Such big data, so little time. The more we create from it, the harder it seems to deliver on the promise - even when the potential is so obvious. What is the secret sauce for creating truly actionable insights? Increasingly, it's is not just to be found in the realm of data science, but also in that of data visualization. When we combine the latest, staggering visualization technology with sound business rationale - orchestrating the right and left sides of our brain - we finally start to see. Our visual story about data becomes insight, then action, and finally real business value.
The main issue with data is that it’s simply not accessible to everyday business people: it’s difficult to understand, adapt, and exploit as a result of its increasing isolation from business as usual activities. To bridge this widening context gap, we need to embrace data visualization and embed its benefits into the operational fabric of our business. By doing this we can deliver intelligence, which is ‘to the point’, insulated from underlying IT complexity, instantly consumable at the point of action, and instinctive in its application.
This is when real value is created from data.
Acquisition, marshaling, and increasingly pre-analysis of data is now a commodity. ‘Big Data’ technology, cloud platforms and cognitive computing are accelerating real-time data insight as vendor technologies exceed the mainstream tipping point. Despite this, typical Big Data approaches are wedded to corporate data complexity and divorced from business reality.
The journey to enlightenment remains shrouded behind a veil of PhD statisticians and CXO command-and-control mentality. What’s more, business users are dissatisfied due to enterprise inability to deliver meaningful and adaptive insight. Maybe the data artist is the data relationship-counselor that can bring business and IT together using common language. To improve your corporate data relationship, think infographics, accessible visualization, interactive presentation technology, usable metrics, and wearable devices as crucial elements of your evolving digital palette.
If we believe that a picture paints a thousand words and that data science and data art should be equal partners in Big Data success, what are the next steps?
1. Expand your data toolkit with infographics and visualization tools
From infogr.am to easel.ly, through piktochart to visual.ly and quid, we need to progressively simplify accessible visual metaphor technology. Vendors like Tableau or SAS with their Visual Analytics tools are just two mainstream examples of tools that enable business users to become data artists. Visualizations in Open source tools like Shiny for R are making information more palatable to decision makers. Turn data into an ‘Object Of Desire’ and it’s more readily consumed: start-ups such as Datifex use 2D, 3D, game engines and movie special effects software as a visual interaction and transaction platform. To make information even more accessible to business users, Watson Analytics allows the user to ask business intelligence questions in natural language, applying increasingly powerful cognitive systems.
2. Adopt non-linear, intelligent presentation approaches
Armed with a ‘Dan Roam’ mentality and your printed linear slide decks consigned to the waste bin, try out Cloud-based visual presentation technologies such as Prezi, Haiku Deck, and Slideshare to consolidate your ideas using visual, data-driven, dynamic, and non-linear approaches.
3. Embrace usable metrics
Take progressive action to ensure your reports and visualizations focus on a small, but perfectly balanced set of metrics through which you can easily monitor the development of your business accurately and, of course, incrementally.
4. Get physical to accelerate context
Microsoft's Band and especially HoloLens, Apple Watch and Oculus Rift are the early birds in the technology migration to ‘surroundable data context’. These technologies have the potential to inject meaningful personalization at each point of business and channel interaction. In addition, as we ‘swear by wearables’, development frameworks such as Android Wear live and breathe visual thinking. With only a few square inches of screen real estate, we have to make the information count and therefore put actionable context before detailed narrative.
5. See the bigger picture
When looking at the overarching TechnoVision framework, we see that Thriving On Data is a collaboration across all digital building blocks. It cannot stand alone. The reverse is also true as we can only deliver actionable data if we truly embrace the ethos of Process on the Fly and, we can only easily visualize a complex story if we adopt a You Experience and mobile design philosophy in parallel.
Visualization is also becoming critical where location and layout are key to understanding data. Overlaying footfall and customer movement data on a store map gives decisive insights to store managers. Boutique service providers like Prism SkyLabs use color coded data visualizations to turn the store layout into an analytics narrative- thus providing insights at the very point of customer decision making. If there were just data points without the visualization, it would be difficult for business users to appreciate the insights, let alone act on them.
Imagine if Uber just gave you a listing of available cabs and distances without the map and route overlay.
To deliver data context ,we have to articulate our business transactions as visual stories. While data science may provide the corporate data pump, data visualization delivers the organizational smart-meter, ensuring the right information is delivered efficiently into the hands of right person in the right format at the right time with ‘a la mode’ perspective.
Still looking for inspiration? Consider leading-edge examples of digital dashboards like the SAP-Hana powered McLaren Formula 1 racing dashboard or understand the pulse of Amsterdam in these stunning examples. Then, expose your inner digital-Van Gogh by consuming the perfection of simple visual design on the Information is Beautiful blog or Vizipedia to add color to your evolving data artist palette.
If we have continuous and actionable insight, we’ll not only understand the situation, we’ll see the next immediately. This could be a real epiphany as our data speaks in a language we can understand, morphs as our needs dictate, and finally becomes the ultimate driver to our ongoing Digital Transformation journey.
Value from data: not an illusion. Showtime!
(About the author: Ron Tolido is an analyst with Capgemini)
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