Visualisation in Business – Part 2

This follows on from Part 1 “What is visualisation?” in this 3-part special on Visualisation in Business.

How is visualisation used in business, what value does it bring?

Visualisation can save you time, elicit improved insights, bring your data to life, boil data down to its essence, and best of all, it puts data back in the hands of the decision-makers!

At a basic level, it visualisation software automates reports, allowing you to refresh them with one click so saving time on manual updates. But other coding can do that for you too, so what else? Business decisions no longer need to only be based on pre-existing charts, instead it’s possible to use visualisations “live” on a tablet in a meeting, to re-cut the data real-time to rapidly & efficiently inform decision-making.

I started off using visualisation simply as a means to present findings to clients at the end of analysis, but now I also use it much earlier – another key benefit is its use in exploring the data. This also helps in presenting the data later, because it’s then shaped in the best way for a user to interact with the data too, since you’ve already asked questions to find the story immersed within. You can use it to: pinpoint emerging trends, track performance or identify patterns or problem areas.

Visualisation will bring your data to life, you don’t need to be a “numbers person” to be able to get the gist of new types of chart, they are intuitive. This means you can highlight key information quickly and communicate the story to a wider audience – and the more people that have a good grasp of what data is really telling them, the better!

It also allows you to blend data-sources to get improved insights. Many reports in a company, even today, only look at one part of the business, usually because it’s the only part a team focuses on and their data alone has become so large. Visualisation software allows you to blend different cross-business data-sources together, e.g. people data and financial data, to give you a fuller picture and cross-pollination of ideas and targets. Looking at two departments in isolation can make your business look rosy if they are each reporting on what they consider to be the right metrics, but once you blend them together to look at unified metrics (in the end your business is a whole entity), it may tell a different story.

And if you’re going to start looking at this much information at once, it needs to be snappy…. Visualisation can help to “surface” the crux of an issue at-a-glance, or in other word it helps to boil data down to its essence. I’m sure you can already imagine that anything that simplifies a large amount of complex data is of huge potential. You no longer have to dig through the small-print or multiple tables to find the key indicator you’re looking for, but instead, you can select key metrics to refresh so you can have your finger on what you consider to be the “pulse” of your business.

And that brings me onto my final point: data can finally be in the hands of the decision-makers! The indicators that you pick out as important can be selected and varied as much as you wish. Instead of having to go back & forth to IT (which can sometimes mean ideas get lost in translation or are abandoned due to lengthy processes) visualisation software is now intuitive enough to enable business users to derive insight without IT support and try out their ideas and adjust as they go along, so more business users can be better informed.

How about some specifics on real examples to illustrate how it’s used, what have I personally used viz for in real business to improve the way they work?

Reading about (and better still, trying out for themselves) the drill-down feature (as described in Part 1) often inspires people to think of examples in their own line of work. But here are some real examples of how its already being put to good use, across a variety of sectors:

  • In finance and asset management it’s being used to track portfolios real-time, and in many areas they have quite complex and product-specific KPIs that are very specific to that market, so the adaptability of the software comes in handy here. For example in mortgages of hotel loans, you want to know not just the debt metrics (loan-to-value, margins, latest swap pricing) but also the hotel performance (occupancy levels, room rates, food and beverage margins) – visualisation can help you see all this rapidly on one page or “dashboard”: 

Hotel

Source: Dundas

  • In sales departments, it’s being used as a “pulse” with one central dashboard that everyone has and can click down into to see how their part of the business is under- or over-performing compared to the rest
  • In the HR team of a major UK government department, visualisation is being used to answer new kinds of questions, e.g. employee resource forecasting, and workforce productivity monitoring (in terms of business outputs and “engagement”)
  • Visualisation’s being used for fraud identification through interactive network maps of retail transactions. Mapping the transactions across different countries and client types can help regulators to visually see patterns of unusual behaviour

FraudMapSource: Scott Allen Mongeau, SAS Institute

  • In utility companies, including a major UK water company, it is helping to visualise smart-meter data to speed up identification of leaks in the network, and identification of customer behaviours by demographic

Hopefully you’re starting to see the value of visualisation and how it’s changing businesses. There’s also increasing focus on the best type of chart to get the most out of your data, with several new types of intuitive chart that are becoming common – now available here in the final part of this series!

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