In this special guest feature, Agata Kwapien of at datapine, explains the virtues of visual reporting tools and methods as an alternative to legacy processes. Agata Kwapien is a tech-savvy blogger passionate about the applications of Big Data and the future of Business Intelligence. She colloborates with datapine and contributes informative content about Business Analytics and Data Visualization to their blog.
Data visualization has recently been the buzzword in the business intelligence world. Visuals also have a good reputation of being superior to conventional analysis using Excel or PowerPoint and seem to have a positive effect on daily business operations. However, the question arises what aspects of visuals exactly make it better than traditional data crunching tools? Aren’t they overrated eye candies that carry little added value?
Legacy Spreadsheet Reporting
Let’s track the conventional way you get your reports. First you must submit a request to IT and provide them with your databases. Then you will wait as they run queries on one of the databases to get your report back. Usually there is a delay, so as the report comes back it already needs an update as new data is inflowing and some variables have already changed. Consequently, the IT department must modify the query, and it goes back through the cycle. It is hard to collaborate that way, and it’s creates a lot of frustration on both sides.
When you finally got the results, it’s hard to show management or clients the analysis in a form of a spreadsheet. Every time they ask a new question, you have to re-cut your data, run through the tables or create new formulas. It takes a lot of time, and in case of big data volumes it’s impossible to be completed on the spot. Consequently, you might want to find the answer to a new query later and send an updated report to your audience. This will prolong the process even further and make you spend more time on it as you initially planned.
Visual Reporting Reduces the Workload
As companies engage the reporting process on a regular basis, the moment one batch of reports is sent out and closed the other reporting cycle begins. This engenders the need to have a whole department of people responsible only for reporting – an unreachable vision for most SMBs.
Time and cost intensity are the issues that state-of-the-art dashboard software is aimed at addressing. And the most important thing it does is combining the real-time data analytics with prompt visuals creating and easy sharing functionality. Today volume of big data at every company’s disposal is so overwhelming that it’s easy to lose the outlook of the big picture. This is where visual reporting comes in handy as they are able to aggregate the data from numerous sources and display it in an easy and comprehensive way.
Quick Interaction with Data
It goes without saying that time is the scarcest resource we’ve got and, sometimes, it is possible just to lose hours digging into Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Excel spreadsheets or any other relevant data source. In case of visual reporting, you first create a dashboard which displays data gathered from all your databases at once. You decide what data you extract from your data source and how you juxtapose it. Most important thing is that you can use data from all your databases at once and display it in a way that is understandable from a glance. This not only saves your precious time but also allows you to be hands-on with all your data as the relevant actionable insights are being brought for you to the surface. Moreover, unlike one-dimensional tables and charts that can only be viewed, data visualization tools enable users to interact with data and see them in context.
Improved Team Responsiveness to Emerging Trends
With data visualization tools, business executives are able to spot new business opportunities in the haystack of data they gather about customers and market conditions. Moreover and probably most importantly, they can share those insights with their teams. Visual reporting software is usually offered in a SaaS format which means it’s accessible from standard web browsers. There is no complicated installation necessary except for login credentials; so many team members can access the tool at once. Using data visualization, you grasp shifts in customer behaviors and market conditions across multiple data sets much more quickly and put your heads together as to what to do with emerging trends.
Foster a New Visual Business Language
With the use of visuals you can tell a better story. Studies (pdf) confirm that people process visuals with greater ease than words. It is now scientifically proven that image processing is automatic or even unconscious. Information rendered visually is interpreted in a different way than a written one. Words and numbers must be processed sequentially or in a piecemeal manner, whereas an image can be processed all at once. To sum up, visual information can be processed easier and faster and thus it can also affect us more – both cognitively and emotionally. When presented with illustrated information, people reported increased comprehension, recollection, and retention of facts. It is easier to show a picture of a circle than to describe one – graphics expedite and facilitate communication, they allow us to get the message through more easily. Combining image and text leads to a more profound and accurate understanding of the presented material. Consider these solid scientific facts next time when you will be preparing a business presentation.
Engaging employees with data visualization can open up new ways of looking at business and operational data, enabling senior management to scale new heights in business performance while enabling a much broader audience of analytics users to make data-driven decisions for a better performance.
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