Recently, I finished my second Ironman 70.3 triathlon (for the record, that is NOT me in the photo). The triathlon is made up of three segments: swim, bike, and run. While the finishing time is reflected as a single value, there are 5 distinct times that comprise the total. Not surprisingly, the times for the swim, bike, and run portions are included, but also in the mix, are the two transition times. A transition is the time spent between the different events. Once an athlete crosses the finish line, these five times are summarized for the final result.

During this last race, I had some extra time (way more time than I expected) to ponder how the results are conveyed, and how there is so much more to the triathlon story than just the final time and the sum of the parts. There is the impact of the weather, how much training time was spent in each discipline, how effective that training was, conditions of the course, etc. Yet, when the dust settles and the results are in, it’s only these handful of metrics that are displayed.

The same scenario exists in analytics and business intelligence deployments. So much emphasis is placed on displaying the final results in a dashboard or report, that a lot of supporting context is lost. Context that could help to justify the results being seen, highlight and validate that previous business decisions have paid off, or worse, had a negative impact. This is why the current trend, one that isn’t being adopted quick enough in my opinion, is to start telling data stories. 

A data story is where in addition to analytic assets, contextual information is included to help guide and inform the user. This way, users with varying levels of data literacy can all arrive at the same interpretation of the data. Now, special care must be taken to not lead the witness by framing the story with bias from the author (Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts), but by and large, data stories are much more effective at delivering the desired message to the masses.

Being a data geek, a triathlon, and the whole training process, is FULL of metrics and various data points, so it’s a little disappointing that the results are displayed the way that they are. Hmm, maybe a data story should be built around all of the data gathered while training for an event like a triathlon …