One Way to Actively Look at Data Visualization

Data visualization, or what Forrester Research calls active data visualization, allows enterprises to interact and visualize data content and its presentation. Enterprises have always used one form or another of data visualization, including Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and pie charts, but they are seeking ways to wring out greater value from their data.

The analyst firm defines active data visualization as encompassing many levels of interaction between users, data content and forms of presentation, allowing users to directly interact with a visualization and speed up data discovery and decision making. According to Forrester Research, these are key components in data visualization:

Visual data interface: Software allows users to directly interact with charts, graphs and other forms of data visualization. For example, a user may want to delete non-clustered dots of a scatter graph that plots products by affinity. The scatter graph then adjusts its display to the remaining dots, and the user could still study product affinities by looking at the adjusted visualization.

Visual query: Visualization streamlines querying when users select a portion of an active visualization, which becomes a new data set, automatically charted and ready for the next iteration. For example, with a bar chart of customers sorted from least profitable to most, a user might select the short bars to study why some customers aren’t profitable, the tall bars to identify profitable customers, and midsize bars to display if the needs of average customers were met.

Dynamic data content: Visual query displays data content as changing on the fly through user interaction. Most utilities monitor grids by superimposing colors and shapes over a map to represent load, usage and outage, Forrester says.

Multiple linked visualizations: Presenting multiple chart types simultaneously allows users to make multiple interpretations. The charts must link together so visual query and other operations performed on one chart are automatically applied to others.

Animation: Businesses can show one time slice after another, depicting the evolution of time and seasonal fluctuation of specific products per geographic region. Other important features in data visualization include geospatial representation, scaling between large and small data sets, drilling down from summary data to detailed data and representing complex data structures, such as OLAP. Businesses that implement data visualization software must know exactly how it would benefit their strategy and which users could be affected. “They have to look for an application where visualization makes a difference, for example, operations and sales,” says Keith Gile, a Forrester analyst. Data visualization software could help a highway department figure out how many toll booths need to be opened to handle rush-hour traffic. “They have to think how nicely visualization will complement other features” such as order fulfillment.

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About the Author

Kathleen Ohlson is senior editor at Application Development Trends magazine.