Data visualization techniques add impact to BI

Graphical representations of data are powerful decision-support tools. Their immediate visual impact and ability to provide context also make them very efficient communications media. For these reasons, graphics have become a staple of business intelligence (BI) applications.For BI users, the growing range of data visualization techniques offers an impressive array of new tools and techniques to convey relevant information, whether to the front lines or back office.Text

As BI software gets more sophisticated in handling back end data, vendors are also developing graphical front ends that take advantage of the ability to pull data from multiple sources and combine these into a single chart, map, or dashboard.

Elizabeth Caley, senior product manager at Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont. highlighted the data visualization capabilities of the company’s new Business Scorecard Manager embedded in Microsoft Office 12.

High quality graphics, she said, are an important part of the new package as they help make the product easier to use, an important consideration for extending the use of BI tools to front-line workers.

In addition to creating dashboards, BI can now be embedded in various applications, such as graphic data elements inserted into customer relationship management (CRM) screens.

It is easier for call centre, or other front line workers, to understand the data if it’s in graphic form. The idea is to provide a data snapshot, not an analytical suite.

At Information Builders, chief communications officer Michael Corcoran says operational BI requires more than just static information. Front line workers need to be able to interact with data. They should be able to drill down, if necessary, change content, and create their own information on demand with just a couple of points and clicks, he says.

Advanced visualization tools allow this kind of interactivity.

They also bridge the gap between power users and business end users by enabling the latter to build queries on the fly, just by clicking on the graphics.

Another emerging trend is blending geographical information into BI. The ability to create customized maps based on a company’s location data has been a huge benefit to decision-makers. Maps are data rich environments that can be used to represent several data points simultaneously.

At first, data visualization tools were only two dimensional line graphs, pie charts, bar charts, and other flat representations. Later, colour, gradients, and other visual enhancements were added to create multiple levels of meaning. But the familiar red for bad performance and green for good performance, although effective, soon became a clich

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