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Cutting Out The Noise: A Discussion with Cole Nussbaumer


By Mark Lawrence

Organisation & People Analytics Director, GlaxoSmithKline

LinkedIn profile

In my opinion, the last 12 months has seen a disproportionate leap in interest in the rigour and methodology behind People Analytics. During the last twenty years, I’ve seen a lot of change in the use of data, by HR and Learning: ‘Business Analysis’ and ‘Business Intelligence’ became commonplace around 2000-2005; ‘Learning Intelligence’ and ‘Business Analytics’ around 2005-2012; ‘HR Analytics’, ‘Workforce Analytics’ and ‘People Analytics’ more towards the present day. Meanwhile, ‘Data Visualisation’ has been growing quietly, in the background, like some unwanted cousin.

Many ‘Analytics’ professionals carry an interest in “DataVis”, as if it were a hobby; something which you wouldn’t necessarily admit to, unless you were in a group of like-minded individuals. To those outside, those that didn’t get it, it may have seemed valueless, or a waste of time; but the phenomenal rate of growth of the DataVis market, with companies like Tableau, Spotfire and Qlik; added to Gardner’s creation of a new Magic Quadrant for this segment, ought to quickly dispel such thoughts! Despite this, very few people have been able to specialise in DataVis to such an extent, as to make it relevant to business leaders. Cole Nussbaumer is one of those few.

On a blustery and rainy Friday evening, Cole and I connected across the Atlantic and quickly discovered some shared connections and influences - some famous, some more obscure. In the discussion which followed, Cole explained her career path, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of working at Google; attempting to deliver compelling data-driven messaging in one of the most advanced data analytics organisations in the world!

‘Storytelling’ is a skill, but it only gets you so far: understanding some of the science helped Cole to make it easy for the audience to understand what was being said. In this podcast, Cole and I also discussed questions such as: “Light or dark backgrounds?”; “Labels or no labels?”; and “the effects of lines sloping up or sloping down” We also look at some of the ways to get started.

Finally, we look at whether Data Visualisation belongs to “Analytics”. In order to deliver the right visualisations, Cole says, it’s important to understand the business problem and work through a rigorous methodology. Only when you have done this, will you know what is valuable and what is not. Rather than showing all the analysis you might have performed in the background, it’s cutting out the noise which is the key to effective and efficient communication.

To find out more, listen to this podcast here.

If you wish to follow up and find out more, Cole’s book, “Storytelling with Data”, provides helpful and clear guidance for practitioners - both seasoned and new to the field. Alternatively, there is still space left on her European Masterclasses, offered by Tucana. To view more details, click here.