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Big Data Journal: Article

A Tale of BI – What Data Visualization Can Tell You about Your Business

Data visualization can help you discover trends, patterns and correlations in your businesses that might otherwise go unseen

You've heard the great promise of business intelligence: data visualization will completely change the way you think about your business. We strive for those life-altering "aha" moments that completely shift the way we think, and help move us forward in a way we just couldn't before due to a lack of knowledge, clarity or inspiration. But how can data visualization promise to give us more of those moments?

Data visualization, the graphical representation of data and information, can help you discover trends, patterns and correlations in your businesses that might otherwise go unseen. It makes meaningful insights easier to spot, epiphanies more common to come by, and helps you create a business story that you can use as a springboard for smart change and success.

Seeing with Kaleidoscope Eyes
Taking large amounts of data and putting it into a business analysis system is like taking a measuring stick to your business - you will start seeing with clearer, richer eyes, simplifying otherwise complex data, mapping correlations, and detecting trends. Organizing your data visually this way will give you an overall picture of your business procedures and let you drill down into specific areas of interest to explore deeper. Data visualization comes with core benefits that will help tell a story about your business:

  • Gain a business strategy based on numbers. Track sales, number of units sold, followers, site visits and compare data week over week, or quarter by quarter (see Example 1).
  • Insight into your target market. Analyze your customer's survey data, website behavior, or demographics to glean who they are, their occupations, gender, location, hours of activity, etc. (see Example 2).
  • Make users a part of your story. By helping users understand the benefit of your solution, you encourage them to tell you what they need most from your business (see Example 3).
  • Know what's trendy. Detect and capitalize on trends and outliers that you can't readily identify in spreadsheets to pinpoint what's influencing business success or failure.

Real People, Real "Aha Moments"
The list of core benefits that helps businesses build a story is general, but here are some specific examples of companies that used data visualization to tell a story - or understand their story - thereby transforming what they do and how they do it.

Example 1: Know Your Numbers from Every Angle
Alpharooms.com is one of the UK and Ireland's leading websites for discount worldwide travel with one million annual customers accessing hotel rooms in more than 250,000 hotels in 40,000 destinations worldwide. The company needed to track web behaviors, email marketing activity, booking patterns, and their finances - and he needed it in real time to be able to change prices and availability as quick as possible to maximize their services. Alpharooms.com uses a dashboard visualization software to build reports and dashboards that analyze booking activity from every angle. With efficient reporting around each type of booking (hotel, flight, car, etc.), they can now directly approach hotels for which they have enough bookings to avoid the extra cost of going through wholesalers.

Other uses of the software include analyzing website usage patterns, optimizing email marketing campaign performance, optimizing purchasing strategies, tracking call center performance and conversions by rep and running reports on all customer activity by search keywords, travel destination, common packages and so forth.

Example 2: See Where Your Target Audience Lives. Literally
The New York Times has jumped on board with data visualization and created an interactive, incredibly thorough census maps that shows the demographics of every block and city in America based on race and ethnicity, income, education, and housing and families. Plug in your business and these demographics let you truly know your market segment so you can build the best business plan possible.

Discover if a target population is wealthy enough or educated enough to be interested in your product (or just the opposite) before you move forward. By researching and understanding the demographics of a particular population, business owners can successfully establish a business model and plan, expand a product line, or outcompete their competitors.

Example 3: Encourage Users to Visualize Themselves as Part of Your Story
Just through data visualization you can enable users to envision themselves as part of your story and thereby show you how they best fit with your product - telling you their own story about your company as they go. The BCG and World Economic Forum encouraged users to estimate the value of a specific solution to their business - instituting an employee wellness program - via an interactive graph. Executives could quickly calculate how much their specific companies could save by investing in such an employee wellness program (based on the statistical data of other companies' wellness programs).

By letting prospective customers determine the economic benefits they could harvest if they instituted the program, these companies literally saw themselves as a part of the story that the BCG and World Economic Forum were trying to push. Those who bought based on participating in the interactive graph in turn gave BCG and World Economic Forum information about their users and became an invaluable sales tool for the business. It was such a great success that another partner company also uses this graph as a sales tool for visualizing similar saving opportunities.

Collaboration Always Means a Better, Richer Story
Sharing your data visualization, which many dashboard visualization tools make easy via web-based dashboards, allows your colleagues or audience to fill in details or even add their own narrative. Every department in a company can build upon the data visualization story by contributing data or drilling down into a specific segment and highlighting an aspect that is unique to them. In this way, interactive graphics encourage people to participate in the storytelling by adding layers of data and insights - giving your BI tale the ability to view data from different perspectives for a richer understanding of your business.

The Future of Data Visualization: Reaching What No One Knows
We're already at a place where we can use data visualization to make people understand what they didn't understand. The next step seems to be to allow people to understand what no one has understood before. When Pek Lum, a researcher at Merck & Co., took The Netherlands Cancer Institute's 12-year-old data set on breast cancer and visualized the dataset with the use of topological data analysis, she was able to identify an unknown subgroup of cancer survivors - a small step forward to finding a cure for cancer.

Together with the massive amount of data accessible (and accumulating), the collaboration of many individuals who have different goals and backgrounds, and advanced business intelligence and dashboard software tools available on the market today - people are starting to uncover insights that no one could reach before.

More Stories By Saar Bitner

Saar Bitner is the VP of Marketing at SiSense, the award-winning business analytics software that lets non-techies easily analyze and visualize big data sets from multiple sources.

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