By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard
Story telling capabilities are fast becoming table stakes in visual data discovery tools, but not all stories and storyboards are the same. Here's a look a look at four vendors' approaches.
It would be nice to think that most data analyses end with a value added decision or action. But really, many BI analyses end with a Power Point, finely tuned for board room presentations. Data is explored, analyzed, filtered, transformed, and then exported into a story telling medium where it becomes static. The PowerPoint may be used to support or refute a hypothesis or to provide a status update.
But what if that same data could remain within the BI tool, with board room presentation quality? Could those meetings of death by PowerPoint become more effective, interactive work sessions? Can the data be better presented not only to support a hypothesis, but also, to guide a decision-maker to a logical conclusion that compels action? This is the vision behind recent innovations in a number of visual data discovery tools. Tableau and Qlik call them story points and storytelling, respectively, SAP calls it storyboards and infographics. SAS, meanwhile, brings live integration within Power Point itself. While each vendor's feature has slightly similar names, the capabilities differ greatly.
Tableau: Story Points
Tableau released the concept of Story Points in version 8.2 in June this year. With a story, a user can insert a visualization onto a canvas, with the saved filters. The idea of story points is to provide users with the ability to present the data as a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. The banner of the canvas can include a long-text that is clickable. For example, in the below story, "Profits are increasing" is a clickable title. Multiple visualizations can be linked together to create a PowerPoint-like slide show. Within each page, users can adjust the filters. "The data tells you what's happening, but the story guides you to an understanding of why," Tableau says in its white paper, "Data Storytelling."
Qlik: Story Telling
Qlik Sense Desktop was released in July 2014 as a free, desktop visual discovery tool based on the vendor's next-generation interface. The vendor has not announced release data for Qlik Sense for the enterprise, currently in beta. In Qlik Sense Desktop, dashboards and individual visualization can be added to a story. Compared to Tableau, Qlik Sense has a few more bells and whistles to its stories. First, each page of the story can contain multiple visualizations and/or snapshotted images versus a single visualization as in Tableau. Also, there is an "effect" option that automatically recolors a chart so top (or bottom) performers stand out (in the below image, higher salaries are highlighted). Additional text can be added to the story, whether a simple annotation or a full paragraph. Images and shapes can also be added to the canvas to create a type of infographic. In play mode, each slide nicely transitions to the next. Dashboards remain interactive.
SAP Lumira: Storyboards and Infographics
Earlier this year, SAP added the concept of storyboards to Lumira. While the name may suggest similar capabilities to Tableau and Qlik story telling, in SAP, storyboards are better described as dashboards with multiple visualizations on a single page. Up until that release, Lumira lacked the ability to create these simple dashboards, a capability in most other visual data discovery tools. In addition to visualizations and filters, Lumira storyboards also support text boxes for titles or paragraphs, and images.
Meanwhile, in version 16, released in June this year, SAP added infographics— the ability to add pictograms and shapes to the storyboards. As shown below, there is also a preview ability to see how the infographic will appear on various devices. With infographics, users can also set the color options for the images, background, and some charts. This, of course, should be an expected feature in any BI tool but was lacking in earlier Lumira releases. The infographic capability is an interesting concept, but I found the capabilities too immature to replace PowerPoint. For example, in trying to add a callout, the callout does not natively support text; the text has to be added in a separate text box. As well, the callout pointer cannot be repositioned to connect to the particular image or outlier within the chart.
SAS Visual Analytics: Power Point
The SAS Add-In for Microsoft Office is a little-known but powerful add-in that lets users access and interact with BI content directly from within Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. With this approach, users create a visualization within SAS Visual Analytics. Then within PowerPoint, there is a Visual Analytics toolbar that lets them insert the visualization onto the PowerPoint canvas. The visualization is a direct query, not a static export, so it can be refreshed. Users have all the PowerPoint abilities to add text and additional images.
Stories: More to come?
While each of these innovations goes by a similar sounding name, the capabilities differ. All reflect a growing trend of how to better present data, findings, and inflection points into a cohesive story. I suspect story capabilities will continue to emerge in other visual data discovery tools. Like any first novel, I suspect the second releases of these stories will only improving over time.
Dashboards: multiple visual indicators on a single page
Infographic: visual representation of information, used beyond quantitative data such as in subway maps, weather patterns, and so on
Story: collection of thoughts with a beginning, middle and end