The Hype Around Data Visualization

Slalom Consultant Keith Favreau

Keith Favreau is a member of Slalom Consulting’s Business Intelligence and Data Management community in San Francisco. His work focuses on report design and data analysis with a special emphasis on the visual and interactive capabilities.

Why the Hype?

Organizations everywhere are teeming with excitement about Business Intelligence (BI), but what is causing the frenzy in the well-established discipline of data analysis? The answer lies in the new wave of user-friendly tools that offer powerful analysis engines and intuitive charting capabilities to bring data sets to life. The current software trend to make databases understandable to the ordinary user is being referred to as Data Visualization.

What is Data Visualization and how is it different from Dashboarding?

Dashboards are a commonplace throughout organizations and are known to be an easy-to-read, single page user interface showing a graphical presentation of select KPIs. Below are some common properties of dashboard solutions:

  • Typically owned and maintained by IT
  • Requirements are known and defined—built with a purpose
  • Repeatable—scheduled and updated
  • Great for threshold tracking, KPIs, statuses, and snapshots
  • Not great for ad-hoc analysis, research, or investigation

Data Visualization takes the concept of dashboarding to a different level. It is the broader study of the visual representation of data and how to best convey the insights found within datasets. Organizations are enabling their employees like they never could before to analyze data, create their own interactive dashboards, and convey those findings quickly and easily through visual mediums. The tools have enabled this trend by allowing easy connections to databases and best-fit charting recommendations. Data Visualization projects in the corporate world today often have the following traits:

  • Frequently led by the business side of an organization
  • Requirements unknown and undefined
  • Results unknown—investigative
  • Ad-hoc in nature—iterative and flexible

Who is Disrupting the BI Community with Visual Software and Analysis Tools?

Visually focused software tools have brought BI to the masses. New software companies empower business analysts and data scientists alike with new functionality:

  • BI outside of the IT department
  • Visual analysis of any dataset—direct connections to databases, cubes, warehouses, files, and spreadsheets
  • Powerful and fast
  • Merge data sets on the fly
  • Interactivity—highlight/filter relevant data
  • Publish anywhere—PDF, web, and mobile

The incumbent BI vendors such as SAP, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and MicroStrategy are playing catch-up to a few rising stars. Here are some of the companies with exciting analysis and visualization software:

Once insights have been found and organized, one popular medium to promote findings is through infographics. Infographics statically present complex information quickly and clearly such as in signs, maps, journalism, and technical writing. Infographics allow the creator to tell a story in a way that words and data cannot. At our clients, infographics manifest as training guides, data models, user interaction diagrams, process flows, business development, and marketing materials.

Infographics are a place of convergence of user experience and BI, where the organization and representation of the information is as important as the data findings. Here are some companies publishing compelling stories with their respective data:

The companies listed above are all consumer facing brands who have found value in analyzing data sets, determining key insights, and, most importanly, displaying the information in a well thought out manner. This same trend will be increasingly important in our BI work going forward. Data Visualization tools available today will allow our customers to create more compelling analyses and stories for their organizations.

About Keith Favreau
Works for Slalom Consulting in San Francisco as a Business Intelligence consultant. Loves to travel and explore the physical and digital worlds.

One Response to The Hype Around Data Visualization

  1. Ronnie Holtz says:

    Nice post. If you’re ever interested in reading up on some in-depth business intelligence research, especially from a technological standpoint, you might like the journal my colleague writes for: It has a lot of good low-level details.

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