Visualization speaks louder than words
Taking interactive data to the next level
What would happen if you could visually spot trends, quickly discern hidden weaknesses and share those insights in a powerful way with a click of the mouse? What if you didn’t have to scan dozens of rows of data or endless numbers but could visually query, filter, view and interact with data to understand sales trends or manufacturing miscues?
Visualization helps you see what you can’t always “read.” As Stephen Few, an expert on business intelligence and information design, says, “Visual representations of data take advantage of the unique ability of visual perception to detect meaningful patterns that might otherwise remain hidden. Even highly skilled statisticians recognize when it makes sense to clear their heads of statistics and simply use their eyes to explore data.”
Over the next five years, innovation in business intelligence and performance management will be driven, in part, by business visualization. The many ways that we share and explore information will change as vendors continue to extend capabilities that speed “time to intelligence” for large amounts of data. But what about the visualization capabilities that can help organizations get better ROI from BI and performance management initiatives right now?
Data visualization is already moving beyond the confines of the bar graph, with vibrant data portraits that information producers and consumers can use to explore data from multiple perspectives and in various forms while incorporating as many variables as needed. Whether the output is on your computer monitor or printed in paper format, new visualization technologies can draw an immediate picture of trends and relationships. These user-friendly graphics and interactivity make the technology perfect for marketing, business operations, finance and any situation where pictures speak louder than words.
Simplify insights with visualization
Visualization, though, can’t be done solely for visualization’s sake. How often have you seen a graph on a PowerPoint presentation and thought, “That isn’t telling me anything,” or worse, “That’s interesting, but it isn’t helping me understand why.” Strong visualization should simplify insights. It should get you to notice, focus, investigate and act. And it should give your organization a competitive advantage by allowing you to act faster.
Visualization isn’t the same for everyone
Given the amount of data and the power of BI capabilities today, these features and capabilities should also be considered when looking at ways to visualize data:
Creating high-resolution/high-impact dashboards. A dashboard that says, “Sales are up 10 percent in the third quarter” is too simplistic for most businesses. Can you provide at a glance the forecast for future sales or product warranty issues two months ahead? Eight months from now? A year? The ability to bring high-impact predictive insights and analytics to the dashboard is critical. Imagine the performance, planning and forecasting improvements that come when data is presented in an easy-to-understand visual format.
Incorporating data movement. Often, with large amounts of data, insights can be “now you see it, now you don’t.” When the images move, it is easier to see the impact of multiple variable relationships. Data movies anchor the pattern of that trend in a business user’s mind. For example, in genomics, the ability to plot millions of data points and show the movement over time is critical.
Adding traditional video. What if you are in charge of airline operations and your dashboard shows a dramatic spike in delayed flights? The ability to check video feeds of the ground operations at your major hubs would invaluably aid the dashboard.
Great business intelligence solutions exist, and so do excellent visualization graphics – but they typically exist in separate worlds. The richest BI solutions have often been designed with the analyst in mind – someone who can discover what the businessperson finds indecipherable. The most expansive visualization tools, meanwhile, are often standalone products that can’t always integrate easily or successfully with cutting-edge BI capabilities. They leave the analyst with the capability of creating pretty – but ultimately shallow – graphics.
If your BI solution is giving you more data than your business user can easily consume, if your analysts and information explorers chafe at the simplicity of the visualization tools you’ve given them, take time to look for solutions that fuse these two elements into a seamless process that benefits users and producers alike. Visualization helps you understand trends faster. And faster, data driven decisions always result in greater marketplace success.
This story appears in the Third Quarter 2008 issue of