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Data Visualization isn’t a new concept, but it has evolved over time. Maps, charts and diagrams have been presenting complex information in a graphical or pictorial format, in one way or another, for hundreds of years – and the process has only improved. When information is represented visually, it helps us understand why things happen, as well as compare different patterns and trends that could inform future outcomes.
In his 1983 book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte stated that effective Data Visualization should consist of “complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision and efficiency.” There are many ways to do this, from simple charts to more intricate, multi-faceted graphs. Some techniques, like pie charts, are easily recognizable while others, such as alluvial diagrams, are less common. However, all have a unique ability to bring data to life.
We already know that the modern business world generates huge volumes of data at a rapid rate, and Data Visualization is a necessary means of translating this information into digestible ‘chunks’. Humans naturally process charts and graphs more effectively than raw data; as the old idiom goes: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
Data Visualization is an essential element of Business Intelligence. It can help companies identify new opportunities, meet challenges head on, and stay up to speed on important market trends. All of which informs better operational and strategic decision making across an organization. Let’s take a closer look at the three main business benefits of Data Visualization technology.
Benefit #1: Condensing an Ocean of Information
Big Data is only getting bigger. According to the IDC, the world will create 180 zettabytes of data (or 180 trillion gigabytes) in 2025. This is up from around 10 zettabytes in 2015. Data Visualization helps companies condense and control their growing data stores, turning inert raw data into useful, actionable information. If companies don’t start making their large data sets coherent, their operations could drown in an ocean of misinformation.
As the quantity of data increases, businesses that rely on manual data analysis and visualization methods will fall behind. The manual process is tiresome, limited, prone to human error and simply takes too long. Automated Data Visualization tools can manipulate data quickly and effectively. Different teams across the business can present their data in different forms and levels of detail, depending on their specific objectives and target audience. What’s more, the software can also pick up on important patterns and trends in the data that are easily missed by the human eye.
Benefit #2: Clarifying Customer Trends
Sales and marketing is now, more than ever, about using data to understand and engage with customers more effectively. But while sales and marketing teams are becoming increasingly data-driven, they naturally do not possess the same level of technical ability as a Data Scientist – nor should they be expected to.
A business can’t afford for its salespeople and marketers to spend valuable time crunching numbers or trawling through spreadsheets. At the same time, for a business to create large, valuable databases is a pointless exercise if they can’t be put into action.
Visualization offers a fast, efficient and highly accessible means of identifying important customer trends. It assists professionals operating in fast moving and highly competitive environments gain instant insight, while minimizing the burden of manual analysis.
Foodservice businesses, for example, can use Data Visualization to identify seasonal and time-sensitive purchasing behavior. Sales and marketing teams can see which product lines are selling best, gather customer sentiment around new service ideas and product concepts, and, ultimately, understand and segment their target audiences with greater accuracy.
With the help of advanced Predictive Analytics, sales executives can go one step further and use real-time Data Visualization to forecast their sales figures. This means that if a product is underperforming, they’ll be better placed to determine why: perhaps it is priced too high, demand may have fallen, or a competitor might be offering the same deal for less.
Benefit #3: Unifying the Business Vision
Data Visualization can help professionals across the business – from sales and marketing to IT – acquire a shared point of view on important trends and issues. However, to achieve this, a business needs to integrate its ERP, CRM and other Data Management systems to eliminate any data siloes. Data can then be collated and visualized uniformly.
This offers a completely transparent and unified view into how back office functions like manufacturing and delivery, service, finance, and HR are impacting and shaping key business performance areas like sales, marketing, customer satisfaction and customer retention. This is particularly important for CEOs, directors and other senior executives, who require an overview of how the entire business is functioning. In today’s highly competitive business environment, finding – and acting on – these data correlations is key to success. Not being able to see, for example, that consistently delayed manufacturing processes are damaging customer satisfaction, could make or break the business.
Of course, data and Data Visualization tools are only as good as the people that take advantage of them. At the end of the day, data-driven technology must achieve one crucial goal: drive employees to action.