Telling the financial story is as important as the compelling nature of the visualization of the data itself.
For many decision-makers, the financial data needed to make decisions is often presented in a format that does not readily help them interpret what it says or help make those decisions that they are tasked with. According to several studies, 65% of people are visual learners, so providing visual illustrations of data can help increase understanding and lead to better and more timely decision-making. Data visualization is defined as a chart, diagram, picture, etc. that is created as a visual representation of data.
A timeshare resort’s financial statements taken individually only tell part of the financial story about health and results. Using data visualization can help the timeshare finance team communicate analytics and analysis in a clearer and more understandable format. Additionally, creating these visualizations can help identify important information that should be communicated by the finance team, such as trends, unexpected variances, budgetary metrics, and more.
Steps to Create Compelling Data Visualization
It is important to make sure that data visualization is done right, which is comprised of several exercises.
- Make sure the right software is selected. It is important to have a single source of information and have features that allow data to be automatically visualized in a compelling way. Data analytics tools like Microsoft Power BI, Tableau and similar products can visualize meaningful data with data dashboards and reports that can summarize high-level metrics while simultaneously drilling down to granular details for use across various organizational departments.
- Confirm that the finance team understands what the end goal is. What are the data, trends, etc. that are needed and what is expected to be accomplished? This would also involve discussions with the user decision-makers to ensure that the information being portrayed is what they want and need and that it is understandable to them. Both quantitative and qualitative matters should be considered.
- Consider which level of decision makers need what level of detail. For example, boards may want more summarized, high-level data while department managers may want more detailed data. The decisions required can help drive the level of detail needed by level of user.
- Finally, the finance team will need appropriate training to increase their skills in creating visualizations for decision makers and understand the opportunities offered. Providing ongoing training on the tools available will provide the competencies required.
Contextualize the Story and Presentation
When it comes time to organize the data and present the visualizations, it is important to start with context. Telling the financial story is as important as the compelling nature of the visualization of the data itself. Be sure to offer the salient background information, then describe what is being narrated and why. A brief introduction can set the scene for the decision-maker users being given the newly visualized data. The next step is to build the story and provide support with illustrative data that shows how and why conclusions were reached. Demonstrate how the points made were reached using empirical insights. Often, this process can be facilitated by selecting the data that needs to be highlighted and then building the narrative, like reverse engineering, to connect the points.
The purpose of providing the data in an understandable and easier-to-read fashion is to facilitate action. A sense of urgency can be created by sharing what will happen if actions are not taken, and the timeline and implications for actions to be taken should be clear and concise. The resort financial data story should highlight the takeaways, including insights about the actionable information and the decisions that need to be made. Use the numbers to determine a course of action with clear and specific recommendations, which can help speed up the decision-making process and help ensure that the story told leads to actionable results. Finally, summarize the financial story with a forward-looking conclusion and a prediction of potential outcomes based on the recommendations provided.
The amount of data that infiltrates the finance team and organizations as a whole has been and continues increasing at an exponential rate. Finding a way to harness the power of the data available and present it concisely while proving the detail needed for decision-makers is becoming more important day by day. Providing finance teams with the appropriate tools to summarize and show the data at their fingertips will help resorts make better decisions and effectively communicate the information to non-finance people in a way they can understand and act on. The better the data narrative is crafted, the more effective it will be. It is important to remember that the tools don’t write the story, but they make it more understandable, convincing, and compelling.
Withum is a forward-thinking, technology-driven advisory and accounting firm, committed to helping clients in the hospitality industry be more profitable, efficient and productive in the modern business landscape. For further information about Withum and its hospitality services team, contact Lena Combs (LCombs@Withum.com) at (407) 849-1569, or visit www.withum.com.