Sports analytics and the CIO: Five lessons from the sports data craze

Use data visualization techniques to make your points easy to digest

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Ever wondered why it seems like Kobe Bryant shoots the ball more when his team is down? Turns out the data backs up the eyeball test.

Kobe Bryant hates to lose -- he really, really hates to lose. If the eye test didn't make that clear, the ruthless Los Angeles Lakers guard's shooting figures back it up: When his team is up five points or more, he shoots around 30% of his team's shots. When the team is down five points or more, he shoots closer to 40% of their shots. As part of the "Live by the Three, Die by the Three" panel at this year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, basketball-shot-related research such as Bryant's usage rate was illustrated in a colorful chart that made the phenomenon come to life for even the analytically uninclined.

These sorts of data visualization techniques can be very important in an enterprise IT setting, and CIOs should work with their data analytics staff to make sure visuals are a part of every presentation -- after all, even numbers people can go cross-eyed at rows and rows of figures presented in Excel spreadsheets.

"Not everyone is comfortable analyzing raw data. Data visualization makes the decision-making process much faster and easier," said Martin Wattenberg, a data visualization creator who spoke at the conference. Data visualization is especially helpful when you're trying to answer ambiguous questions, he said. Joe Ward, a sports graphics editor at The New York Times, emphasized the important of presenting data by filtering it down and telling a story.

In other words, CIOs: Use data visualization techniques to turn your metrics into a digestible narrative, and you have a better chance of gaining widespread support for your IT proposals.

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