How Data Visualization Leads to New Business Insights

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by Keith Cawley

According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of individuals are visual learners. Past civilizations used simple visualizations to easily digest and comprehend information. Today, businesses use infographics, photos, and videos to connect with their customers. Forbes magazine stated, “Most of us process information based on what we see. Sure, we’ll share something that’s written: a blog post or tweet or status updated, but how many times have you heard of one of those going viral? Mostly, you hear about funny or compelling photos or videos catching fire.” Creating memorable visuals can lead to increased customer engagement because it breaks complicated information into easy-to-understand pictures and graphs. Not only it is helpful for customers, but it can also prove beneficial for business owners and executives.

Known as data visualization, the process of presenting complex data in an easy-to-follow pictorial or graphic format can lead to important new insights across disciplines. For example, Dr. Michelle Borkin of Harvard University discovered that displaying blood-flow in a different way could influence a cardiac physician’s ability to correctly diagnose heart disease. Working alongside several other physicians, Borkin tested various color-coded visual representations of blood flow in arteries. Using the original method, physicians were able to correctly diagnose arterial blockages only 39% of the time. When using Borkin’s improved visualization method—a linear side-view of the arteries—the results improved to 62%. By changing the colors to represent how the human visual cortex operates, Borkin raised the successful diagnosis to 91%. Believing that data visualization could explore correlations between astronomy and medicine, Borkin used a similar method to make interesting discoveries about similarities between other scientific fields.

Businesses can harness the power of visualization to educate their customers about complicated subjects. For example, General Electric has an entire website filled with informative graphics about electricity, technology, and natural resources. The colorful graphs help customers understand complex subjects in a simple, easy-to-follow manner. Google allows businesses to create and display interactive charts and data tools on their website. Charity: Water uses infographics and videos to explain their organization to potential donors and show how donations are being used.

The Harvard Business Review opined, “If you’re selling a complex answer to a complex problem, you should be embracing data visualization with gusto. Explaining a complex idea to an online audience requires a level of personalization, detail, nuance and openness that only an interactive visualization can provide.” Data visualization is an optimal way to explain data in a manner that’s for customers to understand.

Companies can also utilize the power of visualization to give executives and key decision makers a three-dimensional view of important findings. In 2010, BCG and the World Economic Forum created a graphic showing the economic merits of employee wellness programs. Executives simply plugged in information about how many people they employed, where these individuals were located, and how much the average regional salary was. The interactive graph then showed projections for the estimated annual savings that would result from a wellness program. The visualization allowed executives to easily understand the merits of implementing a program. Data visualization can also provide executives with a better way to understand complicated data, thereby enabling them to make well-informed decisions.

Many small businesses are buried under mountains of data that haven’t yet been charted and analyzed due to limited resources and budgets. Rather than combing through all the data and writing lengthy reports, businesses should consider using visualization software to break the data into manageable portions. Interactive graphics can provide a three-dimensional view of the data for busy executives, which allows them to make better, more informed decisions.

While implementing data visualization software can be an expensive process, it’s beneficial for businesses that want to explain complex data in an easy-to-understand format. Data visualization can be helpful for both customers and executives. It helps customers understand the merits of a particular product or program, and it provides relevant analysis for executives who are making important business decisions. Companies that want to glean important new insights about their business should consider the merits of such systems.

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