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Have you Opened Your Business Intelligence Treasure Chest?

It happened so fast …. With one foot in the trap, it looked like he had utterly failed in his mission. … It all started nineteen years earlier when ….

Everyone likes a good story. Especially marketing teams in today’s leading businesses. They know that effective storytelling enhances brand and knocks down barriers to sales.

Similarly, it’s becoming a powerful way to distribute data and information in business intelligence initiatives. Several business intelligence vendors even promote storytelling as a needed component of data discovery.

So, with the participants in one of my recent Friday #BIWisdom tweetchats, we explored what’s happening today with BI storytelling. I started the discussion by stating that I think it’s about applying context to BI-derived content and that I see storytelling as an integral part of a broader collaborative capability.

Several agreed that storytelling is “sharing” and thus part of collaboration to bring people “through a data-driven journey” or bring the “results of statistical analysis into others’ workflows.”

Therefore, others added, collaborative features should be an integral (and easy to use) part of BI tools. But someone pointed out most BI tools today focus on the quantitative and technical areas, not experiential areas.

The discussion turned direction when a participant tweeted that storytelling is independent of any BI technology. “It’s a craft or an art, which is poorly understood and needs formal constructs,” he said. “That’s what bugs me,” someone else tweeted. “Vendors may add features to aid in storytelling, but it still needs the craft, the art of storytelling.”

One suggestion was that it might help if companies create a data template based on a narrative structure and enhancement of interactivity to enforce the story understanding. But someone countered that with an opinion that storytelling is both graphic and narrative but not necessarily interactive.

So what does the BI storytelling craft encompass? The #BIWisdom tribe’s opinions were that it must include all or most of these elements:

  • Be a highly condensed story with a beginning, middle and end that is relevant to the listeners
  • Have a hero — someone who accomplished something notable or noteworthy
  • Incorporate a surprising element, something that shocks the listeners out of complacency and shakes up their model of reality
  • Stimulate an “of course” reaction and the listener should see the obvious path to the future; get the listener “from there to here” while believing they found their own way
  • Embody the desired change process
  • Inform and also motivate the listener to take action or want to know more
  • Create a personal connection between the listener and the message in order to change the listeners’ opinion or inspire them to undertake difficult goals to improve things

That’s a tall order.

“Should storytelling be one of the main skills of a data scientist?” asked a tribe member.
Another stated it requires good analytical skills with a good balance with visual and narrative storytelling capabilities.

Is this combination of skills available broadly? Is storytelling an innate talent, or can people be trained to become great storytellers? Can technology make a BI business user a skilled storyteller?

What do you think?

Bottom line: Just as collaborative tools don’t make organizations collaborative, data storytelling tools don’t make users good storytellers. Does that mean that data storytelling in BI tools is a red herring? I don’t think so. I believe it’s a necessary — albeit today immature — feature set that will evolve to become more effective. And people can improve their storytelling skills with training.

Storytelling is like the surprise in a treasure chest — the key to buried riches in business intelligence outcomes. If your organization hasn’t opened this treasure chest yet, don’t continue to overlook it.

The bottom line, though, is the aftermath — what happens after the data is initially presented. The carefully crafted story will not only be insightful but will also cause a reaction that leads the listeners to take action. And therein lies your buried treasure or ROI.

 

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.

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