Making Sense of Data: Data Visualization

Making Sense of Data: Data Visualization


Time is the cynosure in the modern business world. With the exponential growth of the modern networked enterprises along with the necessity for the business decision makers to identify opportunities, trends and to make cognitive predictions using the available data within a short time frame, it becomes imperative to transform the bulk volumes of tabular data into better perceptible forms. As the adage goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, in this case it is worth thousand rows of data.

So the Introduction of visualization is a welcome change in terms of representing large volumes of information in a compact and easily understandable means ensuring ease of comprehension as well as better dissemination leading to effective and accurate decision making capabilities thus aiding in achieving the desirable business goals.

In business terms, Visualization has the potency to increase the efficiency of a wide spectrum of business processes. It empowers the concerned liaisons by providing better business management processes along with increasing the efficiency of the financial processes. The most appealing aspect of data rendered through visualization is that it allows consummate levels of end-user interactivity coupled with the advantage of mobility. Visualization involves a combination a computer graphics and human perception.

Visualization applications provide data in the form of charts, dashboards, scorecards and other indicators. Apart from the data itself along with the graphs and charts to display the data, the other important aspect of visualization is to address the question – “What the end users need?” While designing visualization, one must take into consideration that the output must be relevant to the target audience’s needs.

The most common component or form of visualization is charts. These involve bar graphs, line graphs and pie charts. Charts are graphical representation of numerical and qualitative data thus easing out the understanding of large amount of data along with the relationships between various parts of the data. Charts help the audience to understand the various upward and downward trends in the business. The typical usage of charts is to represent the performance values of key business dimensions like Channels, Products, Sales Region, Geographies and many more.

Visualization Indicators

This Visualization component enables the end user to shift their focus to the most important information areas thus reducing the time for the user to scroll through the entire data screen. Indicators include symbols, trend icons, gauges and various performance related meters with an objective to enhance the visual overview of the data. Visual indicators are an important component of dashboards and scorecards which help in summarizing the results.

Dashboard and Scorecard

Dashboards and Scorecards are single page, graphical presentation of data providing an at-a- glance view of the various Performance indicators (KPIs). These Visualizations components ingest large amount of data and convey intuitive results. The essential aspect of these visual components is the capability to classify the time-critical events along with portraying a pattern in terms of current and historical data.

Dashboards are in essence the summarized data of the overall performance of an enterprise whereas Scorecards help in keeping the enterprise focus on the strategic objectives.

Advanced Visualizations

Advanced visualizations represent data beyond the traditional graph and chart visualizations. They provide sophisticated graphical representations in form of geographical maps, heat maps, scatter plots and many more. In scenarios involving a number of data attributes, advanced visualizations help in revealing valuable information about the enterprise.

Selecting a Visualization

Visualization applications provide a large platter of visualization components but it is essential that the components are chosen inline to the desired output as well as the end users relevance. The visualization application must offer the desired results along with appealing aesthetics but in the same time must not intimidate the end user. One must be well aware of the usage of every component else the result might be displaying volume of products sold in a pie chart. The selection of visualization must be weighed down by the various benefits that the solution might offer in terms of enterprise performance enhancement.

Visualization – Interactive Capabilities

Traditional reporting set ups provide static charts and graphs but to provide a full information experience interaction is imperative. It enables the users to relate with the information and hence study the existing information to determine new information.

Scroll bars have become an inherent part of visualization components which allows the user to move up and down to check for data that would in other cases be out of screen. Pie charts can be rotated to disclose the most astute view of information. Display of information in color-codes across various visualization components is another powerful interaction capability. This provides the user with a better comparative context making it simpler to understand information.

Presence of filter panes is another benefit wherein the users can restrict their view to a limited result set thus enabling them to focus on the data of highest priority. In Figure 7, the user selects the country as Canada and views the corresponding data for the country.

Applications of Visualization

Enterprise level decisions require analysis of qualitative as well as quantitative data and the visualization applications facilitate such an analysis across the enterprise. The applications can only be limited by the inability of the developer to understand the requirement and the corresponding implementation.

Some of the typical examples of enterprise level applications are:

  1. Managers present across locations referring to 3-D geographic maps to locate employees with specific skill sets and to check if they are assigned to the desired roles.
  2. Process and Quality managers monitoring statistical control charts to ensure quality compliance and to determine the tolerance ranges
  3. Usage of visualization to monitor network traffic and network load by the IT staff to identify any problems if any.
  4. Sales managers viewing the product dashboards to identify the sales trends as well as to determine the highest selling product
  5. The Supply chain management teams identifying the highs and lows in the material demands and thus making the transshipment related decisions

The applications of visualization are a plenty and this creates a tremendous opportunity to leverage visualization applications across the enterprise.

Future of Visualization

The age of visualizations has started and slowly Visualizations are becoming pervasive with the advent of more powerful and easy to use technologies. The highly cohesive association of visualization with Business Intelligence allows the users to easily shift from the paradigm of static reporting to the dynamic and smarter graphical representations and this is in turn being aided by the increasingly powerful network bandwidths and systems with high graphical capabilities.