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The Emerging Importance Of Data Visualization (Part 1 of 2)

by Lyndsay Wise, President, WiseAnalyticsWednesday, October 29, 2008

In general, organizations and people alike are no longer eager to take their time to see results.  With the ability to access information instantaneously, the way people use data is changing. The goals in the workplace have shifted from trends analyses of stale data towards information that is captured and analyzed in real time.  Consequently, organizations become attached to the ability to access, analyze, and share information multiple times each day. As business intelligence solutions begin to accommodate this new landscape, the way organizations interact with their information systems requires a new set of tools.  With the focus on Web 2.0 and the ability to interact with information in a way that mimics the way people think instead of having to learn the required steps to perform system functions, end users expect seamless interaction within their work environment. 

Part 1 of this article identifies the reasons why data visualization tools are becoming more important within analytics and business intelligence overall. Part 2 looks at how this trend affects the future of business intelligence.  This includes the role of visualizing KPIs, how data visualization helps expand the role of embedded analytics within the organization, and the increasing use of unstructured data.

With business intelligence, the unfortunate reality is that for so long many BI vendors have missed the curve. Whether in reality or based on perception, BI has battled bad PR in relation to its user friendliness. With BI’s new attachment to a Web 2.0 reality, the way interaction takes place has changed. Now decision-makers want to be able to access and manipulate the way they analyze data to match what comes to them intuitively. 

Unfortunately the shift towards adoption of Web 2.0 strategies to enable a more interactive sphere of business intelligence has not readily been adopted among many organizations.  There are the few that are early adopters of easy-to-use front end tools that make access to back-end data transparent, but for the most part, BI is still seen as necessary but not easy.  The expansion of dashboard use within the organization, however, is the one extension of business intelligence that is able to provide end users with the interaction and data access they require without the perceived lack of user friendliness.

The emergence, maturity, and expansion of data visualization tools bridges the gap between traditional BI and widespread access to information.  To enable pervasive BI, organizations are required to implement solutions that encourage organization-wide implementation BI.  In many cases, the user-friendliness factor is what identifies adoption rates.  Excel is widely used because people are comfortable using the application.  Even with all of the added value it provides, many of the benefits of BI outweigh the benefits of using Excel independently.  This is why many vendors mimic Excel’s user interfaces to create a look and feel that complements current end-user comfort and experience.

Enter Data Visualization

Within the past few years the role of data visualization and front-end BI (such as dashboards and interactive reports) have increased and become one of the main components of a BI solution.  Instead of looking at static reports or even adhoc reports, or OLAP, executives and decision-makers want to define goals and measure targets (KPIs), drill through information to identify problems before they occur, and interact with their colleagues to share information and work on projects.  Aside from the assumed ability to intuitively perform these tasks, advanced visualization features are also expected.

The inherent benefits of using strong data visualization are twofold.  First, because many people are visual learners, having strong interactive components enables quicker adoption because of the perceived user friendliness.  Second, scorecards and dashboards are becoming much more popular and provide expanded access to BI where it never existed.  Decision-makers that expand beyond super users can now access business intelligence without having to learn how to interact with or access data stores. 

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