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To hell with the facts - we need stories!

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Hopefully by now we can all agree that without data and a means to harness it, businesses would largely leave themselves deaf, blind and dumb.

You would be forgiven if you thought I was about to launch into a blog about Big Data and how important it is. I wouldn’t blame you. Unfortunately most of what is written about Big Data is like a never ending game of Pictionary –the descriptions are interesting, but nobody ever says what it really is.

The problem usually belies the fact that businesses can understand the reasoning behind collecting and storing data on their customers – it’s the answer to the question, “How do I give all this data I have meaning and context so I can take action?” that proves to be the most elusive.

The obvious broad brush answer is of course the power of visualisation and the saying 'A picture paints a thousand words'; that axiom has held true for many a year in the analytics world, and is still a fundamental concept today with Bar Charts and Scatter Plots; a staple of many organisations' dashboards.

Infographics are also big business, especially on social media as these have the ability to contextualize massive amounts of data into convenient bite sized chunks for our brains to process in milliseconds (1.3ms if recent research is to be believed)

So, you have your data, check. You can visualise your data, check – so what’s next?

Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it enough” – Alby and I happen to agree completely on that one.

Regardless of how much data you have, how great your 3D bar chart looks and how 'cool' it is to use, it’s ultimately how you communicate it to others that counts. If you’re the only one that ‘gets it’, then you’ve failed.

Put another way, you need to be able to tell a great story.

With that in mind, the geniuses at have created something so impressive that I felt compelled to stop doing real work and write a blog.

They have taken the data analytics concept one step further and developed a way, quite literally, of telling the story within your data using a technique called Natural Language Generation, or, given I’m writing a blog and haven’t used a single acronym yet, NLG.

NLG is basically a sub-field of artificial intelligence (AI) which produces written language on the basis of inputted data. So in other words, if you have data, not only can you paint a picture, you can create a story behind it in seconds, and I mean seconds.

Most NLG systems are pretty basic in that they simply take data and convert them into text, but their advanced techniques are taking analytics to the next level.

Their NLG Platform, Quill™, goes beyond numbers and charts and instantly adds more value by automatically creating perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience. This could be an automated product description on a website, a personalised credit report, a risk analysis of a company for potential investors – it can all be done automatically and using existing data.

Better still, this is not something that we have to hang around and wait for. It’s here now, and it works brilliantly.

It’s already being used in the US by a number of customers including Credit Suisse, Master Card and the US Government. They have also teamed up with one of our own technology partners, Qlik (who are themselves blazing a trail within their brilliant Qlik Sense analytics offering) to produce something so genius I couldn’t wait to have a go myself.

In this video, I’ve used the Narrative plug in for Qlik Sense to create my own perfectly written narrative telling the story within a visualisation. Take a look:

Yes, I just told my own story in a matter of seconds. I then re-told it and re-told it again without even bothering to type anything, so technically you don’t have shell out £110 for a Surface keyboard either...

This goes to show that tables and charts without an underlying story is a pretty boring thing in comparison. Just like writing or speaking, your communication of data needs to be crisp and to the point for your message to shine through.

Using the latest technology and harnessing the power of storytelling, we can achieve this faster and easier than ever before. Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “If history were taught in the form of stories it would never be forgotten.”

If you're interested in Qlik Sense and would like to know more, please get in touch with us.

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