Becoming Truly Data-Driven with Data Visualization

by John F. Bremer Jr.

Research indicates that by the end of 2022, humans will produce 94 zettabytes of information. Ever heard of a zettabyte? It’s the equivalent of one trillion gigabytes — basically, a number with 21 zeros behind it…that’s a lot of data.

But extracting tons of information doesn’t guarantee that companies can harness its power to better understand their business. This is where data visualization can become a company’s greatest competitive advantage. Other organizations are already realizing its power, capitalizing on the space, which is set to grow at a rate of 10.4% annually, reaching $19.25 billion by 2027.

A business can’t manage what it can’t see, and data visualization helps to analyze databases and spreadsheets by seeing them pictorially — be it with charts, plots or maps, among many other representations. This is quickly becoming the first-rate solution in driving better business decisions, allowing stakeholders to assess the health of a company and where it can grow.

To start, project leaders need to identify the questions they’re trying to answer, and the data literacy they or their department may have. So, let’s explore how to become experienced in data visualization.

Finding the Right Purpose

A dashboard is a data viz term indicating a homepage of sorts, where the visualizations will live. The inception of these dashboards depends on their initial purpose, whether to explore or explain the data. Here are some examples:

  • Exploring: Spotting anomalies in processes through visuals, or realizing why a product is selling better during a specific season.
  • Explaining: Visually getting a message across to stakeholders, such as quarterly reviews, or monthly and daily performance reports.

Depending on this, teams can deliver a dashboard once or update it as many times as needed. Typically, an exploratory dashboard is delivered to an audience one time, and an explanatory one changes depending on how frequently the information requires updating.

Initially, the advantages of data visualization might not be obvious to everyone, but presenting information in this way can help companies uncover patterns of success and pain points, improve performance or even design more effective business strategies. Its power also comes from the ability to convey a message to an audience, whether it’s a CEO, an accountant, the marketing team or a store manager.

Defining the Journey

A data journey is where a business is at, regarding its data collection and usage. Maybe the information is kept in binders, cluttered spreadsheets or a digital database.

To evaluate where a company is in its data journey, managers must find out where data is stored, who handles it and whether the organization’s current solution effectively addresses their questions. Digitizing data is a necessary step in order to migrate it to a visualization platform. Additionally, knowing how the audience will view and interact with the data viz dashboard will clarify this process. Will it be consumed as a static PDF, on a mobile device, on a laptop?

To centralize the process, managers should decide on a project leader who can learn the ropes and be in charge of future data visualization tasks. A good suggestion would be to appoint whoever is already familiar with the information and has a fair amount of data literacy.

Beginning to Visualize Data

After the information is stored digitally and someone has been delegated, project leaders should explore the data visualization platforms available. Options range from costly and flexible, to free and more rigid. The choice depends on the company’s priorities and capacity.

The designing and coding part of the process will come with training, in which workshops can be essential. There are also many online courses and YouTube tutorials to gather the fundamentals.

Another option is to outsource the project to a data visualization agency. Agencies can both deliver dashboards to the business as well as offer training services to educate clients and upskill employees, supporting an organization’s data visualization journey.

Those who stick with data visualization will find it offers new angles and valuable insights into their businesses. And after these first steps are done, the creation phase can even be quite enjoyable and rewarding.

John F. Bremer Jr. is CTO and chief of business development at LiftedViz, a data visualization consulting agency helping businesses thrive with data. An experienced computational linguist who has worked in high-tech for the US Air Force and the Boeing Computer Services Artificial Intelligence Center, he runs the business side of LiftedViz. 

What’s the best data visualization platform? Microsoft Power BI? It comes with Office 365 Enterprise, so it’s convenient for those using it! Tableau? The leading data visualization platform, it can be connected to almost any data source, but a bit costly. Google Data Studio? Perfect on a budget: free to use and works best with data from Google-based platforms.

Did You Know: One of Tableau’s social missions is helping the environment, and it’s keeping its word. Thanks to Tableau, a black rhino sanctuary in Zambia could locate a teen rhino that went missing for five months. With the help of Tableau, park rangers used data visualization to discover unchecked areas within the sanctuary, and — bam! — they immediately knew where to look and successfully located the rhino. 

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