Storytelling Drives Usefulness in Business Intelligence


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Ease of Use in BI serves only the operator, not the organization. Instead, we introduce a concept of Ease of Usefulness and describe what BI lack. Propagating the results of analytics requires nee skills in storytelling and metaphor

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Storytelling Drives Usefulness in Business Intelligence

  1. 1. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence     Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in   Business  Intelligence           By  Neil  Raden   Hired  Brains,  Inc.   December 2013   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved     1    
  2. 2. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   2       Table  of  Contents     Executive  Summary  ................................................................................................................  1   Ease  of  use  ..................................................................................................................................  4   Relevance  and  Understanding  ......................................................................................................  7   Going  From  One  to  Many:  Storytelling  .............................................................................  9   Metaphor  ...........................................................................................................................................  12   Using  Storytelling  with  Visual  Analysis  ..................................................................................  13   Conclusion  ...............................................................................................................................  16   ABOUT  THE  AUTHOR  ..........................................................................................................  18   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  3. 3. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   1       Executive  Summary   “The  real  voyage  of  discovery  consists  not  in  seeking  new  landscapes,  but  in  having   new  eyes.”  Marcel  Proust       Any  individual  exploration  or  examination  of  the  data  must  be  easily  conducted  and   shared,  communicated  and  subject  to  group  collaboration  and  consensus  that   characterizes  decision-­‐making  in  most  cases.  Ease  of  use  has  to  be  evaluated  in  a   broader  context  of  “ease  of  usefulness”  to  the  audience  of  stakeholders,  not  a  single   set  of  eyes.  A  key  competency  for  moving  analysis  from  the  frontal  lobes  of  an   analyst  to  other  principals  in  the  process  is  the  ability  to  tell  a  story  with  data.       Data  Discovery  is  a  recent  innovation  in  Business  Intelligence  that  can  bypass  the   structure  of  a  data  warehouse  and  allow  people  to  create  their  own  viewpoints  by   assembling  analyses  and  visualizations,  animating  them  and  sharing  them.         While  performance  and  “ease  of  use”  are  necessary  qualities  in  this  field,  they  are  far   from  sufficient.  There  is  no  measure  for  ease  of  use,  except  the  one  that  shows  in   low  adoption  rates.    A  colorful  GUI  does  not  perform  if  the  underlying  actions  are   not  understood  clearly  by  the  user.  Tools  must  be  relevant  to  the  work  that  people   do  (not  additive  or  complementary).  The  underlying  data,  models  and  assumptions   must  be  understood.       In  this  paper,  we  examine  three  concepts  that  are  needed  to  succeed:     • A  realistic  model  of  “ease  of  use”   • A  needed  competency  to  weave  a  story  from  data  as  a  means  to  achieve   positive  results  from  analytical  work   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  4. 4. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   2       • Examining  the  benefit  derived  when  people  are  able  to  ask  questions  as   needed   Background     Numerous  names  have  been  used  to  describe  the  technology  and  methods  that   allow  people  to  draw  insight  from  various  sources  of  data:  decision  support   systems,  business  intelligence,  business  analytics,  predictive  analytics  and  business   discovery.  For  the  sake  of  brevity,  we  refer  to  this  class  of  technology  as  business   intelligence  or  BI.  It  is  clearly  an  industry  segment  with  fuzzy  edges.  In  addition,  the   names  are  somewhat  misleading  as,  in  fact,  these  approaches  are  used  more  widely   than  just  for  business:  in  science,  government,  non-­‐profit  sectors  and  others.       Over  thirty  years  or  so,  much  that  has  been  written  about  these  subjects  focused  on   technology,  features  and  poorly  defined  aspects  such  as  performance  and  ease  of   use.  Useful  to  a  point,  these  writings  often  avoid  the  well-­‐documented  fact  that   uptake  of  BI  in  organizations  is  historically  less  than  20%,  often  much  less.  To   remedy  this,  various  initiatives  take  place  by  BI  vendors  to  achieve  “pervasive  BI”   but  except  in  rare  cases,  it  does  not  achieve  the  objective.  The  blame  is  usually   placed  on  not  enough  executive  support  or  on  IT  control  that  fails  to  meet  the  needs   of  the  expected  audience.  What  is  rarely  addressed  is  that  people  in  organizations   make  a  rational  decision  to  apply  other  techniques.  Spreadsheets  are  the  most   common  course,  but  from  an  organizational  point  of  view,  they  are  not  an  optimal   solution.     The  emergence  of  e-­‐Business  and  web-­‐oriented  applications  surfaced  an   appreciation  for  user  “experience”  and  “engagement,”  very  different  from  the   engineering  and  “human  factors”  approach  of  user  interface  design  of  enterprise   systems.  BI  vendors  “ported”  their  user-­‐facing  applications  to  web-­‐based  interfaces,   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  5. 5. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   3       but  unfortunately,  the  underlying  models  remained  the  same.  A  new  interface  did   not  bring  more  “experience”  or  “engagement.”  On  the  contrary,  they  were  the  same   old  tools  in  a  new  wrapper  which  failed  to  engage  the  wider  audience  more   accustomed  to  true  web-­‐based  applications  designed  for  the  web.     What  had  been  lacking  in  the  overall  discourse  about  BI  is  how  can  people  make  use   of  the  tools  effectively,  regardless  of  the  technology.  For  example,  what  exactly  is   needed  for  people  to  not  only  be  informed  by  these  systems,  through  their  own   efforts  or  presentation  of  material  from  others,  but  to  use  the  insight  to  make  well-­‐ informed  and  actionable  decisions?  Most  people  who  are  not  technologists  are   unimpressed  with  features;  they  are  interested  in  finding  ways  to  be  more  effective.   It  isn’t  automatic.       In  short,  ease  of  use  on  an  individual  level  pales  in  importance  to  how  well  a  given   application  contributes  to  the  overall  ease  of  use  of  the  group.  While  any  BI  system   must  be  engaging,  performant,  fault  tolerant  and  helpful,  findings  have  to  be   communicated  and  explained  to  others.  Making  copies,  pointing  at  a  screen  and   developing  presentations  are  of  limited  use..     The  most  effective  method  for  communicating  ideas  and  insights  to  others,  and  making   them  stick,  is  the  needed  competence  of  telling  a  story  with  data.     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  6. 6. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   4       Ease  of  use       Even  on  an  individual  basis,  ease  of  use  is  a  pretty  complex  idea.  Some  things  just   aren’t  easy.  Analyzing  data,  navigating  through  it,  looking  for  patterns,  choosing  the   right  visual  display  –  no  matter  how  much  assistance  a  product  can  provide,  analysis   still  requires  some  effort.  For  those  who  find  exerting  this  kind  of  effort  tedious,   ease  of  use  is  not  acknowledged.    But  for  those  so  inclined,  tools  that  handle  the   tedious,  repetitive  and  obvious  work  are  considered  easy  to  use.       For  a  long  time,  it  was  assumed  that  ease  of  use  was  not  an  issue  for  those  involved   in  the  production  of  information  technology:  programmers,  designers,  analysts,  etc.   The  understanding  was  that  they  were  so  conversant  in  their  cryptic  (or  verbose)   languages,  scripts  and  configurations,  that  any  attempt  to  make  it  easier  to  use  was   a  sort  of  affront  to  their  sensibilities.  That  assumption  was  wrong.  With  the   development  of  IDE’s  (Integrated  Development  Environments),  Version  Control,   Higher-­‐Level  Languages  and  a  host  of  other  innovations,  the  process  of  creating  and   maintaining  systems  became  much  easier,  not  necessarily  with  the  uses  of  GUI  and   mouse  and  colors  and  buttons,  but  by  fundamentally  changing  and  streamlining  the   way  developers  work.    Much  of  development  these  days  is  configuration  of  applets,   reliance  on  tools  such  as  relational  databases  and  programming  in  object-­‐oriented   or  even  functional  languages.  Even  more  importantly,  these  tools  it  made  it   considerably  easier  for  large  projects  to  spread  across  groups,  or  even  oceans,  not   only  for  development,  but  for  maintenance  and  enhancement  too.     Unfortunately,  much  of  what  passes  for  ease  of  use  on  the  user  (or  analytical)  side   has  not  addressed  a  fundamental  change  in  the  operation  of  business  intelligence.   It’s  been  focused  on  simplifying  things  that  aren’t  simple,  masking  complexity  and   providing  a  pleasing  interface  (at  best)  to  the  individual  using  the  system.    For   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  7. 7. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   5       example,  a  major  research  report  summed  up  ease  of  use  for  Business  Intelligence   as  follows:     The  solution  is  easy  to  use  when:     • It  is  familiar  because  it  works  as  expected  and  is  similar  to  another  tool  with   which  a  user  has  experience.     • It  takes  less  time  and  fewer  clicks  to  accomplish  the  ultimate  goal.  Routine   tasks  may  be  automated  and  personalized.   • It  is  intuitive  and  obvious  in  how  a  task  can  best  be  performed.     From  Ease  of  Use  and  Interface  Appeal  in  Business  Intelligence  Tools   By  Cindi  Howson,  BiScorecard     This  one-­‐person-­‐at-­‐a-­‐time  concept  of  ease  of  use  has  not  addressed  the  central  issue   –  how  do  you  change  the  way  analytical  work  is  done  in  an  organization?       How  do  you  get  beyond  one  person  and  a  display  of  information,  to  a  seamless   environment  where  analyses,  ideas  and  conclusions  are  shared?       Masking  complicated  requests  with  pleasing  interfaces  doesn’t  make  them  easier.  In   fact,  it  often  does  just  the  opposite.  Those  who  couldn’t  learn  the  lower  level   interface,  such  as  a  scripting  language,  still  can’t  and  those  who  could  learn  the   lower-­‐level  interface  often  find  the  “helpful”  interface  an  impediment.  The  way  to   make  something  complicated  easy  to  use  is  to  make  it  less  complicated.     For  instance,  in  business  discovery  software  like  Tableau  (among  others),  people   seeking  information  usually  start  with  what  they  easily  grasp  then  incrementally   explore,  like  feeling  for  the  first  step  in  the  dark  with  your  foot,  then  moving  more   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  8. 8. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   6       surely  with  subsequent  ones1.  But  it  is  too  easy  for  BI  to  complicate  and  hinder  this   process  by  forcing  the  driver  to  make  all  the  decisions  in  detail  with  each  step   instead  of  anticipating  what  they  might  be,  learning  from  the  person’s  habits.  Ten   years  ago  this  may  have  seemed  like  a  dream,  but  it  is  quite  common  in  customer-­‐ focused  applications  today,  but  BI  has  trailed.       To  illustrate  the  gap  between  what  is  perceived  as  ease  of  use,  and  the  reality,   consider  a  vacuum  sweeper:   Presumed  ease  of  use   A  robotic  vacuum  cleaner  than  runs  on  its  own,  vacuuming   the  floor  in  an  unattended  way.     Actual  Experience   The  small  bag  has  to  be  changed  frequently,  doesn’t   thoroughly  vacuum  completely  and  usually  requires  bringing   out  the  conventional  sweeper  to  finish  the  job   Actual  Ease  of  Use   A  sweeper  with  exceptional  suction  that  vacuums  in  one   sweep  and  has  an  easy  to  empty  canister  with  no  bag.     Ease  of  use  has  to  be  couched  in  terms  of  doing  the  whole  job.  Ease  of  use  first  and   foremost  requires  that  BI  be  useful  to  people  and  is  relevant  to  the  work  they  do.  It   must  promote  understanding  through  shared  ideas  and  discussion.       With  respect  to  BI,  a  proper  test  of  ease  of  use  has  to  include:   • Obviously,  elements  of  individual  ease  of  use,  especially  an  interface  that   exposes  functionality  in  a  way  that  is  understandable   • Performance  cannot  be  separated  from  ease  of  use;  it’s  a  “right  now”  world   today   • It  is  not  sufficient  for  BI  to  inform  an  analyst;  being  informed  does  not   necessarily  lead  to  better  decisions,  or  even  making  them                                                                                                                   1  This  statement  is  a  metaphor.  Its  use  in  storytelling  is  explained  in  a  further  section   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  9. 9. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   7       Measures  of  ease  of  use  are  irrelevant.  All  that  matters  are  that  people  use  the  tools   productively.  They  vote  with  their  time  and  this  really  a  bullet  point   under  that  heading?     Relevance  and  Understanding     What  does  it  mean  for  a  BI  environment  to  be  relevant?    Do  the  tools  and   information  provide  a  degree  of  utility  great  enough  to  warrant  modifying  your   work  processes  to  incorporate  them?  For  the  most  part,  BI  in  general  has  not.  This   of  course  begs  the  question,  “Why  are  these  efforts  not  relevant?”  The  irritating   refrain  from  past  Presidential  elections,  “Are  you  better  off  now  than  you  were  four   years  ago,”  is  a  good  metaphor2.  Has  the  implementation  of  your  analytical   environment,  typically  a  data  warehouse  and/or  data  marts  plus  a  BI  tool  made   things  better?  Is  your  organization  more  effective?  Are  you  making  better  decisions?   Do  you  have  a  better  grasp  on  the  elements  that  drive  your  success?       One  element  that  is  prominent  in  our  research  is  understandability.  One  shouldn’t   confuse  this  with  Ease  of  Use.  People  don’t  just  float  out  of  their  smokestacks,  they   have  to  be  rescued.  What  is  understandable  to  a  data  modeler  is  not  necessarily   understandable  to  anyone  else.  In  many  cases,  people  are  staring  at  a  schema  that  is   loaded  with  relational  and/or  multidimensional  terms,  like  keys,  joins,  dimensions,   attributes  and  slices.       In  her  landmark  book,  “In  the  Age  of  the  Smart  Machine,”  3  a  volume  that  no   practitioner  in  this  business  should  leave  unread,  Shoshanah  Zuboff  offers  some                                                                                                                   2  ibid   3  Shoshana  Zuboff,  In  the  Age  of  the  Smart  Machine:  The  Future  of  Work  and  Power,   (New  York:  Basic  Books,  1988)  391-­‐392   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  10. 10. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   8       insight  into  the  relationship  between  learning  and  control  in  organizations:     “A  commitment  to  intellective  skill  development  is  likely  to  be  hampered  when  an   organization’s  division  of  labor  continuously  replenishes  the  felt  necessity  of  imperative   control.  Managers  who  prove  and  defend  their  own  legitimacy  do  not  easily  share  knowledge   or  engage  in  inquiry.  Workers  who  feel  the  requirements  of  subordinates  are  not   enthusiastic  learners.  New  roles  cannot  emerge  without  the  structures  to  support  them.  If   managers  are  to  alter  their  behavior,  then  the  methods  of  evaluation  and  reward  that   encourage  them  to  do  so  must  be  put  in  place.  If  employees  are  to  learn  to  operate  in  new   ways  and  to  broaden  their  contribution  to  the  life  of  the  business,  then  career  ladders  and   reward  systems  reflecting  that  change  must  be  designed.  In  this  context,  access  to   information  is  critically  important;  the  structure  of  access  to  information  expresses  the   organization’s  underlying  conception  of  authority.”     The  implications  are  clear:  We  cannot  force  success  with  BI  without  a  desire  and   commitment  on  the  part  of  the  organization  to  change  and  improve  the  flow  of   information,  the  optimization  of  work  processes  and  the  breakdown  of  artificial   barriers  that  serve  certain  participants,  but  not  the  organization  as  a  whole.  This  is  a   much  greater  challenge  than  “change  management,”  a  nebulous  term  that  is  applied   with  no  rigor.     Despite  our  best  efforts,  all  too  often,  projects  fail  to  reach  their  goals  for  reasons   that  are  not  at  all  obvious.  It’s  easy  to  pinpoint  the  usual  suspects,  such  as  mid-­‐ project  organization  realignment  and  killer  politics,  our  inability  as  consultants  to   convince  our  clients  that  certain  decisions  are  sub-­‐optimal  and  a  host  of  others,  well   documented  in  the  literature  (“Ten  Mistakes  to  Avoid…”).  But  there  are  also  many   cases  where  everything  goes  well,  yet  the  initiative  never  gets  traction  in  the   organization,  penetration  stays  at  a  very  low  level  and  the  ROI  projections  are  not   met.  In  many  of  those  cases,  this  failure  to  thrive  has  been  something  of  mystery.       Part  of  the  answer  is  that,  despite  good  intentions,  it  may  not  be  possible  in  some   organizations  to  make  BI  relevant  without  a  concerted  effort  to  help  people  change   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  11. 11. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   9       their  habits.  Developing  a  spreadsheet  or  personal  database  is  a  singular  effort  and   in  those  organizations  described  by  Zuboff  above,  the  collaboration  needed  to  make   BI  successful  is  just  not  possible.  A  collection  of  singular  efforts,  inefficient  and   potentially  inaccurate  as  it  is,  simply  has  a  greater  chance  of  being  used  as  it  skirts   the  lines  of  authority  and  control.  Another  less  ominous,  but  still  dysfunctional   problem,  is  that  is  it  simply  too  difficult  to  actually  build  models  in  most  BI  tools,   which  are  primarily  designed  for  ad  hoc  query  and  analysis  using  pre-­‐built   relationships.       So  the  first  step  is  in  our  court,  as  an  industry,  to  learn  how  to  bundle  the   appropriate  organizational  transformations  into  the  technology  implementation.   But  there  is  more.  Our  offerings  must  be  more  aligned  with  the  actual  work  that   people  do.     Going  From  One  to  Many:  Storytelling     Before  humans  knew  how  to  write,  probably  before  they  even  had  language,  the   means  for  passing  wisdom  from  one  person  or  one  generation  to  the  next  was   storytelling.  Most  likely  our  brains  are  wired  to  respond  to  and  retain  stories   (though,  oddly,  not  necessarily  proficient  at  telling  them).  Nevertheless,  it  remains   perhaps  our  most  powerful  tool  of  communication.  To  put  it  bluntly,  people  are   generally  more  interested  in  a  story  than  in  the  storyteller.    If  you  want  to  get  your   point  across,  you  need  to  learn  how  to  condense  the  data  into  a  good  story.       But  how  do  you  tell  a  story  that  can  convince  and  compel?     To  begin  a  discussion  of  telling  a  story  with  data,  it’s  a  good  idea  to  start  with  a   (real)  story.  This  happened  in  the  early  days  of  OLAP  technology:     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  12. 12. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   10       Consultant:  So  we’ve  built  this  facility  for  you  so  that  you  can  align  promotional   spend  with  results  using  time  series  analysis.  You  navigate  on  any  of  the   dimensions,  or  pivots,  aggregating,  filtering  or  even  drilling  into  detail  in  this  point-­‐ and-­‐click  interface.    You  have  the  facility,  when  you’re  ready,  to  perform  some   ARIMA  analysis  to  do  some  forecasting.     Client:  You  don’t  get  it,  do  you?     Consultant:  I’m  sorry?       Client:  I  don’t  want  to  navigate  or  drill  or  whatever  you  call  it,  that  doesn’t  help  me   at  all.    This  is  a  $5  billion  company  and  we  spend  $1  billion  a  year  on  promotions.  I   don’t  know  if  one  dollar  of  that  is  spent  wisely.  I  want  you  to  tell  me  where  to  focus   my  promotional  spend  next  year.     Consultant:  Oh.     This  is  like  a  story  in  a  story.  The  inner  story  is  that  what  the  client  was  saying,   which  wasn’t  grasped  right  away  by  the  consultant,  was  that  they  failed  to  tell  a   story  and  no  matter  how  informative  the  facility,  it  didn’t  solve  the  client’s  problem.   The  outer  story  is  what  Steven  Denning4  calls  a  “springboard  story,”  Which  he   defines  as:         1.  Must  be  a  “story”  with  a  beginning,  middle  and  end  that  is  relevant  to  the                                                                                                                   4­‐ 7657515-­‐1436633       ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  13. 13. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   11       listeners.     2.  Must  be  highly  compressed     3.  Must  have  a  hero  –  the  story  must  be  about  a  person  who  accomplished   something  notable  or  noteworthy.     4.  Must  include  a  surprising  element  –  the  story  should  shock  the  listener  out  of   their  complacency.  It  should  shake  up  their  model  of  reality.     5.  Must  stimulate  an  “of  course!”  reaction  –  once  the  surprise  is  delivered,  the   listener  should  see  the  obvious  path  to  the  future.     6.  Must  embody  the  change  process  desired,  be  relatively  recent  and  “pretty  much”   true.     7.  Must  have  a  happy  ending.     In  Stephen  Denning's  words,  "When  a  springboard  story  does  its  job,  the  listeners'   minds  race  ahead,  to  imagine  the  further  implications  of  elaborating  the  same  idea   in  different  contexts,  more  intimately  known  to  the  listeners.  In  this  way,  through   extrapolation  from  the  narrative,  the  re-­‐creation  of  the  change  idea  can  be   successfully  brought  to  birth,  with  the  concept  of  it  planted  in  listeners'  minds,  not   as  a  vague,  abstract  inert  thing,  but  an  idea  that  is  pulsing,  kicking,  breathing,   exciting  -­‐  and  alive.”     That  may  be  a  little  too  much  excitement  on  a  daily  basis,  something  you  save  for   the  really  important  things,  but  it  matters  nonetheless  that  turning  data  into  a  story   is  a  valid  and  necessary  skill.  But  is  it  for  everyone?     Not  really.  Actual  storytelling  is  a  craft.  Not  everyone  knows  how  to  do  it  or  can  even   learn  it.  But  everyone  can  tell  a  story.  It  just  may  not  be  of  the  caliber  of  storytelling.   But  to  get  a  point  across  and  have  it  stick  (even  if  it’s  just  in  your  own  mind,  not  to   an  audience),  learn  to  apply  metaphor.     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  14. 14. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   12       Metaphor     Metaphor  is  our  most  powerful  tool  for  conveying  information.  While  a  tabular   report  may  be  a  representation  of  data  and  derivations,  visualization  is  a  metaphor.   It  is  so  much  easier  to  see  and  understand.  Comparative  volume,  gradients  of  color   or  depth  represent  a  continuum  of  values.  Lines  going  up  mean  “up,’  and  lines  going   down  mean  “down”  No  need  to  scan  a  range  of  values  to  decipher  the  direction.     Metaphor  and  analogy  are  often  used  interchangeably,  but  an  analogy  is  more   concrete  and  detailed,  with  the  two  things  being  compared  having  obvious   similarities,  while  metaphor  is  more  literary,  with  the  two  things  being  further   apart.  For  example,  comparing  the  way  protons  and  neurons  move  around  the   nucleus  in  an  atom  with  our  solar  system  is  an  analogy,  while  using  the  term  black   hole  for  a  very  dense  mass  in  space  from  which  light  cannot  escape  is  metaphorical.   Data  visualization  is  metaphorical.     The  best  most  effective  metaphors  are  ones  that  are  new  and  creative.  To  say  one  is   “sick  as  a  dog”  conveys  very  little.  To  say,  “this  systems  is  as  slow  as  a  rainy  Sunday,”   is  likely  to  convey  a  more  vivid  image.  The  whole  point  of  using  metaphor  in   storytelling  is  to  illustrate,  educate,  convince  and  compel.       Metaphors  can  be  powerful  and  clever  ways  of  communicating  findings.  A  great  deal   of  meaning  can  be  conveyed  in  a  single  phrase  with  a  powerful  metaphor.  Moreover,   developing  and  using  metaphors  can  be  fun,  both  for  the  analyst  and  for  the  listener.   It  is  important,  however,  to  make  sure  that  the  metaphor  serves  the  data  and  not   vice  versa.     The  creative  analyst  who  finds  a  powerful  metaphor  may  be  tempted  to  manipulate   the  data  to  fit  the  metaphor.  In  addition,  because  metaphors  carry  implicit   connotations,  it  is  important  to  make  sure  that  the  data  fit  the  most  prominent  of   ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  15. 15. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   13       those  connotations  so  that  what  is  communicated  is  what  the  analyst  wants  to   communicate.  Finally,  one  must  avoid  concretizing  metaphors  and  acting  as  if  the   world  were  really  the  way  the  metaphor  suggests  it  is.   Using  Storytelling  with  Visual  Analysis     Workers  can  develop  intensely  useful  analyses  using  data  visualization  tools  with  a   snappy  in-­‐memory  database,  agnostic  about  the  data  schema  of  the  source  data,  ,   and  can  share  them  with  their  colleagues  with  some  stories.  Here  are  a  few   examples:     Market  basket  analysis:  Explaining  a  complicated  analysis  with  results  that  can  be   visualized  in  an  easy-­‐to-­‐understand  way  often  encounters  resistance  because  the   evaluators  do  not  understand  the  technique  underneath.  Some  storytelling  usually   helps:     “I  was  in  Home  Depot  one  day  and  when  I  was  walking  through  the  aisles,  I  wondered,   how  could  they  ever  understand  what  products  customers  looked  at,  or  even  picked  up   and  put  back,  but  didn’t  purchase?  How  could  they  modify  their  merchandising  in  a   way  to  understand  what  products  are  most  often  purchased  together,  or,  even  at  a   short  time  later?    In  fact,  how  could  we  figure  out  how  to  do  something  like  that  here?   We  have  detailed  information  about  customers’  behavior  on  our  website,  we  know   what  they  pick  up  and  purchase  or  not,  or  in  what  sequence  they  do.  We  have   information  about  the  journey  they  take  through  the  aisles  [notice  use  of  metaphor].”     The  application  looks  at  each  item  purchased  and  determines  a  list  of   complementary  items  to  recommend  to  purchasers.  The  market  basket  application   uncovered  insightful  new  data  about  the  items  that  customers  typically  purchase   together,  enabling  one  organization  to  present  these  items  as  complementary   offerings  to  online  customers.     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  16. 16. 14     Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence         Figure  1:  Heat  map  to  visualize  market  basket  analysis   “We  did  some  A/B  testing  in  the  way  we  arranged  things,  and,  as  a  result,  the  average   order  size  for  orders  with  the  market  basket  pairings  is  more  than  twice  the  average   order  size  for  orders  without  pairings.  In  addition,  the  information  has  helped  this   company  better  serve  its  customers,  with  a  deeper  understanding  of  purchasing   preferences.”     Data  never  speaks  for  itself.  As  the  visualization  is  shared  in  a  discussion  format,   there  may  be  stories  about  suggesting  bundles  that  did  or  did  not  work,  or  about   anomalies  in  the  data  that  render  it  misleading.  Further  analysis  and  discussion   continues  until  a  consensus  is  reached.  However,  everyone  involved  will  have  a   mental  picture  of  people  picking  up  products  and  how  things  group  together,  mental   images  that  would  be  lacking  without  storytelling  and  metaphor.     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  17. 17. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   15       Visualization  of  detailed  demographic  data  to  spot  trends  and  correlations:   Understanding  and  analyzing  demographic  data  such  as  age,  income,  and  home   ownership  status  of  millions  of  individual  users  cannot  always  be  done  at  an   aggregate  level.  Specifying  groups  of  individuals  on  the  fly,  based  on  the  detailed   records  allows  for  greater  insight.  In  Figure  2,  it’s  easy  to  see  at  a  glance  that   homeowners  in  the  35-­‐54  range  have  the  highest  balances  and  that  those  with   incomes  above  $150K  lead  the  pack.  Some  of  the  individual  details  of  the  customers   in  that  group  are  also  included  in  the  display.       Some  analyses  are  useful  in  the  way  they  slice  and  dice  information  without   revealing  any  sort  of  causality,  simply  a  rendering  of  what  is.  In  this  example,  it   might  have  been  interesting  to  see  how  the  numbers  break  out,  but  the  storytelling   part  of  it  would  be  focused  on  what  to  do  about  it.     “I  was  having  some  problems  with  my  second  car,  a  pick-­‐up  truck,  that  was  randomly   losing  power.  It  seemed  to  only  affect  the  right  side  of  the  engine.  I  assumed  it  had  to   be  either  a  fuel  problem  or  an  ignition  problem.  I  ruled  out  the  “brain”  because  the  V8   engine  has  two  brains,  one  for  each  side.  I  swapped  those  to  no  effect.  I  checked  fuel   lines,  checked  fuel  pressure,  and  checked  injectors  one  at  a  time.  All  normal.  I  did  the   usual  ignition  check  by  removing  wires  one  at  a  time  and  visually  checking  for  a  spark.   Then  it  occurred  to  me  that  I  was  wasting  time  on  obvious  things  and  had  to  think  out   of  the  box.  What  one  thing  was  most  likely  to  account  for  these  symptoms?  In  the  end,   it  turned  out  to  be  the  sparkplug  wires  themselves.   In  our  marketing  campaigns,  we  seem  to  try  too  many  things  and  focus  and  too  many   market  segments.  What  that  data  shows,  clearly,  is  that  only  one  or  two  segments  are   the  most  likely  to  result  in  sales  and  we  need  to  focus  on  them.”       ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  18. 18. 16     Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence       Figure  2:  Dashboard  profiling  the  age,  income,  market  and  homeownership  status  of  a  financial   institution's  30+  million  401k  holders   Conclusion   Training,  and  to  a  larger  extent,  the  culture  of  the  organization  toward  learning,  is  a   key  indicator  of  BI  success.  Equally  important  is  the  need  to  deliver  tools  in  a  bundle   of  learning  and  cooperation  that  have  a  high  degree  of  relevance  to  the  work  people   do,  something  that  is  often  trivialized  by  Information  Technology,  focusing  on  the   work  of  a  collection  of  individuals,  not  a  collaborative  group.  There  is  much  work  to   do,  but  one  thing  we’ve  learned  from  this  research  is  that  stepping  back  a  little  from   the  technology  of  BI  reveals  a  very  complicated  landscape  strewn  with  hazards.   Many  industry  analysts,  vendors,  journalists  and  practitioners  are  not  well  equipped   for  dealing  with  the  challenges  of  making  BI  successful.  We  need  to  strengthen  our   practice  portfolios  and  partner  with  our  clients  to  implement  programs  that   encompass  technology  and  organizational  development.  Ease  of  use  is  only  a   component  of  ease  of  usefulness  to  the  enterprise.     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved    
  19. 19. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence       ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved     17    
  20. 20. Storytelling  Drives  Usefulness  in  Business  Intelligence   18       ABOUT  THE  AUTHOR         Neil  Raden,  based  in  Santa  Fe,  NM,  is  an  active  consultant,  widely  published  author   and  speaker  and  the  founder  of  Hired  Brains,  Inc.,   Hired  Brains  provides  advisory  services,  consulting,  systems  integration  and   implementation  services  in  Data  Warehousing,  Business  Intelligence,  Decision   Automation  and  Advanced  Analytics  for  clients  worldwide.  Hired  Brains  Research   provides  consulting,  market  research,  product  marketing  and  advisory  services  to   the  software  industry.     Neil  was  a  contributing  author  to  one  of  the  first  (1995)  books  on  designing  data   warehouses  and  he  is  more  recently  the  co-­‐author  of  Smart  (Enough)  Systems:  How   to  Deliver  Competitive  Advantage  by  Automating  Hidden  Decisions,  Prentice-­‐Hall,   2007.  He  welcomes  your  comments  at  or  at  his  blog  at   Competing  on  Decisions.     ©  2013  Hired  Brains  Inc.    All  Rights  Reserved