Business Strategy in Focus: Bring Me My Monocle

Business leaders around the world continue to ask their organizations to "get smarter about data." With the IDC predicting big data spending to swell to $125 billion this year, those requests are increasing in force and frequency. Perhaps, like many chief executives, you started the ball rolling on big data initiatives. Data collection and analysis are underway. Now, as data-dense reports and presentations flow back into the executive suite, get ready. You have a vital role to play.

Data Consumption: Are They Eating It Up?

For data to make a business more informed, efficient and competitive, it has to be consumable. Stakeholders need to be able to digest it, manipulate it and ask questions. Valuable data has no true value if the right people can't understand it and put it to work.

Is your data consumable or will it go to waste? It all comes down one critical factor: the presentation.

Data Presentation: What Is It?

Data—big, small, complex or straightforward—has endless presentation options. Some may refer to data presentation as "visualization," but that’s only part of the picture. Sure, data can be consumed visually—through graphs, pictures, maps and infographics. But it can also be consumed more traditionally, as numbers, forms, tables, and spreadsheets, and text. The effectiveness of data presentation is not measured by how good it looks, but instead by whether or not stakeholders can convert the findings presented into action.

Poor Presentation: What's Lost?

Every business leader has attended meetings where reams of data are presented and the only result is a room full of glazed-over eyeballs. Everyone leaves the meeting tired and overwhelmed and rarely with any clear, actionable knowledge that will spark business change or improvement. Perhaps the insights for change and improvement were there, but they remained buried in the raw information.

While their methods may be more advanced, data science teams aren't immune to these failures of communication. Teams often find valuable insights, but overwhelm co-workers, business leaders, clients and consumers with information in formats and tools that are difficult for anyone else to use and understand.

Think of today's banks and financial institutions. They have treasure troves of information about their customers' finances and the behaviors of markets but rarely do they have useful, if any, ways to illustrate data. As a result, consumers turn away from their banks to outside products and service providers for real insights and support. The data goes to waste. Is time, expense and effort spent on collecting and analyzing data being wasted in your organization?

Your Leadership Role: Drive Better Presentation

As the senior-most consumers of business data, you are responsible for ensuring that the hard-won data your teams collect, analyze and present can be both consumed and acted upon. By examining how your teams engage with the data, you can quickly see if data presentation is the problem. Start by doing what senior leaders were born to do: Ask the right questions.

  • Are there good questions coming from your business teams and stakeholders when data is presented?
  • Are you seeing fatigue and frustration with the data tools and information presented?
  • Is the data allowing your business to put tools in front of people that will make their jobs easier and more effective?
  • Are there business results you can tie back to data presented?

If you find that interaction with the data is limited and indifferent, data fatigue is high and results are absent, it's time for your organization to take a very different, human-centric approach to data presentation. Here are some tactics we've seen help data science teams more effectively present data:

Start at the End

The best data science solutions begins with the end in mind. Rather than beginning with data collection and analysis, begin by envisioning what you need from the data and your 'dream presentation.' By starting from the end, you ensure that all the other activities (data collection, storage, analysis, etc.) are motivated by a real need— and you set a lofty goal that gets people excited.

Engage Managers with Data People and Tools

If your down-line business leaders are frustrated with the data and tools, get them involved in the process. As a leader, you want their budget requests and business ideas to be backed by good, intelligent data. To achieve that, they need to know how to ask for and get the data and the presentation they need.

Add Designers to the Team

Smart designers will make presentations and tools more appealing and useful—just ask Apple. If good design is missing from your data teams, make a change. While design won't alter the data, it has a commanding impact on whether people want to and can use it.

Encourage Audience Analysis and Customization

Ask data science teams to get a firsthand look at how their co-workers use data. This eye-opening field work gives data scientists the understanding needed to make data presentations effective workplace tools. It also reminds them of the importance of customizing their data presentations and tools by audience. Spreadsheets might be perfect for treasury and accounting but pictures and charts could be more effective for marketing. Encourage data science teams to take what they learn in the field to customize and optimize data presentations for the people who will use them.

Try Out the Tools Yourself

Do your own user testing. Try the dashboards and review data presentations you want business teams to use. Make sure data is being presented in useful, business-smart ways.

As a business leader, you understand the importance of a strong vision. If you know where you want to go, the path is clearer. To get data to do more for your business, the path must be cleared and we invite you to take the broom. Dispense with "big data" and "more data" thinking and get your organization focused on collecting, analyzing and presenting the right data the right way— a way that fosters better decisions and innovative ideas.

contributors to this post

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