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We’re all data analysts now

"Big data" is more than a buzzword: it's a reality that's becoming increasingly prominent and important. In many ways, more data is a wonderful thing. We know more about everything than ever before, from medical conditions to consumer habits, climate change to entertainment options. But all this data is useless without reliable ways to analyze and understand it swiftly.

The traditional model for data analysis is to rely on experts to develop reports based on complex programming in large databases.

That model has rapidly become slow and cumbersome. While the expert is analyzing data and developing a report, the person who needs the information is finding that the results have become obsolete by the time they arrive on their desks. The pressing need to understand and act upon data quickly means everyone will have to become comfortable handling data. We all need to become data specialists -- no matter our current position or field of expertise.

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But the idea of confronting a world of dashboards, complex programming like SQL and Hadoop will fill most business people with dread. The answer is to embrace tools that make it easy to explore this new world of endless data without much more expertise than a basic understanding of Excel. Hence, the rise of a new breed of "data-discovery" whereby people can easily explore their data by creating an instant visual interpretation without a single line of code.

Sharing Your Expertise

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Increasingly, being fluent in big data is not just about finding the insights quickly, but being able to share and collaborate. Visualizations help people share their insights in ways that promote conversation and collaboration. When someone like Mark Bulling, business director at global media network Mindshare, uses live visualizations in a meeting and a question is raised by one of their thousands of clients, he can easily click and show the answer. In real time. This creates a natural,open flow of conversation that isn't stalled by having to go back and redo the chart.

Storytelling with Data

Interactive graphics tend to be effective, but their power is often diminished without developing a proper narrative arc for the presentation of your analysis. Robert Kosara, former University of North Carolina professor and current researcher at Tableau, calls this the "martini glass" effect. With a narrative arc, you start broadly (the bottom of the glass), then lead your audience step by step through the insights of your data (the stem of the glass), while giving them enough context and direction to open up the topic for exploration (the mouth of the glass).

Building a story for your data is a powerful tool to communicate your insight and make it more memorable. We spend so much of our lives telling and consuming stories - we need to take advantage of our narrative mindset when working with data.

The long and the short of it

The data era impacts all industries, from tech to finance to consumer brands. Every organisation has a tremendous opportunity to take their data and empower those individuals making decisions for the business. Those who embrace new, effective, quick tools for understanding data will thrive. Those who slog through data in old-fashioned, time-consuming ways, will fall by the wayside. This opportunity is in actual fact a necessity.

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We're all data analysts now. The only question is how quickly and wholeheartedly we embrace that role and the tools for performing it.

James Eiloart is a Vice President at Tableau Software, and is based in London, where he leads sales across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Disclosure: Tableau has worked with CNBC on an interactive graphic.

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