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Data visualization: Diving into the sea of numbers, finding greater, deeper meaning

Discover the benefits of data visualization for business and the role of process, people, and technology in the age of big data.

Overview

Certain characteristics of data can only be seen when represented graphically.

The power of data visualization—the art of representing data visually—therefore lies in its ability to turn raw data into meaning and meaning into understanding.

Business leaders, to acquire real learning from their data, need to adopt visualization as a new common language for exploration and communication.

In this new point of view, we examine the process, people and technology required to make sense of and communicate data through visualization.

Business leaders, to acquire real learning from their data, need to adopt visualization as a new common language for data exploration and communication.

Background

Many businesses today are collecting data at a rapid rate, be it for compliance, reporting or visualization purposes.

True value is only achieved, however, when data has been processed, understood, and, ultimately, acted upon. Without these abilities, data is meaningless.

For many companies, the progression of data-visualization technology followed a familiar path: simple tables and charts made by hand were succeeded by the introduction of Excel, which was in turn superseded by traditional business intelligence (BI) platforms, including databases with presentation capabilities.

These presentation capabilities began as reports and were soon followed by increasingly interactive dashboards.

In the age of “big data,” however, when discovery, analysis and visualization capabilities are even more salient, traditional BI tools are falling short.

Analysis

The visualization market has grown significantly in recent years as a means of providing insights into large and complex datasets.

Lightweight data-discovery tools are one of the fastest growing areas of BI, and the more traditional BI-software providers are reshaping their offerings to address this.

Furthermore, with the growth of computers, tablets and smartphones, people are able to interact with their data more immediately than ever before.

Simply stated, visualization capabilities enable easier interaction with and understanding of big data.

Visualization is especially effective because people are extremely well-suited for visual analysis. Humans are very good at pattern matching and organizing what they see in order to make sense of it.

Data visualizations can also consolidate lots of information in one place, allowing people to more easily make sense of the numbers.

Key Findings

For data visualization to be successfully adopted as a common language, an investment first must be made in three critical areas:

  • Process—The process of creating a data visualization or infographic is multidisciplinary and includes a wide variety of sub-processes that must be closely integrated. The most crucial step is setting a goal and a purpose from the beginning.

  • People—Since people are closely related to the process, a wide variety of skills are necessary to create successful visualization. The skills required for this are drawn primarily from computer science, statistics and data mining and graphic design, as well as human/computer interaction.

  • Technology—Given the plethora of options on the market, choosing the appropriate visualization tool can be overwhelming. Based on the end goal of the data visualization in question, the field can be narrowed down to four broad technological categories: BI Tools, Analytic Tools, Visualization Tools and Custom Tools.

By itself, data is meaningless. It only becomes valuable when analyzed, understood and strategically acted upon.

Therefore, as the amount of data being collected grows, so does the need for visualization to both comprehend and communicate meaning.

Recommendations

Business leaders need to invest in the capacity to learn from their data through visualization.

But in order to do so, they must understand the process, people and technology required.

The three components are interdisciplinary, so the challenge demands they must work tightly and function closely together.

Many leaders in the field believe that in the future, data visualization will become more real-time, interactive and accessible for all.

As technology improves and data visualizations become real-time, decision-makers will be able to react better and faster.

And as data visualizations become more interactive, it will become easier for people to explore the numbers on the fly.

By improving real-time and interactive data visualizations, the ability to understand data will be placed within reach of a wider number of people.

Moreover, improvements in technology will make visualizations easier to develop, which will, in turn, make visualization accessible to many more people who may not possess the highly technical skills currently required.

Businesses need to rise to the occasion to adopt visualization as their mode of data exploration and communication.

This not only will drive improvement of data-visualization technologies in the long run. It will also provide businesses with the information and understanding they need to learn from their data and act upon it.

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