By Cassandra Balentine
Businesses looking to leverage big data efforts benefit from visualization tools that provide context in an easy to understand format. This enables novice users to extract information for basic data inquiries without the help of IT.
Data visualization and analytic tools allow companies to identify new revenue streams, operational efficiencies, and underutilized resources, according to Josh Parenteau, director of market intelligence, Tableau.
These tools also present a unified view of data assets across data sources, which James Fisher, VP, global product marketing, Qlik, says can be revolutionary. “When combining a unified view with the ability to interactively explore and ask questions without having to be a data expert, users can unlock the power of analytics across the organization. This means more informed micro-level decisions adding up to transformational impact at the macro level and significant business value generation.”
Every industry and vertical can benefit from visual analytics software, including healthcare, government and law enforcement, insurance and banking, and retail.
Vinay Anand, senior director, product marketing, MicroStrategy, points out that data visualization products are unique in that they are utilized in a variety of compelling ways. “The biggest benefit we see for our customers are that they are data driven in every decision they make or action they take. And at all levels—from business teams to executives and it’s no longer the realm of IT,” he says.
Fisher sees a broad adoption of analytics and visualization tools across most industries in the market today with some being more involved than others. “Financial services and life science industries, for example typically have sophisticated deployments and a wide variety of advanced use cases whereas government and a few traditional industries are often earlier on their analytics journey.”
Fisher says healthcare presents a great illustration of a micro/marco data synergy. “Visual exploration is often the catalyst to identifying variation between physicians, which presents the opportunities for change and the resulting business value this can generate. A small reduction in patient length of stay for one common procedure, for example, can have huge ripple effects in reducing cost, freeing up beds for critical care, and improving patient outcomes,” she comments.
Parenteau has witnessed doctors using dashboards and visualizations to directly improve patient care in hospitals and even identify patients with particular risk factors to receive preventive treatment with no formal analytics training.
Another example is law enforcement, where police use analytics to identify high-risk victims and to deploy appropriate resources to the right place at the right time, reducing crime and improving community safety, says Fisher.
In insurance and baking, analytics drive advanced early warning detection processes. “This is helping multi-national organizations execute potential fraud and risk mitigation by connecting data from historically disparate systems, allowing users to see an entire ecosystem sometimes for the first time,” says Fisher.
Anand adds that the banking industry can better manage risk, identify new markets, and increase operational efficiency. Insurance companies can visualize agent productivity, analyze policies, and look at claims and risks under a new lens.
He adds that retail organizations use digital visualization tools to improve store efficiency, drive sales, and deliver a better shopping experience for customers as well as boost their understanding of how each product, sales representative, and store location are improving in real time.
While data visualization tools are a game-changing solution when done right, several challenges prevent optimal use.
Parenteau believes that for many, the biggest challenge is understanding where to begin. “Some tools have a steep learning curve and aren’t very intuitive or easy to use without technical expertise or coding experience.”
Anand agrees, noting that the biggest challenge users face today is taking the first step. “Once that is taken it’s fairly easy to engage the broader part of the organization.”
Another challenge is accessing data. “Many tools don’t offer the ability to connect to your data in all sources, rendering them effectively useless. If you can’t connect to all of your data, whether it’s on premise or in the cloud, you can’t make true data-driven decisions,” says Parenteau.
For less data-savvy users, Anand says the biggest challenge is finding the right way to slice and dice the underlying data to find insight worth visualizing. For savvy data users, the biggest challenge is remembering that not all users are as savvy as them. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen analysts come up with brilliant insight, make a nice visualization out of it, and then not bother to title it or label the axes properly. The result is that nobody actually takes away the right thing from the visualization and their work is wasted.”
For power users, Anand says the challenge around governance doesn’t necessarily step from the technology itself, but from the techniques or processes they have implemented. “Due to explosive growth of available data and to collect and analyze, it’s become increasingly important for data visualization tools to ensure the accuracy and legitimacy of the information before it is analyzed.”
Many organizations look to data visualization tools to improve business processes and performance and better leverage their data.
“In our experience, every industry and vertical has the opportunity to benefit from the data visualization and discovery process,” says Anand. “The types and sources of information vary by industry, but the goal remains the same—identify faster and more accurate insights to act upon.”
He says data-rich industries like retail, healthcare, banking, insurance, manufacturing, and telecommunications across every business functions are experiencing a rapid expansion in the amount of data available. “As a result, they need a powerful platform in place that can scale and manage it all in one central location. Organizations are seeking a competitive edge over the competition, an opportunity to make more informed decisions, all while saving time, money, and other valuable resources,” he shares.
Daniel Mintz, chief data evangelist, Looker, adds that data visualization tools are a key component in data adoption across industries. “As data literacy becomes a key skill across the enterprise, visualization is key because it communicates so much more clearly than a data table what is actually happening.”
The Latest Trends
Data tools continue to advance, opening up new opportunities for varying organizations.
For years the analytics environment has become more fragmented in organizations. “Data is everywhere—both cloud and on premise, there are more types of computing environments, organizations are more distributed, and there is a larger number of tools and technologies on the market. To make sense of this, there is an overarching trend that we call the de-silofication of people, data, and ideas. This trend is taking shape in several ways,” says Fisher. This includes data literacy, data science, cloud and big data, and augmented intelligence.
Parenteau says the biggest trend impacting data visualization and analytics is the prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. “While it may sound scary to IT departments and analysts who are hesitant to relinquish human control, analytic platforms that include AI and machine learning capabilities are actually going to serve as a highly effective assistant to modern analysts. While there might be concern over being replaced, machine learning will actually supercharge analysts and make them more efficient, more precise, and more impactful to the business. Instead of fearing machine learning technology, embrace the opportunities it presents.”
Anand says natural language and collaboration are major trends. “Natural language querying helps analysts build dashboards faster and natural language visualizations or text-based narratives help our customers engage a broader audience.”
“We will continue to see the growth in the ability of data visualization tools to suggest ways to improve or augment your visualization,” predicts Mintz.
Looking ahead, we see data visualization tools going further than ever before—but with a few potential issues along the way.
The use cases we see in the next few years go well beyond just visualization. “There will be an even larger opportunity in supporting analytics, which will leverage natural language query processing and generation in tandem with virtual assistants and search technologies—and immersive analytics that go beyond virtual reality to many new styles that infuse analytics into people’s environments.” says Fisher.
He believes the biggest challenge for organizations is how to serve all current and future users and use cases in a unified governed fashion—without trying to stretch a tool to do something it wasn’t intended for. Fisther explains that pure visualization tools need to evolve to support a variety of audiences and needs, including business analytics in functional areas such as sales, marketing, operations, and finance; interactive analytics apps and dashboards for larger communities of business users to explore and search; managed reporting and alerting for executive and clients; and mobile analytics for salespeople and operational workers in the field.
Parenteau says we’re approaching a point where analytics is practically ubiquitous in modern businesses, ingrained across an organization in several departments, from the executive suite down to the entry level employee. “As data exploration becomes easier and more democratized across the business, we’re going to start seeing the ability to get actionable insights become more prevalent at all levels of the organization. We will even see these insights being delivered outside of the organization to an organization’s customers, suppliers, partners and distributors, which exponentially increases their impact.”
He adds that cultural change is another challenge, which is related to the ways organizations make decisions. “For many organizations, the vision of being data driven is still aspirational but becomes infinitely easier to achieve with insightful analytics than with traditional approaches to business intelligence.”
Anand says organizations still see a skillset gap, and many people in an organization aren’t necessarily data savvy enough to build or even understand data visualization when they begin to get a little complex. “While natural language solves that to an extent, self service will be driven by proactive and recommendation-based technology including chat bots and voice guided instruments.”
He says the next wave of AI will drive innovation in analytics and data visualization offerings. “The potential for AI at work is largely untapped, and this year alone could bring more of this emerging technology into the data visualization practice than we have ever seen in the last two decades. As we move through 2018, companies will work to define how AI can be applied to specific industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and transportation to make it all more easy. We’re starting to focus on how AI can help meet the specific needs of business users, boosting the productivity of workforces and the automation of repetitive tasks currently taking up a significant amount of time and resources and helping users recognize patterns and trends in their data.”
“We’ll continue to see data visualizations get embedded in all kinds of places they’ve yet to be incorporated, from the factory floor to the c-suite. The biggest challenge will be replacing tools that silo visualizations with ones that can easily bring them natively into all kinds of other tools,” adds Mintz.
Data Visualization Tools
There are many data visualization tools on the market; here we highlight products offered by vendors quoted in this article.
Looker’s data visualizations are all interactive and browser based, which makes sharing a visualization as easy as sharing a link. The Looker architecture enables users to drill down to row-level detail to understand what is happening but why. The company has also innovated virtualization with LookVR, which allows users to explore data in virtual reality.
MicroStrategy offers solutions to simplify the process of meaningful data discovery for all types of users within all types of organizations and industries, and have achieved this though Dossier, the next step in the evolution of business analytics. Featuring a streamlined interface, dossiers are organized in pages and chapters that make it easy to navigate and share the reports and visualizations users are familiar with. And with live collaboration, commenting and notifications, teams are able to stay in synch and be ready to take informed action when it counts, shares Anand.
“The digital economy rewards organizations that are able to effectively collect, visualize, analyze, and make decisions on an ever-growing amount of valuable information. This digital-first revolution opened the door for more employees, regardless of technological prowess or data science experience, to become involved in the data exploration process. This meant that business intelligence solutions had to evolve to meet the needs of line of business user base and provide technology that everyone from the CEO to the retail store manager could work with,” says Anand.
MicroStrategy’s data visualizations tools are available for the desktop, web and mobile, and can surface data from multiple data sources in a coherent manner. The tool offers built in data preparation capability that helps transform messy data, custom visualizations, natural language querying, and access to predictive analytics—all while being able to keep valuable data secure and personalized to the reader. “What makes it actionable is that is shared automatically in a matter of clicks to any device and in any format. The differentiator is that even as a tool that serves decentralized business teams in a flexible manner, it offers the means to promote content and govern data,” says Anand.
“At Qlik, we put people at the heart of decision making and we aim to drive data literacy for users of all skill levels and roles across an organization. Our patented associative engine allows people to easily bring together many different data sources and interactively explore without the limitations and boundaries of query-based architectures,” says Fisher.
The Qlik engine uses a combination of patented in memory techniques for data association and dynamic calculation that allow people to explore and search in a free form, non-linear fashion. By keeping all objects in context and exposing both associated and unrelated values to the user after each interaction, our engines help uncover hidden insights that would have been missed in query-based tools.
Unlike standalone visualization tools, Qlik takes a platform approach that allows organizations to serve all their analytics use cases—including self-service visualization, interactive dashboards, custom and embedded analytics, mobile analytics, and reporting—within a unified, governed framework. Qlik combines leading data management and integration capabilities for data of all sizes, a modern architecture that runs in the cloud and on premise, and analytics capabilities that serve a wide range of uses and use cases.
Qlik Sense is the company’s next generation platform for self-service oriented analytics. Qlik Sense includes associative exploration and search, smart visualizations, self-service creation and data preparation, advanced analytics integration, collaboration and reporting, fully interactive online and offline mobile apps, and enterprise class governance and scalability. Qlik Sense is available in enterprise and cloud offerings and is intended for organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to the largest global companies across all industries and geographies.
Tableau is the leading provider of visual analytics solutions, with more than 70,000 users worldwide. “We help people in all industries see and understand their data, from global enterprises to early stage startup and small businesses. Our platform is designed from the ground up to make data analysis easily and second nature for our users,” says Parenteau.
Tableau’s drag and drop simplicity gives people unprecedented access to their data, making data exploration and analysis easy and intuitive, empowering all users to find and share meaningful insights. In addition, the company embraces a Switzerland of data philosophy—users are able to analyze their data no matter where it was generation or where it resides, whether that’s in a cloud storage solution or on premises.
Organizations make a continued effort to collect and manage their data, so it is important they implement tools to effectively leverage it. Data visualization tools enable business users to utilize and contextualize data without tying up IT. SW
Nov2018, Software Magazine