Every minute, across the globe there are more than 45 thousand Uber trips, 156 million emails sent and 990,000 Tinder swipes. The scale at which we are amassing data with the advent of technology in day-to-day life — every keystroke on a computer, every phone call made, every Netflix selection made — is almost unimaginable and it has become impossible for anyone to access all of it all of the time, let alone make sense of it.
This is why we are moving into a world where data storytelling, rather than data itself, is king. Businesses need more insights, not more data, and not only that but they need the right insights, delivered to the right person, at the right time and the ability to act on it.
I often ask my clients if they could receive a WhatsApp alert or email before they start the day, with an insight that would change what they did that day, what it would be? For example, I could share a competitor product activity, an operations failure, or even a change in the weather.
We could then work backwards from there to understand how we can identity and utilise data they in most cases already have to tell them a story about their business, in a way that fits their culture and how they operate. This design thinking will ultimately enable them to act and meet their strategic objectives.
For most businesses this will require a shift in the way they currently manage and think about data. There has to be a conscious decision at the executive level to use data differently, leaving behind vanity dashboards with pretty but often futile charts/KPIs and to asking how we can actually derive actionable insights from the best data available.
There needs to be recognition that data itself is only the starting point.
First and foremost, IT and technology teams that currently focus on the outdated concept of “pull” reporting — where we make copious amounts of data available in vast oceans of incomprehensible reports, and hope our teams will regularly access them and work out critical insights for themselves — will need to shift to “push” reporting — a business-centric approach where we use technology to automatically identify key changes in data sets relevant to individual stakeholders and proactively notify them so they can act.
The key word here is “act”. Insights are only as useful as what you can do with them, so once you have the right data (data mining), have derived the relevant information from that data (data insights) and have sent it to the right people at the right time (data push reporting), you must then use that information to take action and make changes that will improve your business (data driven organisation).
Crucially, businesses need to stop thinking about the technology first — the how — and instead start by answering better questions — the why. Clients may tell us they want to use Al and blockchain, develop IoT solutions, and use the cloud and Tableau.
But what they really want, whether they know it or not, is to have more meaningful insights to enable and transform their business, mitigate risks, and capitalise on future opportunities. The tools we use to deliver those insights are secondary to establishing what insights are needed and how they will be used.
We understand that education is key to unlocking the true value of data for our clients and so we regularly hold data storytelling sessions for execs and leaders to understand how they can apply this for their own businesses. By infusing design thinking with data insights we are able to show how and where data can engage current and future processes and the associated impact.
Because that’s what data storytelling is — a way for us to ask better questions and offer better insights.
Steve Plimsoll is the regional data and intelligence advisory leader at EY.