How CIOs can drive transformation with better data storytelling
We know that data-driven businesses are more resilient and more confident. But how do you get there? To enable transformation across the business, Chief Information Officers (CIO) need to tell memorable data stories to the board and to the business, says Juha Teljo, Tableau VP of Solution Engineering. Keep reading for a conversation with Teljo on how CIOs can use data storytelling to communicate insights that resonate and inspire action.
1. Why are businesses demanding more agility and rapid change?
Disruption is everywhere. Think of the changes to the retail industry, to finance, to tourism. Business leaders know that no industry is safe—and if they’re not taking part in this disruption, they could be the victims of it.
In our new ebook, Quality Conversations with the CIO: The Power of Stories, Anna Barsby, Asda CIO, explained: "The rapidity of (the products and services) we have to provide is unprecedented."
Businesses need to be ready to try new ideas. To learn, iterate, and go again. This mindset used to be reserved for startups, but I think most businesses recognize they need a little of this attitude.
2. What is driving the need for speed and agility?
Things are moving quickly because they can. Digital transformation has created more agile workflows. We have more data than ever before. Businesses are focused on eliminating manual processes or pinch points. Everything can move so much more quickly. I believe CIOs are pivotal to successfully making this change. It is their technology choices that are powering transformation.
Because we can move quickly, we have to move quickly. If not, you’re falling behind. The challenge, of course, is to move sensibly and profitably.
The events of the last 12 months or so demonstrate this perfectly. COVID has forced change on almost all businesses. The recent YouGov survey tells us 80% of data-led businesses consider data a critical advantage.
"Every decision at the board level involves an element of technology or the implications of technology, so there is a real requirement to understand that digital is an accelerator, and then to articulate the risk."
—Richard Williams, CIO, European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Quality Conversations with the CIO
3. Is it challenging to get the board to use data in the decision-making process?
It can be, but it needn’t be. Most boardrooms recognize disruption is a reality and business must move quickly. They want to make informed decisions, and they know data and insight are critical. Yet there’s still work to be done, as illustrated in the previously referenced YouGov survey in which only 56% of European businesses described themselves as data-driven.
The challenge is enabling your people to access, analyze, and trust the data. Communicating the insights you uncover is crucial.
I was struck by this statement from Richard Williams, CIO with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), in Quality Conversations with the CIO: "Every decision at the board level involves an element of technology or the implications of technology, so there is a real requirement to understand that digital is an accelerator, and then to articulate the risk."
CIOs need to be bold in describing the impact data has made on effective decision making, and how applying the resulting insights can accelerate business innovation.
4. How can CIOs successfully get the board to engage with data?
I believe data needs a strong advocate on the board. Of course, I believe everyone in the boardroom should be data literate, but it’s hugely beneficial to have one person who “owns” data analytics and insight across the business.
For me, that person is the CIO. Technology touches all parts of the business—from customer-facing functions to the back office. Businesses now see technology as an enabler and an accelerator. Data analysis is intrinsic to this—it enables effective decision-making across the organization.
CIOs can gain great traction with data storytelling. It helps to make insights sound exciting and transformative, using data to tell stories and link to real-world anecdotes that impact the business. Curating relevant stories to engage different members of the board is key.
CIOs need to be bold in describing the impact data has made on effective decision making, and how applying the resulting insights can accelerate business innovation. Data enables better conversations and insights cut through the noise, so it’s critical to communicate their impact in a memorable way.
Data diversity is also essential. By that, I mean including new data sources and metrics into the mix, and removing and managing old ones as the world changes. CIOs play a critical role in making this changing landscape relevant to their stakeholders—articulating risks and impacts to business-as-usual and making the case to the board for adopting new strategies to address those changes.
5. Why do organizations sometimes distrust their own data?
Companies are often sitting on huge amounts of data, and knowing where to start can seem daunting. There’s also an issue of quality.
If we accept that good decisions come from good analysis and insight, then the inverse must apply: Bad decisions can be made from bad data.
As Dirk Ramhorst, CIO and CDO for Wacker Chemie AG, pointed out in the CIO ebook: "One of the challenges is that there are so many versions of the truth in a business."
Ensuring you’re operating from a single, shared version of the truth is essential for effective data storytelling. Each time data analytics are presented inconsistently, or in a way that fails to engage, or that is unclear or contradictory, it undermines the whole perception of quality and the impact you’ll have at the board level.
6. Finally, what tips do you have for making sure board-level discussion is always effective?
Recognize that board members are human. They are not machines that ingest data and calculate a mathematical response. A good board should have diversity of thought. It is meant to be a place where ideas are challenged.
"Understand that boards are made up of different people and different ways of thinking. Use the words they understand,” said Ramhorst, advocating for sharing insights relevant to board members’ areas of expertise.
Analyzing data can unlock some of these challenges to ensure that conversations are current and well-informed. Insights can demonstrate an immediate operational impact, but also support confidence in long-term trends—both are of concern to the board.
For more on the power of data storytelling, check out our new ebook: Quality Conversations with the CIO: The Power of Stories.