Ever since Charles Joseph Minard's 1869 representation of Napoleon's march and retreat from Russia, visualization has been an accepted and worthwhile tool to understand complex situations.1 The business intelligence (BI) tool vendors have taken the ideas of visualization to help our business colleagues better understand the complexities of their sales, finance, inventory control, customer attrition, employee attrition, customer service performance and much more. They have also used the flash and bling to help sell their products. Bling, a term from the rapper world, is flashy jewelry, usually large and over the top. BI bling could be, for example, a 3-D representation of colonoscopy outcomes. In the May 2006 issue of BI Review, Howard Spielman makes the point that 3-D can be free of meaning and can also be misleading; so, the us of visualization and how the results are understood should be monitored and any inappropriate methods of analysis should be corrected. If visualization is to be a major part of BI delivery, it is important that the user training include workshops and case studies that help to interpret visual representations of information.
Some of you would say that these visualizations can help the business understand their metrics and that a word is worth only one-thousandth of a picture. This may be true; problems are displayed on a dashboard in red once an alert has been detected, or positive results are shown in pastoral green (management always wants the calming effect of mellow colors). While the visualization can provide a holistic view of various aspects of the business, astute business managers will always want to see the specific numbers that caused the terrible results or bask in the glow of measurements for which they take credit.
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