BI Visualization

I was interviewed recently by Drew Robb, for an article on BI Visualization for Enterprise Apps Today, an IT Business Edge site. The article’s out, Visualization Broadens Business Intelligence’s Appeal, but Drew had room for only selective use of my responses, so I thought I’d share the full exchange. Here goes —

Drew Robb> Why is visualization becoming so important in BI?

Data visualization helps us quickly grasp both patterns and outliers, via both general-purpose techniques and tools that are specialized for particular information types and business purposes. Visualization has always been important in BI — although never more than now — because it helps us tease business insights from data and effectively communicate what we see.

Drew> What trends are unfolding in this area?

The big news in visualization involves mash-ups, online tools, visual interfaces and immersive experiences, and enhanced reality. Mash-ups join diverse information from multiple sources, typically involving geographic and graphical presentations. Mash-up visualizations are often produced and published online; another class of online visualization tools, pioneered by IBM’s Many Eyes, with Tableau Public a compelling commercialized example and Weave, the Web-based Analysis and Visualization Environment, a latest open-data oriented solution, help a spectrum of data users create graphical magic.

Visual interfaces allow us to guide analyses via clicks and gestures rather than (just) via commands and keystrokes, providing more-natural means of exploring data. Visual interfaces are trending more and more toward immersive. And enhanced reality is the future, already possible to an extent via our mobile devices, where we’re presented with situationally relevant information that enables better-informed decision making.

Drew> What are the various technologies used to facilitate visualization and how do they compare?

There are too many visualization technologies to name, ranging from one-off infographics, to interfaces from exploratory data analysis, to data animations that facilitate telling a story with data. Technologies range from long-standard basic charts to sophisticated network-flow diagrams that allow us to see social behaviors. The best of them are both innovative and understandable.

Visual Complexity is a great place to get an idea of the variety of visualization technologies and approaches out there.

Drew> What about on the vendor front: who seems to be ahead and why and who is lagging behind?

Professionally, I focus on business intelligence and text analytics, so I’ll trot out the usual (and still leading) names, solution providers that include QlikTech, the open-source R project, Tableau, TIBCO Spotfire, and I’ll also cite newer and more-focused entrants that include Advizor Solutions, the spectrum of Google API-fronted services, Miner3D, NodeXL, Palatir, Panopticon, and Tom Sawyer Software. There are many, many choices. Who’s ahead? Visualization developers and users.

Drew> What can we expect to see in the future in visualization?

Immersion and interaction, visualization as a key means of both (and simultaneously) controlling computing devices and enhancing our everyday experiences.

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