Democratizing insights derived from data

IN Big Data Data Science General — 21 January, 2014

What used to be scarce or a privilege to some, is omnipresent today. Data is everywhere. We consume data, we create data, machines create data… Governments make data publicly available. More data is available to more people than ever before. So, data is not the problem.

However, data does not equal knowledge. Tables with numbers are not something humans naturally connect with. And, just because hordes of business users accepted the pain as a necessary evil, it still doesn’t make it right.

Our creative side of the brain is much more capable of grasping context, seeing patterns and getting the big picture. The power of data is not the data itself. It is the art of telling stories with the data.  So, it is no surprise that a new generation of storytellers has emerged and proves that visualizing data and telling stories with it bares amazing potential. They are people you find at “experiences” rather than conferences, where they share their passion and exhibit endurance needed to turn raw data into something aesthetically beautiful and eye opening at the same time. Real stories, based on real data give these people the energy to stick through the long process of finding and digging through numbers. They artfully visualize numbers, put them into narratives to make them stick. Stories give meaning and emotion to numbers.

To illustrate this, have a look at these two visualizations by Moritz Stefaner: Remixing Hans Rosling

How do fertility and life expectancy relate to each other?

 

 “It is fascinating to see how Vietnam (green) is today on the same level as the US (red) in 1980 with respect to the fertility rate and life expectancy. Also note how the dip in Botswana's curve reflects the drastic effects of AIDS in this country in the 1980s.” – Moritz Stefaner http:/ /moritz.stefaner.eu/projects/remixing-rosling/ “It is fascinating to see how Vietnam (green) is today on the same level as the US (red) in 1980 with respect to the fertility rate and life expectancy. Also note how the dip in Botswana's curve reflects the drastic effects of AIDS in this country in the 1980s.” – Moritz Stefaner
http:/ /moritz.stefaner.eu/projects/remixing-rosling/

 How does child mortality develop between 1800 and 2000?

 

“This chart dramatically shows how Bangladesh manages to reduce its child mortality with a rate faster than Sweden ever did. In the background, the mortality rates of all countries are plotted in light grey lines, in order to provide a sense of the density and distribution of the data over the years. Note how measurements seem to fluctuate strongly before the 1950s. – Moritz Stefaner http:/ /moritz.stefaner.eu/projects/remixing-rosling/ “This chart dramatically shows how Bangladesh manages to reduce its child mortality with a rate faster than Sweden ever did. In the background, the mortality rates of all countries are plotted in light grey lines, in order to provide a sense of the density and distribution of the data over the years. Note how measurements seem to fluctuate strongly before the 1950s. – Moritz Stefaner http:/ /moritz.stefaner.eu/projects/remixing-rosling/

If we experience the power of visualizing data in other contexts, why is it that many businesses still look at spread sheets the size of wallpapers?

 Analysts keep pushing big data. They publish loads of whitepapers and webcasts about how to create business value from it. However, businesses can’t seem to catch up with the "free" world of data wranglers, envisionators, storytellers and people with passion for finding patters.

 Is it a combination of corporate cultures bearing obstacles for grass roots movements, to unearth the gems hidden within the data jungle?

Isolated departments, common in many corporations, are not fit for tackling such interdisciplinary challenges, where data scientists, storyteller, business experts and designers need to work hand in hand.

 Jake Porway’s TEDx presentation talks about this same kind of separation, and how it keeps us from living in a better world. That was the reason he founded DataKind – which brings together people with the skills to work with data with those having connections to the causes and governments that own the data.

 Watch this 16 mins video of Jake Porway’s the TEDx Montreal talk and find out what a data-driven society means and what it takes to get there.

So, while most business still work on overcoming these challenges, and discuss ownership of data, security issues, and more, the world moves on in a rapid pace. Consumers flock to stores to buy smart accessories that capture data in order to quantify themselves. Already, early adopters are used to looking at our sleep pattern, activity logs or moods visualized in pretty, easy to grasp charts and information tidbits, enabling us to create our personal data stories and sharing them with others.

 The same way web 2.0 democratized participation and set user experience standards businesses could not afford to ignore, these examples show where we are headed. Trying to extract stories from massive spreadsheets might soon fade, as data visualizations penetrate the business world.

 Another example of putting power into peoples' hands is Google's Public Data Explorer. It is free and it is changing the world by democratizing understanding of public data with ease. It is changing the way we look at data – as an invitation to explore.

 This interactive visualization lets you explore demographics data of Germany. You can derive your own insights by exploring for example geographic dimensions in regards to age or nationality.  (http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d4rmk8155rgg0_#!ctype=m&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=s&met_s=population&fdim_s=age:alt030&scale_s=lin&ind_s=false&idim=state:08:11:09:12:04:02:06:03:13:05:07:10:14:15:01:16&ifdim=state&hl=en_US&dl=en_US&ind=false

This interactive visualization lets you explore demographics data of Germany. You can derive your own insights by exploring for example geographic dimensions in regards to age or nationality.

The ability to visualize data, explore it, and to tell stories that resonate with people, is the entry ticket to the future of understanding business.

  “I know that I can never finish everything (information / data overload) that’s why is even more important to know where to look at first (data visualization)” – from an interview with a stock manager at a German retailer.

 As User Experience Designers at Blue Yonder it is our job to listen to what users say. That is why we create data-driven apps, to help business users make informed and actionable decisions.

 This is how Forward Demand by Blue Yonder is designed to help demand planners and stock managers by visualizing, not only sales and forecasts, but also contextual information such as promotions, prices, temperature*, or probability of rain*. (*not implemented, yet).This is how Forward Demand by Blue Yonder is designed to help demand planners and stock managers by visualizing, not only sales and forecasts, but also contextual information such as promotions, prices, temperature*, or probability of rain*. (*not implemented, yet).

 We understand that to make our customers successful,  we need to create an environment at Blue Yonder without artificial borders, but with room to explore. A culture that nurtures the passion for changing how business decisions are made.

 Together we create data- driven apps, which provide entry ways to exploration, therefore democratizing the power of deriving insights from  business data. Apps that visualize data, to enable users to see the stories.

Sandra Nieves Sandra Nieves

Sandra Nieves is team lead of the user experience team at Blue Yonder. She has many years of experience in the fields of visual design, design research and user experience design. She is an expert in the design thinking process and created solutions in numerous projects, with the help of this method.