One of the most important things to understand about the data that your business is creating is that you’re talking about so much more than just a collection of files sitting on a hard drive somewhere.
Contained within that data is the context and insight you need to not only understand how far your organization has come, but also to better predict where it might be headed. It holds the key to better understanding your target audience, all so that you can serve them in a far more effective way than ever. It has what you need to understand everything you’ve already worked so hard to build on a fundamental level, thus allowing you to reinforce and strengthen your position moving forward.
In other words, hidden inside that data is a story — and it’s one that absolutely needs to be told.
Data storytelling itself can take many forms — from simple visualizations to complicated investigative pieces and everything in between. But regardless of the exact shape data storytelling takes, the end result is clear — it’s an opportunity to better inform and persuade audiences on just about any topic that you can think of.
Using data to tell stories is one of the best chances you have to engage with key audiences like never before. Thankfully, getting to this point isn’t nearly as difficult as one might think. You just need to keep a few key things in mind along the way.
The Art of Data Storytelling: Breaking Things Down
One of the major reasons why data storytelling is so effective ultimately comes down to the power of stories themselves.
Not only are stories inherently memorable, but they’re also essential to help us process the world around us. Stories help people detect patterns, understand context, and derive meaning from experiences in a way that they may not otherwise be able to. They help us focus on key information and remember it for far longer than we otherwise would.
But within the context of your business, it’s important to understand that the types of data professionals you’re likely working with don’t necessarily get training related to storytelling. They understand how to help you work with your data, but they lack the skills needed to do so more effectively than ever. Therefore, building up your data storytelling skills and empowering those professionals becomes one of the best chances you have to do all of this and more.
Putting Data Storytelling to Work for You
In an effort to empower your own data storytelling efforts, you need to first understand more about the core elements of data stories.
The first, obviously, is the data itself. This means that as your storytelling efforts begin, you need to think about what data you should include for the best results. This means having not only an understanding of your data but also the context of that information, the quality and even the metadata. Familiarizing yourself with the core fundamentals of this data will give you everything you need to build a better story from here.
Speaking of the story, the next most important element that you’ll want to focus on is the narrative itself. What, exactly, are you trying to say with your data? What is your data trying to say to you?
Whether you’re attempting to summarize data, make comparisons between two or more ideas, or even highlight outliers, it doesn’t actually matter — you need to understand the goal of your data story before you can begin to tell it in the most effective way. Start with the main idea that you’re trying to get across and then work your way back to the data, choosing those sources that support the narrative as it unfolds.
Finally, you have the technique of data visualization — something that can help tell your story in a natural and organic way. Human beings are visual learners — they always have been, and they always will be. When information is presented to us visually, we don’t just understand it better — we also remember it for far longer, too.
That’s why data visualization is another crucial element of your data storytelling efforts. By showing, not telling, you make it easier to get your point across in a way that resonates with your audience.
But in the end, you can’t forget to focus on the most important element of all: your audience. By taking the time at the beginning of this process to define who your audience actually is, you put yourself in the best position to get the right story in front of them at exactly the right time.
The sheer volume of information being created on a daily basis by the average business is staggering. In fact, it’s been estimated that more data has been created in the last two years alone than in the entirety of human history leading up to that point. Contained inside that data is the insight that officials need to make better and more informed decisions about where their company is headed — but this can be a difficult point to get to when wading through all that data becomes an overwhelming uphill battle.
This is also one of the major reasons why metadata is so important. At its core, the term metadata refers to a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. In other words, it’s that brief description you write or those keywords that you use to quickly determine what is in a document before you open it. Metadata is incredibly useful if used properly — but that, too, becomes a challenge as an enterprise grows in scope and scale.
In no uncertain terms: the information that businesses create is ultimately only as useful as the metadata attached to it for categorization purposes. Without the right metadata structure in place, critical insight and other information is hard to find on the best of days. Not only that, but this creates additional problems like data being classified improperly, data that lacks a clear relationship to similar important data, a system that isn’t set up to support process-driven workflows, and more.
From that perspective, metadata is absolutely as important as the data itself. This is true for a number of reasons, all of which are worth exploring.
Maybe the biggest reason why metadata is so important comes down to the primary role it’s supposed to play. You’re classifying important insights so that you can understand what the content actually is, rather than just what it is named or where it’s located. In fact, when skipping out on the metadata, it’s like leaving money on the table.
Think about it within the context of the metadata attached to song files on popular music services like Pandora, Spotify, or iTunes. Here, you get more than just a file name when you search. You get the name of the artist. You get the genre of music the song falls into. You get the name of the album, the year it was published, related songs from the same or similar artists, and more.
Without all of this metadata, you would just have a massive cesspool of millions of songs and no way to find the ones you actually want. If you were looking for that great song that you always loved hearing on the radio but only knew it by the (incorrect) name Teenage Wasteland, you’re going to have a really difficult time finding what you’re looking for. But if you know anything else about it — like the fact that it was recorded by The Who and appeared on the album Who’s Next, it would be a matter of seconds before you found your treasure Baba O’Riley, the first track on the album and one of the band’s biggest hits of all-time.
Within the context of your business, metadata functions in much the same way. If you know even a little bit about what you need, or how it’s related to something else, you can always find what you’re looking for. But without that underlying metadata structure, you’re really looking at little more than countless files sitting on a hard drive somewhere that you don’t really know how to extract value from. Once that information has been “located” using the metadata, that effort comes with the added benefit of making that data even easier to find later.
Another one of the major reasons why metadata is so important is because you can use it to easily relate a particular file to other essential information. With the right information management platform at the heart of your efforts, even if data is stored in different data sources, you can still find absolutely everything you need relating to a project or another file just by using the metadata itself. Say a project has ten important files associated with it, all of which are spread out among network hard drives, Salesforce, SharePoint, OneDrive, and similar services. You either need to know exactly what is stored where and go looking for it every time. With a document management solution like M-Files, you can use the metadata to gain access to what you need instantly.
But really, the major benefit that metadata brings to the table involves how it impacts the way you and your employees are able to complete important tasks on a daily basis.
If metadata is collated across the enterprise by way of an overarching information management system, it enables other important features — like workflows to automate business processes and dynamic custom permissions for information security. So not only do you have to spend less time (and less money) on information security and worrying about critical information falling into the wrong hands, but manual, repetitive business processes can be automated. This saves a tremendous amount of time for your average employee, as every minute they’re NOT spending trying to locate an important file is a minute they’re spending actually acting on the important information inside. This in turn brings with it the most important benefit of all: unlocking the maximum productivity potential of your entire workforce, all while allowing them to work smarter, not harder, along the way.