January 6, 2011 – Data visualization is in the middle of a growth phase and contributing to major improvements in business user insight and productivity, as well as usage of dashboards, according to the latest TDWI Best Practices Report, "Visual Reporting and Analysis."

Data visualization is increasingly an essential element of business intelligence in the form of charts, maps and other graphical representations. These elements help business users to better understand data and use it to achieve tactical and strategic objectives. For instance, 74 percent of survey respondents credit data visualization for a “very high” or “high” increase in business user insights.

More than two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents felt that data visualization had a “very high” or “high” influence on user productivity. Data visualization has made its greatest inroads in the executive suite. Almost three-quarters of our respondents (74 percent) rate the importance of visualization to executives as “high.”

Despite the growing popularity of data visualization, users still spend almost two-thirds (65 percent) of their time analyzing data in tables and text, according to the recent TDWI survey. Only 12 percent of respondents ranked tables as “highly” useful in helping users glean insights and make decisions. 

Customization, collaboration and iteration are required for organizations to operate interactive visual reporting and analysis solutions that deliver maximum benefits, according to the report. TDWI advises that businesses employing data visualization methods should focus on requirements first, deliver high quality data and get user feedback before rollout. Design-wise, TDWI advises to balance sparsity and density because “less is more,” leverage templates and allow users to view details of any top-level metric in three clicks or fewer. 

“Data visualization is never a plug-and-play solution, and one size does not fit all,” says Wayne Eckerson, principal consultant at BI Leader Consulting. Design of visual displays should vary by types of users ­– executives versus front-line staff; purpose – strategic, tactical, operational; and industry and organizational culture – a health care organization versus a clothing manufacturer, explains Eckerson. 

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