Data visualization software helps companies make sense of their vast data stores by providing graphical representations of key information. These tools make it easy for ordinary, non-IT users to quickly view data in an easy-to-understand format and assess it so they can make better, more informed decisions. Data visualization solutions are particularly helpful for illustrating data that can be presented with executives or clients who want to quickly understand important insights and trends without having to perform deep data dives themselves.
Many data visualization tools also offer the ability to download, share and embed visualizations, which gives organizations a way to provide internal and external parties greater visibility into performance.
There are a wide range of data visualization solutions on the market available to buyers. We've created this guide to help you better understand what data visualization solutions are, the benefits they can offer your organization and what important considerations to keep in mind when selecting a system to purchase.
Here's what we'll cover:
Data visualization software processes information from an organization's databases and presents it in graphical form. These visualizations range from simple charts and graphs to complex flow charts and geographical maps. Many of these visualizations are interactive, allowing users to adjust certain settings and see the impact in real-time.
The breadth and depth of data visualization tools will vary depending on the type of solution. A simple stand-alone data visualization tool, for example, will likely offer fewer and less robust features than a tool that is part of a fully integrated business intelligence solution that includes multiple other applications for data reporting, predictive analytics, data mining, and so on. Regardless, most data visualization software usually offers some or all of the following functionality:
|Basic visualizations||A variety of visuals and chart types to choose from (e.g., infographics, heat maps, fever charts).
|Interactive capabilities||E.g., drag-and-drop, drill-down functionality.|
|Data/event alerts||Alerts to let users know when data is updated or certain events occur.
|Data visualization sharing||The ability to share visualizations with both internal and external parties.
|Import/export||The ability to import Excel and other data files and export visualizations into different formats and embed them into web pages.|
Data visualizations enable users to more readily analyze information, gain insights and discover trends. This makes users more efficient because they spend more time asking questions and getting answers, and less time interpreting numbers and creating graphics.
Here are a few ways that data visualization software can assist users in gaining insights from their data:
Geographical maps. Mapping data can help users discover geographical trends that may have gone unnoticed in traditionally analyzed data sets. Users can utilize these visualizations to pinpoint geographic strengths and weaknesses and find ways to address them.
Heat maps. Heat maps are 2D data visualizations that use colors to represent different values in order to provide users with a quick and easy way to understand how these values are performing relative to one another. They are similar in nature to fractal maps and tree maps, all of which use different colors to represent a hierarchy of variables. They can be particularly helpful when analyzing how users interact with web pages. For example, a heat map that analyzes web page engagement might show areas of the page that users spent the most time on in colors such as red, orange and yellow, while the areas of the page that had less user interaction with might appear in blue, green and purple shades.
Timelines. Plotting data in a time series is a common way for businesses to track success. With data visualization software, users can constantly adjust parameters to adjust both the metrics considered (e.g., revenue, profit or margins) as well as the relevant timeframe.
Workflow representations. These visualizations allow users to quickly understand the progress of a particular item within a project. By nesting individual workflows under multiple levels of a larger project, both frontline managers and executives can understand at a glance where particular activities stand.
You should consider the following when evaluating data visualization applications:
Do you need a stand-alone data visualization tool or an integrated BI application? Is more advanced BI functionality—such as that included in predictive analytics and forecasting systems—a necessity? If so, you should consider a BI application with integrated visualization, reporting and analysis functionality.
Is mobile BI on your roadmap? Mobile BI is one of the biggest trends in business analytics, and most vendors currently offer at least some functionality on mobile devices. Visualization applications will often require the larger tablet screen to be effective. If you plan on using mobile devices to access visualization applications, ensure that the vendors you evaluate provide support for popular tablets (e.g., Apple iPad and Android-based tablets).
Buyers of data visualization software have the option to choose between web-based (also known as cloud-based) deployment or on-premise deployment.
Systems using a cloud-based deployment model deliver “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS); this is also known as “web-based software.” In this model, the software is hosted (meaning housed, served, maintained and delivered) remotely, on the vendor’s or service provider’s own servers. It is then accessed by users through any device that is both compatible with the system and has an internet connection, which gives users the ability to use the tool anywhere, anytime.
With on-premise deployment, the software system is hosted in-house, on the user’s own servers. Data in the database and all associated applications are housed and run locally, and users may or may not be able to access the system remotely (depending on whether or not the system is compatible with mobile devices and remote computers).
While larger companies will often have the IT resources to host a solution in-house, this can be a costly option for smaller companies. Smaller organizations may thus want to consider cloud-based solutions, which are usually faster and easier to implement and are less costly to manage and update. However, cloud-based solutions may not include the type of robust functionality that a more comprehensive, on-premise BI solution might.
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