Data Storytelling: An Intersection of Art & Science

Data Storytelling: An Intersection of Art & Science

A few years ago I met Walter Isaacson, former Chairman of CNN, Editor of TIME, and author of Steve Jobs’ biography. If you can’t tell from his pedigree, Isaacson is a great storyteller. He also wrote about other famous innovators including Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci. I only had time to ask him one question, so I made it a good one,

“What did Jobs, Franklin, Einstein, and Da Vinci have in common that made them such great visionaries?”

Isaacson smiled and responded, “All great innovators operate at the intersection of Art and Science.” I think Isaacson would agree this balance applies to data storytelling as well. Truly effective storytelling drives business action, and this occurs with the right mix of facts, visual presentation, and contextual narrative. Finding this balance is a challenge, but with the right tools and methodology, you can go from creating flashy dashboards to actually informing decisions.

Data Storytelling

Over the past decade, there has been a massive push for companies to leverage data. We are starting to see the Rise of Chief Data Officers. Humans are visual by nature, so we have also seen increased adoption of user-friendly visualization tools like Tableau, Qlik, Power BI, and ThoughtSpot. As the push for data democratization and access to data continues to increase, we need to ensure data is being effectively communicated and consumed – not just put into a pretty dashboard.

Enter Stage Left: Data Storytelling.

What is Data Storytelling? Data Storytelling is translating data in an easy to understand the way to help people take action on the business. There are three main components to data storytelling:

components of data story telling

The final component, the art of communication, is still on the starting block. However, by establishing a methodology and using new technologies to support us, we can realize the full value of our data, inspire action, and transform Data Storytelling from an industry buzzword into an effective boardroom practice.

Capturing Business Context

All BI and Analytics initiatives should aim to do the following: make money, save money, or protect against risk. However, only 20% of analytics insights are predicted to produce a business outcome through 2022 according to Gartner. To unlock greater value, analytics teams and business leaders must radically change the way they communicate.

Rather than just deliver report requests, analytics teams must establish a dialogue with the business to understand the context. Context includes goals, challenges, and potential decisions that the business will make. In creating this dialogue, gaps in understanding will appear. These gaps will highlight the best questions to ask of the data. Ultimately, the answers to these questions will deliver the value business leaders have been seeking.

Using Technology for Storytelling

Once the context has been established and the right questions are being asked, analytics teams, can use technology to help communicate information with a narrative to increase understanding. We use reports and data visualization tools now. Data visualization helps us see blatant patterns, but it isn’t ideal for communicating context and situational nuances. We also shouldn’t assume interpreting a visualization is easy for everyone. With the global Data Literacy rate struggling around 24%, delivering an isolated report or visualization is risky – the information can easily be misinterpreted and lead to costly decisions.

New technology, like Digital Hive’s Analytics Hub, enables companies to easily balance the art and science of data storytelling so they can communicate and understand the entire business narrative – and ultimately make the best decisions.

By bringing together reports, visualizations, and dashboards from all of your different BI tools into a single storyboard, you can mix best-of-breed technology to deliver all of the facts. Contextually, you can incorporate video, custom messaging, presentations, and data literacy support assets to complete the narrative and inspire action.

The ideal balance of data, visualization, and narrative can now be achieved without the limitations of any one tool or technology because you can use all of your tools together seamlessly.

Theia gameboard showing assets from different BI tools sitting side by side, creating a full datastory
*Storyboard storyboard incorporating visualizations from 2 different BI tools, context from Google Drive, and custom messaging.


To increase the value of analytics for the business, we must find a greater balance between the art and science of data storytelling. When looking to improve the art, we must change the way analytics teams and the business communicate context. Then, we need to ask impactful questions of our data.

Finally, when delivering our findings, we should leverage technology to support us by using data visualization and data storytelling tools to communicate insight within a narrative.

Analytics from different BI systems side by side
*Image shows an example Digital Hive gameboard/storyboard with assets from multiple BI tools sitting side by side in a single view.

Digital Hive and Data Storytelling

Digital Hive dynamically displays content from any information system seamlessly in one unified platform – providing the easiest, most efficient, and customizable experience for the delivery and consumption of data stories on the market today. Behind the scenes, Digital Hive defends users from change-disruption, tracks analytics adoption, and reduces the IT backlog.

Click here to download our e-book 7 Steps to Drive Data Literacy‘ or book a quick 30 min 1:1 demo with a Digital Hive expert!

Poor Change Management is Killing Analytics Value

Poor Change Management is Killing Analytics Value

Unless it pertains to politics or parking meters, people dislike change. Why? Change involves work, learning new skills, and the possibility of failure. This makes people uncomfortable and resistant. Maintaining the status quo is simply easier. When we look at why BI & Analytics initiatives fail, the reasons are not usually technical problems, but people problems related to change management and communication. Yet, in contrast to the average stakeholder, individuals who lead change are enthusiastic advocates and willing to put in the extra effort.

Why is this?

Champions of change understand the “Why, What, and How” of the change that is taking place.

Most stakeholders do not understand the “Why, What, and How” This is where D&A strategies are failing. If you map these 3 critical pieces of information to hot trends in Data & Analytics it is very clear. Industry challenges include:

  • Understanding the potential value of data – Rise of CDO (Data Culture)
  • Developing the skills to use data – less than 24%  (Data Literacy)
  • Using BI to make decisions – less than 35% (BI Adoption)
  • Producing a positive business outcome – less than 20% (Value)

Why, What, and How…

The “Why” must be the basis for change, and if it does not bring significant value to stakeholders, the initiative is doomed from the start.

All three of these factors are important, but the first is the most critical. To determine value, there must be strong communication between the analytics team implementing technology and the stakeholders who will use it. This is when we need to determine:

  • What are the business goals or outcomes?
  • What decisions will be made to reach these outcomes?
  • What information is needed to make decisions and act?

This channel of communication between “Analytics” and “The Business” has been historically very weak. One reason that “change management” and “communication” are the most poorly executed components of an Enterprise Data Strategy, is because Data & Analytics initiatives are championed by technologists. While data scientists might be some of the smartest in the room, technology is their passion, not people. So, technology is what they focus on and the people side of analytics gets neglected. This has led to the rise ofAnalytics Translators and other intermediaries.

The titles for this role are wide-ranging and have little consistency, but the need for an individual to lead the change management aspect of D&A initiatives is apparent. Call this person an “Analytics Translator”, a “Data Champion”, a consultant…whatever gets the job done effectively.

The Solution

This is the hard part. Every company has unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. There are a number of things to consider when improving the change management aspect of your Enterprise Data Strategy or Digital Transformation effort in addition to a focus on the above:

  1. Do you have a clear leader and advocate for D&A on the executive team? Hiring a CDO is now a must.
  2. How does your analytics team work together and communicate with the rest of the business? Does your company have a dedicated analytics team or a (CoE) Center of Excellence? Should your company have a centralized or decentralized analytics team?
  3. Do you have dedicated individuals responsible for developing Data Culture, Data Literacy, and driving adoption? This is a full-time job. Hire for it.
  4. Is there a focus on business outcomes first and technology second?

We believe establishing an Enterprise Analytics Hub helps solve many of the challenges related to Data & Analytics change management. By centralizing all BI content in a single location and user-experience, you establish a foundation from which to build a data culture, communicate with end-users and receive feedback on business needs. You can also launch embedded data literacy campaigns and increase BI adoption by providing a single point of entry, and insulate end-users from the disruption that comes with the introduction of new tools and sunsetting of legacy systems.

BI Consolidation is Almost Impossible

BI Consolidation is Almost Impossible

750 million people use it daily and many use it as their primary business intelligence tool. You might find this surprising if you consider Excel was invented in the 1980s, nearly 40 years ago, but, so were Business Objects (SAP), Microstrategy, Hyperion (Oracle), and Cognos (IBM). And guess what? Those tools are the foundation for most of the Fortune 1000’s data strategy.

Has your company recently implemented Tableau, Qlik, or Power BI? Well, even those tools are now between 10 and 30 years old! Not to mention, they probably co-exist in your company with one of the other BI tools I mentioned.

Let’s fast forward. Arguably, the hottest analytics company on the market right now is ThoughtSpot. With their “Search and AI-driven capabilities, they are at the cutting edge. If you have implemented ThoughtSpot, I am 99% certain it co-exists alongside AT LEAST one of the aforementioned BI tools.

 “What’s the point, Spencer?”

Well, let’s tally up the number of BI tools you have. You certainly use Excel, most likely have a legacy BI tool like SAP, Oracle, or IBM and there is a good chance you’ve introduced a 2nd generation data viz tool like Tableau or Power BI. If you are cutting edge, you might also have an augmented analytics tool like ThoughtSpot.

So you probably have 3 BI tools, if not more. Our thought exercise is supported by research from Gartner and Forrester, as well as an informal survey I conducted on LinkedIn, and I haven’t even touched on tools with analytics capabilities like Salesforce.

The point I am trying to make is that it’s very hard to keep up with innovation, resulting in the co-existence of many multi-generational analytics tools. Enterprise companies are simply too big and move too slow to keep pace while simultaneously consolidating technology to a single platform.

“Who cares? What’s the problem?”

Having multiple BI tools makes it hard to use analytics and make decisions. All of your end-users are concerned with analytics tools, instead of DECISION MAKING. This creates silos of BI assets, making it difficult to find information, hard to drive BI adoption, impossible to establish data governance, consistency, or ease of use. This is a huge obstacle to establishing a strong data culture or effectively executing a change management strategy. To put it plainly, it makes things difficult. People don’t like difficult. People like easy. People like fast.

“What is the solution?”

I’m glad you asked! ? The solution is Digital Hive. Digital Hive is “Your Intelligent Enterprise Portal” that surfaces and recommends analytics in a personalized experience.

Creating a Gameboard with a Purpose

Creating a Gameboard with a Purpose

ThoughtSpot Beyond 2019 surpassed all expectations! With keynotes from top industry leaders, an amazing product roadmap for 2020, ample networking opportunities with delegates from some of the most exciting companies on the planet… it’s safe to say Beyond 2019 was a grand slam – easily one of the most valuable analytics events of the year. 

Coming off the back of the Digital Hive (then names Theia) and ThoughtSpot technology partnership announcement (read more), we wanted to highlight the value of using embedded analytics, using ThoughtSpot inside of Digital Hive.

With the Major League Baseball World Series underway, Digital Hive (DH) brought a fully equipped pitching cage (you couldn’t miss it) to test the pitching speeds of the willing delegates who dared to give it a go. The results were surprising and did not disappoint!

We collected data on the speed of each pitch, top speed, and the average pitching speed, funnelled into ThoughtSpot within DH. Here we could rank and display each delegate’s performance back out to the conference, in real-time, and find out who had the strongest arm.

We then augmented the results by adding professional baseball data into DH Analytics Hub from other BI tools (PowerBI and Tableau), YouTube and other custom RSS feeds. This way, we could show the whole story through a single Gameboard.

  1. Kevin Clarke – Progressive Leasing (76MPH)
  2. Brandon Westmoreland – ALSAC  St. Jude (68MPH)
  3. George Howard – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (64MPH)

Go2Insight and BEYOND!

Go2Insight and BEYOND!

By Darren Williams, Head of MI and Data, Clarity.

I’ve been in the travel industry a long time, long enough to see the Wright Brothers make their first flight (Not who you’re thinking, I mean Steve and Jim Wright from accounts on their first business trip to visit our Tralee office). Anyway, for as long as I’ve been in business travel, I’ve been a techie and self-professed geek for a far greater time. Alongside music, it’s my biggest passion and I’m incredibly lucky that my company, Clarity (we’ll get back to them later), and ThoughtSpot let me talk about it, especially to an audience.

So, a little while ago Theia contacted me to ask if I would like to join them in Dallas and speak at the 2019 ThoughtSpot Beyond Conference. To set the scene a little here, the other thing that is worth knowing about yours truly is that since the age of 10 (and we’ve already covered that I’m old) I have been a Cowboys fan. The football team, not guys in boots and hats.

The reason I was asked is because in my role as Head of MI and Data for Clarity, a global travel management company, I was at the forefront of integrating ThoughtSpot and Theia into our MI and reporting tool, Go2Insight. This has been a literal game-changer for my industry, which has previously been a mecca for scheduled reports and good old excel files. The ability to work with data to make it interesting and engaging, has been incredible and I’m beyond (BEYOND!) excited to tell you about what we have in store for the future.

I can’t wait to attend the conference and meet great minds with similar interests in data. To share ideas on how to get the most out of ThoughtSpot and hear how people in other industries are changing the game through its use. I’ll also be completely honest and say I’m equally looking forward to visiting the Theia stand to see the surprise they have for attendees!

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been invited to the event as a guest of Theia, a company that has been instrumental in helping me to deliver Go2Insight. If you’re in attendance please come and speak to me about our amazing technology, my love for music and Star Wars or the recent performances of the Dallas Cowboys.

Either way, I look forward to seeing you at Beyond!

To learn more, click here and download the Clarity Case Study by our UK Partner, Assimil8.

Delivering Actionable Business Value with Theia

Delivering Actionable Business Value with Theia

Theia is excited to sponsor the BCBS IM Symposium for the second year in a row! Our aim is to help more Plans, Employer Groups, and members find actionable business value using Theia’s Analytics Hub. 

Finding valuable information can be time consuming and difficult when insights are locked up across many BI solutions. It also creates siloed pictures of the business and increases IT costs. 

Can you think of all the systems you have to log in to? From standard reporting in tools like IBM Cognos and Epic, to data visualization in Tableau or Power BI, to content management in Sharepoint – having multiple solutions is necessary to get the job done, however, it’s important to remember that this also creates a challenge.

How do we solve this challenge for you and your user community?

Theia’s Analytics Hub solves this challenge by bringing all of your information assets into a single location with one intuitive user-experience, regardless of technology.

Quickly search and find reports, documents, dashboards, or visualizations across systems in the Analytics Catalog. Create interactive data stories using reports, visualizations and even video, from different tools with Theia’s Gameboards. Bring clarity, increased understanding and speed to everyone who should be making data-driven decisions. 

With Theia’s Analytics Hub, the tools aren’t important, just the insights.

We look forward to seeing everyone in Boise!

For more information on Theia, contact [email protected].