How Data Visualization Can Help You Make Better Business Decisions

You’ve got data – lots of data. If you could just get your head around it, you’d gain extremely helpful insight into making better business decisions. But sometimes numbers alone are difficult to figure out.

Visualization is the answer.

Cloud-based data visualization tools are revolutionizing the way that SMBs turn data into actionable knowledge. They provide ways to understand your key financial and operations data, making it digestible for you, your employees and your customers.

For example, the numbers might tell you that you lost money in a particular quarter, but until you see a color picture that shows costs for one product line rising while the price customers are willing to pay for it declining, you may not understand why. In such cases, visualization can literally save your bottom line.

The cloud, in the form of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, is bringing data visualization to the masses. These tools are a result of more employees wanting to use their business’ data, but lacking the skills that were previously required to create such visualizations.

Today, a large number of cloud-based visualization tools are available – some of them free, and most for non-technical users. Here’s a quick roundup of what you should expect from these tools.

The Democratization of Data

It can be difficult to understand what’s hidden in the data. But employees who aren’t data scientists or analysts should be able to ask questions of the data based on their own business expertise and quickly and easily find patterns, spot inconsistencies, even get answers to questions they haven’t yet thought to ask. Otherwise, the effort and expense that companies invest in collecting and mining data may be challenged to yield actionable results. And companies run the risk of missing important trends or insights.

Previously, most of the tools that were needed to work with data were cumbersome and complex. Even larger enterprises had trouble finding data scientists with the right skills.

According to an IDG Research study, among businesses that say their organizations are “highly” or “somewhat effective” at data analysis, 58% have already implemented, or are in the process of implementing, a data visualization solution. Another 40% expect to implement one. In other words, 98% of businesses that are best at putting their data to work for them already invest in, or plan to invest in, data visualization.

The reason: graphics reveal data. Indeed, graphics can be much more conducive to employee understanding and “a-ha’s” from data than conventional statistics.

The Benefits of a Data Visualization Solution

What does data visualization offer? It primarily does what it says: shows data in a graphical – or picture – format, making patterns that were hidden in numbers easier to grasp. For example, you might not know that most of your sales are at the beginning of each month until you see purchases charted by date. In this case, a visualization solution will make large data sets easier to understand. The more sophisticated tools allow you to click on specific aspects and get in-depth details about them.

The top benefit of using data visualization, according to enterprise decision-makers polled by IDG, is, first and foremost, better decision-making (77%). It’s also better for ad-hoc analysis (43%); for example, you spot something interesting, and in a few clicks are able to get a clearer picture. Data visualization is also great for sharing and collaboration (41%) – a picture is a more powerful tool for getting others to share in an important “a-ha.”

With a good data visualization tool, your employees should be able to:

  • Build interactive graphics that incorporate data visualization best practices. The visualization tool should be able to automatically present the data with the most appropriate visual for the type of data being analyzed.
  • Perform basic analytics. A leading visualization tool will mask the complexity of the data for non-technical users so they can do things like explore correlations, apply filters to multidimensional data, and drill up and down through data hierarchies.
  • Easily build reports. The tool should have an easy-to-use, intuitive interface so that employees can preview, filter or sample data prior to creating reports.
  • Securely distribute insight using mobile devices and Web portals. This capability drives collaboration while allowing your business to maintain control over the data itself through a robust user authentication and access authorization rules that align with your data governance policies.

Three Free User-Friendly Data Visualization Tools

Microsoft Power BI: What started out as just a free throwaway for the Microsoft Office ecosystem is now considered one of the top data visualization tools on the market. This option is an easy, do-it-yourself visualization tool that draws graphics for you based on more than 40 different types of data sources.

Tableau (public version): One of the most popular data visualization tools on the market, Tableau includes dozens of graphs, charts and maps, and allows users to drag and drop data into the system and watch it update in real time.

Visualize Free: A free cloud-hosted, zero-client app, Visualize combines data preparation and visualization in one platform. To activate, you simply sign up, upload your data using either Excel or a text file, and start visualizing it.

Why Your Business Needs Data Visualization Tools

Numerical data that isn’t easily and immediately grasped by your employees isn’t very valuable. As a result, more midsized businesses are depending on data visualization tools to explore the business data that they routinely collect and store, and use it for impactful decision-making. These SaaS data visualization tools offer the opportunity for even non-technical employees to make sense of important data through their intuitive interfaces and abundant graphical features.