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If You're Aren't Designing Your Data for Action, You're Just Wasting Time

Couple weeks ago, I was invited by a buddy to attend a lunch session for Juice Analytics on “Turning Data into Dollars”. My bud just joined the company having always been a bit of data guy, and figured I’d appreciate the talk especially with my own interest in data and background in consulting. These days with the Cloud, the whole Big Data movement, and all the tools available to companies, it’s important to have a solid game plan regarding data, monetizing or otherwise.
Golden Data Rule: He who controls the data, makes the rules.
One of the Juice Analytics co-founders spoke about how to leverage data to deliver more actionable visualizations that also tell a more compelling story, and of course, there were some nuggets of insight that I thought interesting enough to jot down in my little notebook and share with you. If you’re into data, need to make data-driven decisions, etc., these should resonate with you as they have with me.
  • You, Your Dashboard, Your Analytics… Together, You’re the Tour Guide. Like a tour guide you may follow visiting a national park, he/ she’s excited and knowledgeable, and rarely do they stray from the path. Your data visualizations should do the same in telling a story where you are knowledgeable of the data behind the scenes to give background and context should a tourist need more. Add context elements like call-outs to distill more complex data.
  • Plan for the “Extended Audience”. Rarely does a dashboard or PowerPoint deck go only one audience deep. It usually gets passed down the line, and if your reports aren’t clear and concise, it’s likely the message will be filtered and watered down so that the end-consumer isn’t getting the message you originally tried to convey. It’s like the Telephone (or Whisper) Game you might’ve played back in elementary or middle school (if you don’t remember, you probably still did it). With each successive person who passes the message, how does the message change? Will they need more context to relay the intended message?
  • Create Scores to Encourage Thought and Debates. The Juice guys (I really want to call them Juicers or say they’re “juicin’”) talked about how effective data companies will oftentimes create some “scientific” score to encourage others to debate and talk about their scores and methodologies. This can drive engagement and help position the organization as a thought leader. Think: ESPN’s Quarterback Rating (QBR).
Snagged this from ESPN on December 2nd. Darn… no Matt Ryan at the top. (http://espn.go.com/nfl/qbr)
  • Analysts Want the Raw Ingredients; Consumers Want the Snazzy Plate. That is to say, consumers don’t necessary care to see the raw ingredients of food. However, they want the final plate to be visually appealing, tasteful, etc. In the same way for data, consumers rarely want to see the eye charts that are data tables, but they want to see a compelling visualization to glean actionable insights. But as an analyst and data guy, I usually don’t care for the pivot tables and fancy charts. I want to see the data sources to do my own validation. In consulting, this is never more true. I always want to establish a baseline with raw data when starting a project, but as I start to draw conclusions, I need to prepare the plate (PowerPoint deck most of the time) that can be easily understood by the audience (easily digestible, too!).
Image sources (left): http://tinyurl.com/kuuw5vz; (right) from Epicure Atlanta Catering http://tinyurl.com/k3yadf8
  • Design For Action. Ah, I loved this part of presentation because it resonated so much with me after seeing so many terrible dashboards and metrics at various large companies over the years in consulting… effective, compelling visuals drive action. I’ve seen companies just overload SVPs with pages and pages of metrics and data tables. It was analysis paralysis, and nothing told a coherent story that motivated action (other than the action to cut down on the dashboards). Essentially, everyone was wasting their time either getting reports together or trying to decipher what the heck it all meant. Actionable visualizations should elicit a “I’ll get on it” response.
Next time you deliver a report, what’s the response of the audience?
Cool lunch session overall, and of course, there’s food so… yeah. Anyways, the session made me think a lot about what I’ve been doing in both consulting and in various startups. I’ve always been a big proponent on collecting and owning the data. With data, you can make data-driven decisions. If you don’t collect, however, it’s nearly impossible to get that back. In thinking about Body Boss, we’ve wanted to collect data to tell more compelling insight into athletes’ performance. Coaches don’t have the time to slice and dice every player on their roster to understand if players are over-exerting, if they’re not challenged, if they’re stagnant, etc. Body Boss was to deliver more actionable insights quickly and easily to both coaches and the athletes. In consulting, I’m oftentimes tasked to look at a lot of datapoints, and it’s my job to make sense of it all.

What are your thoughts on creating compelling, actionable visualizations for data? How are data collectors and providers challenged to deliver these reports?

A little more about Juice Analytics (from my view): Juice Analytics plays in a tough space in big data and effective reporting, oftentimes compared against the big player Tableau. However, Juice’s differentiator is being an application that can also be the engine that drives the analytics and visualizes the data in creative ways that tell a more compelling story. They can plug into all sorts of resources even a host of Excel files that can be repeated as part of business processes.

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