Turning Numbers Into Narratives: The Power of Visuals in Analytics

Information is power. Leveraging big data for better decision-making continues to be the current focus among many enterprises in the region. According to IT market intelligence firm IDC, 53% of Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) organizations consider big data and analytics as a key enabler for their businesses.

Across industries and companies, analytics has empowered staff of all levels to tap into data to make meaningful discoveries, improve business processes, and produce better results, revolutionizing businesses altogether.

Analysts, too, have spoken and they predict that spending on self-service visual discovery and data preparation will grow more than twice as fast as traditional IT-controlled tools for similar functionality. At the same time, organizations, government bodies, and academic institutions across the region are all playing their part to ensure the future workforce possess the right data skills for the right jobs.

With modern analytics platforms being made simpler to use, businesses can now analyze their data without the constant need for a specialized programmer to query and report data

Looking within lines of business, it is no surprise then that CFOs have already begun tapping on big data and powerful analytics platforms to make better and quicker internal assessments or financial decisions. However, many CFOs are still very much in the beginning of their analytics journey.

Experts have predicted that today’s CFOs need to be far more than number crunchers – they need to be the futurists of any company, with the help of big data and advanced analytics.

What does the future hold for CFOs in the region and what can they do to take things to the next level? How do they become futurists? It is all about leveraging big data analytics to speak a more meaningful language that all their stakeholders will understand.

Story behind the numbers

Collaboration between departments and information is a key priority identified by CFOs to make better and more timely business decisions. Yet, many do not recognize that, with the multitude of data afforded by analytics, it has become an even greater provocative for CFOs to join those key data points (and various sources of information) together and translate them into the right messages that resonate with others.

With the explosion of big data, the insights garnered and resulting stories are even more important than the numbers alone. Furthermore, with modern analytics platforms being made simpler to use, businesses can now analyze their data without the constant need for a specialized programmer to query and report data from overly complex sheets of reports.

More and more, businesses and finance department leaders are seeing the value in data storytelling. For example, Paramount Enterprise, one of the leading property developers in Indonesia, used to work with hundreds of spreadsheet files, accessing data from different databases, and would often need to blend data from multiple sources.

On top of being time-consuming to prepare, with the potential for human error, the tabular format made it difficult for non-finance users company-wide to glean any real insight from the information.

A tabular nightmare for non-accountants (illustration)

After helping Paramount implement self-service data analytics and visualization, we are seeing the company delivering business insights faster than ever before and telling a clear story with their data. With the ability to sort information easily and link raw data to visualization tools, the finance department and other teams now have more time to focus on other important aspects of the business.

Making the tabular visual (illustration)

Make it picture perfect

Pictures speak a thousand words. Visual aid, such as symbols, charts, or graphics, are effective communication devices for CFOs and finance teams to use. On the other hand, tables of data or values can be confusing for people who do not work with spreadsheets regularly. A simple, well-chosen visual can easily tell an entire story in a single glance, even when presenting numbers.

Numbers plus visuals (illustration)

Some companies, like ThoughtStorm Strategic Capital, a boutique investment bank and advisory firm, have already begun transforming data into visuals in order to help their investors better understand financing and the decisions behind them. They have visually and successfully been showing their investors the optimal time and areas to allocate funds.

Similarly, data visualization platforms have helped many businesses communicate with current and potential investors better, resulting in business improvements. With success stories like this, it is time for CFOs and finance teams to think out of the box for their presentations and discussions to various stakeholders. 

Be understood

Data analytics and visualization platforms also allow for financial transparency across organizations – this means that with the help of CFOs who use data analytics and visualization platforms, employees can better understand where money from an organization goes and comes from.

Organizations often find themselves bogged down by too much data coming from too many sources. Given the speed at which business deals are made, there is no time to wait for “the next meeting.”

Whether the discussion is with an internal executive team or between a sales representative and customer on the field, the ability to dig into data in real-time enables businesses to get key information to the right people and make more meaningful business decisions quicker.

With traditionally very complex balance sheets now easily shared throughout the company in one quick report, CFOs have the tools they need to elevate their presence in organizations as well. It is a win-win situation – the company is better informed and finance teams are better understood.

With a future where data analytics will be pivotal for enabling stakeholders in the driver’s seat to make fast and informed business decisions, it is important that CFOs capitalize on their valuable financial data and uncover insights to better tell the story behind the numbers.

About the Author

TC Gan is Director of Product Consulting, APAC, at Tableau, a software company that helps transform data into actionable insights with visual analytics and dashboards.

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