How Data Visualization Helps Enhance the Value of Business Intelligence

Dr. Purushothaman
October 13, 2013

With massive amounts of data available both internally and externally, making sense of the information isn't easy. However, business intelligence (BI) tools make it easier. With a robust BI solution in place, it becomes possible to mine data from diverse databases for insights, trends, and analysis. Business intelligence is hot right now, but not all BI solutions are created equally. As powerful as these tools are and as richly detailed as reports may be, the results can be difficult for the average manager to decipher - and more importantly, use. Fortunately, it's not necessary to puzzle over stacks of business intelligence reports when you have a solution that includes data visualization tools.

What is data visualization? Visualizations are a graphical way of displaying data such as pie charts, bar charts, and trend lines. In addition to these familiar charts and graphs, data visualization takes other graphical and symbolic forms. You likely encounter various forms of visualizations day in, day out. For example, if you commute to work each day, the real-time traffic maps you look at use data visualization to indicate the flow of traffic. Red lines along your route instantly and visually tell you that you're in for a long ride. Based on a quick glance at your route, you may decide to leave early, take an alternate route, work from home for the day, or stop at your favorite coffee shop while you wait for traffic to clear.

The same concept can be applied to business data mined and displayed on a BI dashboard. A BI dashboard is an on screen display featuring visualizations based on the data most relevant to your needs. They provide at-a-glance visual information just as the real-time traffic map did in the example above. No matter what you need to track in order to excel in your job, you can set up your BI dashboard to display that data using visual gauges, graphs, charts, and other graphical elements.

While you could view that information using traditional means, data visualization brings it to life and makes it more meaningful. For example, imagine a real-time traffic website without data visualization. Instead of being able to instantly see if your route has green, yellow, or red lines indicating the speed of traffic, you'd have to scan through row after row of text describing each freeway and its current traffic conditions. You may eventually get the same information and come to the same conclusion, but this process is time-consuming, inefficient, and uninspiring. Instead of being a helpful tool that can enrich your life, it becomes yet another chore.

Data visualization has become increasingly sophisticated with a myriad of dashboard objects available. Not only can you set up graphs and gauges to display relevant data, but it's also possible to drill down, change views, and more (depending on the data visualization software you have). While there's no denying the power of modern business intelligence tools, without integrated data visualization, they're not nearly as smart as they could be.

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