Telling The Story with Data Visualization

Dateline: May 24, 2013

Welcome to our Friday WRAP – one thought-provoking idea to think about over the weekend.

Inferring meaning from data is a problem usually solved by BI and analysis, but recently I read about using  data visualization for some large, complex problems.  Harvard Business Review associate editor Gretchen Gavett blogged about her conversation with Linda Boff, GE’s executive director of global brand marketing  who uses data visualization in just this way.   When asked about the use of data visualization at GE, Boff replied,

As a large multinational company, we do have many audiences. And they range from employees and retirees to retail investors and thought leaders. Initially we thought about this — and I think to a large degree continue to — as a way to do external storytelling, but we have found that it works on so many different levels….  As a result, we have used data visualization in places as diverse as our annual reports or our annual report app, which is obviously geared toward investors. We’ve used it with thought leaders. When we released a white paper last fall on the industrial Internet, data visualization was a great way to tell that story.

Boff further explained,

Because we have approached this largely as storytelling, we’re always looking to experiment…We are working on one that I’m particularly excited about. Not long ago, we did what we called Flight Quest, … an initiative we ran with Kaggle. We released some data from our customers [at airlines], as well as data from the National Airspace System on never-before released flight times, arrival times, flight numbers, origins, arrival cities, all of these different elements….We released all of it to the Kaggle community of data scientists globally and said: improve travel….There were five winning algorithms that came up with a 40% improvement in flight arrival times. Eventually this could be software that could be incorporated into an airline’s system to improve arrival times. But what we’re working on now is a 3D interactive visualization of those winning algorithms. [Phase two of the project begins in June.]

She concluded with this,

The power of a good story well told in any sort of medium cannot be overstated. Data vis has allowed us to do storytelling at its best. Experimentation is also key, getting in there, understanding a medium and a technique, and not being afraid to experiment with it and be open and collaborative. We have had data marathons with many universities where we’ve brought in students, given them a problem, and said, hey, let’s work over the next couple of days to solve this.

How can your organization use data visualization to tell its stories?  What experiments can you run to learn about it’s impact with your stakeholders?

That’s a WRAP.  Have a great weekend.

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