Why Data & Analytics Leaders Need Data Storytelling

Businesses in every industry rely on data to thrive, but not all have developed the systems and strategies necessary to make the most of that data. A majority of data and analytics (D&A) leaders are struggling to make an impact within their organizations, with just 44% of data and analytics leaders saying they are achieving their mission of providing value to their organizations, according to a recent Gartner study.

Functional leaders agree that their data partners could do more to support the business. According to one Oracle survey, 72% of business leaders believe most data available is only truly helpful for IT professionals or data scientists, not for those making key business decisions.

D&A leaders and their functional partners need a shared language and understanding that allows them to effectively bridge the gap between technical data insights and strategic business decisions.

This is where data storytelling comes into play. By investing in the communication skills of the data team, and the data literacy skills of commercial teams, organizations can ensure that lines of communication are open and that their data is not just a collection of numbers but a powerful tool for making informed decisions. In this article, we'll explore the "last mile problem" keeping data and analytics teams from reaching their full potential, and how data storytelling offers a solution. 

D&A Has a Last Mile Problem

The term "last mile" is borrowed from the logistics and telecommunications industry, where the final leg of a product's journey to the customer is often the most critical and challenging. In the world of data and analytics (D&A), this term refers to a similar challenge — how to deliver valuable insights based on the vast amounts of data at a business's disposal.

The "last mile problem" persists in D&A primarily because it necessitates not only technical expertise but also the ability to distill complex ideas into straightforward, digestible insights. Overuse of technical jargon can alienate non-technical stakeholders if data teams lack the skills to communicate effectively. Analytics departments are also often unaware of what information business leaders need to develop strategic plans that drive business growth.

The choice to prioritize technical skills over communication has led to a significant disconnect between data and business leaders. When an organization doesn't perform well in the "last mile," they are vulnerable to several critical missed opportunities.

Wasted Business Intelligence

When companies fail to transform their data into actionable insights, essentially they are leaving valuable business intelligence on the table. Data is a prerequisite to insights that inform future decision making, but without effective data interpretation, businesses miss key customer behaviors, market trends, or operational deficiencies.

In the absence of such insights, decision makers often resort to intuition or outdated information when making business decisions. While gut feelings and experience may be valuable in some cases, they cannot replace the accuracy and foresight provided by data-driven insights. Decisions based on incomplete or outdated information can lead to missed opportunities, inefficiencies, and, ultimately, suboptimal business outcomes.

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Wasted Investment

Organizations rely on data collection and storage, investing heavily in infrastructure and human resources to extract valuable insights. They are amassing vast volumes of data with the aim of gleaning insights that can inform their business strategies. However, if data remains buried in the "last mile" and is not utilized to its fullest potential, it can result in a poor return on investment (ROI).

Companies are pouring resources into creating a wealth of data, only to let it sit idle, untapped, and underutilized. Imagine employees having access to a library of data literacy books, but they're all written in a language they can't understand. The knowledge is there, but it's inaccessible. It's not enough to merely collect data, organizations must also focus on translating the data to unlock its full potential.

Poor Resource Allocation

Without clear data insights that help measure progress, teams are left with experimentation to see what solutions work. This can result in wasted resources and time on ineffective strategies. This misallocation not only leads to wasted effort and investment but also prevents the organization from capitalizing on potential high-impact areas that could drive its business forward.

Data Skepticism

If stakeholders feel that past data initiatives have not yielded significant results or provided tangible benefits, they might be hesitant to endorse and invest in upcoming data projects. This skepticism can create a challenging environment for securing the necessary buy-in and resources to drive data projects to fruition.

By translating complex data into a narrative that non-technical stakeholders can understand, data storytelling can help illustrate how data-driven insights can solve business problems and achieve company-wide growth.

Data Storytelling Closes the Gap

The bridge that closes the gap between non-technical and technical stakeholders is data storytelling. Data storytelling is a methodology that combines data analytics and storytelling to deliver actionable insights in a compelling, easy-to-understand way. By weaving together a story using data and visuals, data analytics leaders can address the "last mile problem" and make more effective use of the organization's data.

Enhances Decision Making

By transforming complex datasets into a narrative format, data storytelling allows decision makers to interpret raw data accurately and effectively. It demystifies the numbers and statistics, translating them into insights that can be readily understood and acted upon.

Teams can utilize data storytelling to sift through the confusing amount of data and focus attention on the most critical metrics and trends — a skill not easily achieved in today's data-saturated business environment. Data storytelling cuts through this clutter, highlighting the essential data points that should be prioritized in strategic decision making.

Creates Competitive Advantage

In an increasingly dynamic and competitive marketplace, the ability to respond swiftly to changes can be a significant differentiator for businesses. By presenting data in the form of a story, complex patterns, trends, and insights can be understood and acted upon more quickly, enabling organizations to maintain their agility and adaptability.

Moreover, data storytelling aligns seamlessly with an organization's strategic objectives. It allows decision makers to view data through the lens of their company's goals and objectives, making it easier to see how specific insights contribute to their broader strategic vision. The alignment not only enhances the relevance of the data but also ensures that all data-driven decisions are grounded in the context of the organization's overall strategy.

Maximizes ROI on Data Investments

Having a wealth of data at your disposal is valuable, but understanding its meaning and leveraging it to drive business outcomes is how an organization drives positive ROI. Data storytelling makes this connection explicit, translating abstract data into a form that resonates with decision makers and prompts action.

When data is presented in a story format, it becomes easier to see where budget and manpower should be directed for maximum impact. Data storytelling acts as a protective strategy against poor resource allocation and wasted investment. Whether it's identifying growth opportunities, optimizing operations, or mitigating risks, data storytelling provides the insights needed to make informed decisions about where resources will be most effectively used.

Improves Operational Efficiency

The sheer volume and complexity of data that organizations deal with can be overwhelming, especially for non-technical stakeholders. However, when this data is transformed into a compelling story, it becomes far more accessible and enables collaboration in the enterprise. This process of streamlining complex datasets into a narrative format significantly improves internal communication and helps all stakeholders, regardless of their technical expertise, comprehend the insights derived from the data.

Unifying different teams and departments is one of the key benefits of data storytelling. When everyone in an organization understands the data, it leads to clear and aligned objectives. There is less room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding and teams can align their efforts towards shared goals.

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Builds a Data-Driven Culture

Data storytelling is a powerful tool that not only simplifies complex data but also makes it inherently engaging. Storytelling has always been a fundamental part of human communication, and incorporating it into the presentation of data taps into this innate proclivity. When data is presented as a story, it becomes more than just numbers and graphs — it becomes a narrative that people can relate to and engage with.

A deeper connection with data fosters a culture of acceptance and curiosity. Making data more accessible encourages team members to explore and analyze data themselves, leading to better-informed decision making at all levels. As this culture of data literacy spreads throughout the organization, it creates a ripple effect where everyone becomes more invested in using data-driven insights to achieve business goals.

Taking the Next Step: Embrace Data Storytelling for Data Leaders

With only 44% of data and analytics leaders confident in their team's ability to provide value to their organization, there's a clear disconnect that hampers the full potential of data-driven decision making. Traditional data analytics approaches often stumble at the "last mile" — they excel in amassing and processing data but frequently falter in the crucial final step of communicating the implications of this information and using it to make change in the organization. Data storytelling effectively bridges this gap by taking raw data and infusing it with context and narrative, making it more accessible, relatable, and actionable for all stakeholders.

Ready to take your team’s data storytelling efforts to the next level? Learn more about how Correlation One’s Results-Driven Learning can help your organization adopt effective data storytelling techniques by downloading the white paper today.