Why does Data Viz matter to management consultants?

In partnership with BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, the MCA recently hosted a talk on Data Visualisation with Scott Berinato, Senior Editor at the Harvard Business Review the self-described ‘Data Viz Geek’. 

“Good visualisation works, good visualisation matters” says Scott Berinatto. A powerful Data Visualisation tells a compelling yet digestible story; it cuts through noise and complexity without compromising on authority. It stimulates audiences, gets people talking, and sends ideas viral.

Data Visualisation can be used to illustrate a whole range of subjects from Election Polls, Hip-Hop Vocabulary, Harry Potter Spells and The Fallen of World War II.  But why should Data Visualisation matter to management consultants?

Data and Decisions

90% of the world’s data has been generated in the last two years[1]. An astonishing thought, and one that lends itself to the significant increase in the frequency of data visualisation, data-based journalism and infographics we see online.

The need to comprehend information quickly in the age of big data is key to decision-making and business strategy. Consultants need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to harness the increasing importance of data in order to provide value to clients through research and visual outputs.  

Big data and new digitally-enabled IoT technologies are set only to increase our reliance on data as a decision making tool.

Increasingly, decisions are constructed through the use of digitally-collected data from the consumer – often without them noticing. Footfall sensors in high street shops tell us when the store is at its busiest, allowing for data-driven staffing allocation. Tens of thousands of Twitter and Facebook feeds can be “scraped” in order to judge consumer sentiment toward a new product of service. All of this information can be interrogated and visualised by consultants for the benefit of client decision-makers and strategists.  

Stand Out

 “Confidence in utilising data visualisation helps you get noticed” says Scott. Presenting a memorable and thought-provoking graphic not only informs your audience, it helps you stand out in the workplace, and in an employment market that increasingly values creativity. Research from Nesta and the University of Sussex suggests businesses that boast both art and science skills perform better than those with science skills alone[2].

A recent study[3] by Bloomberg concluded that ‘creative problem-solving’ (a core data visualisation prerequisite) is one of the ‘less common’ but ‘most desired’ skills in the consulting industry. Clearly this suggests a skills gap that needs to be filled. You could even use it to illustrate your creativity – thanks to data visualisation, ex-President and CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer’s CV  went viral this year. 

Practical Take-Homes

Data visualisation is grounded in statistics, computer science and graphic design, but don’t let that put you off. The discipline has never been so accessible. If you find data visualisation generally interesting check out these great sources:

  • Reddit: Data is beautiful – a great user-made source of visual representations of data.
  • Five Thirty Eight – use statistical analysis to tell compelling stories about politics, sports, science, economics and culture.
  • Visualising Data – a rich variety of content that charts the development of the Data Visualisation field.

If you want to try your hand at creating better visualisations, you can simply follow the rules found in Scott Berinato’s book ‘Good Charts – The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualisations’ using your existing software choice – yes, you can use Excel!

For the more adventurous:

  • R – a programming language, data analysis and visualisation software (free)
  • Plotly – a web browser resource for creating data visualisations (free edition available)
  • Tableau – an expensive but highly advanced data vis tool for those who “can’t code, won’t code”.
  • D3 – want to create powerful interactive data vis? Web coding knowledge essential.
  • Adobe Illustrator / inDesign – graphic design tools with built-in charting features; a great piece of software for making simple charts look smart.

[1] https://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

[2] http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/fusion-effect-economic-returns-combining-arts-and-science-skills

[3] http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2016-job-skills-report/


Written by Luke Cummings, Researcher at the MCA.

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