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The Increasing Importance of Data Storytelling


Extracting value from data is the centerpiece of business intelligence (BI). Today, and more recently, our research identifies the ability to share and communicate value through data storytelling as a linchpin to releasing that value. As evidence, we need look no further than our latest survey data, which finds data storytelling has become a top 10 priority among 37 BI-related topics we study.  

Data storytelling is gathering importance because it fills a glaring gap between data and decision-making. Stated simply, data storytelling is human analytic engagement in the context of BI. It employs encapsulated narrative, demonstration, and extrapolation in words and visuals. We can and should think of data storytelling in at least three ways: as an individual or team skill; as a collaborative process; and as a feature set of tools that help inform value. Its aims include everything from orientation, education, and informative guidance to revenue generation, cost savings, and customer satisfaction.

Data storytelling—and the importance of narrative—is not new. For example, legendary management and business consultant Peter Drucker believed that effective management requires communication with an understanding of perceptions, expectations, and demand. For renowned author Malcom Gladwell, storytelling “succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else's head.”

There is no better time to take advantage of data storytelling's topical momentum. As well as a top priority in our research, data storytelling is being taught in seminars, in continuing executive workshops at Butler University and in regular classes at Boston University, the College of William & Mary and other higher-education institutions. Even elementary- and high-school classes are adopting data storytelling education, which should be more than a friendly reminder that it's time to get formally involved.

Executive Summary

  • Data storytelling has risen to ninth place among 37 BI related topics and initiatives we study. Our research audience considers it more than "important."
  • Research and development (R&D) respondents are the strongest advocates of data storytelling, making it an exploratory area for development. However, marketing & sales respondents are the next-most likely advocates and 90 percent likely to describe data storytelling as, at minimum, important. BI Competency Center (BICC) respondents, as well as those in executive management, finance, operations, and IT, all are at least 70 percent likely to describe data storytelling as, at minimum, important.
  • Very large organizations are most likely to be proponents of data storytelling for manifold purposes, including selling, planning, training, and broader dissemination of information. However small organizations are next-most involved, and all organizations are about 70 percent to 80 percent likely to report data storytelling is at least important.
  • The most important user features for data storytelling are “author-centric” and allow creativity, rather than administrative or technical management.
  • Plan to attend the 2020 Real Business Intelligence Conference where Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, author of Storytelling with Data will be presenting.

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