Data Visualization: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

Mobile Man / Tuesday, April 05, 2016

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. But exactly how true might that statement be? There is an abundance of research out there regarding how we gather and retain knowledge most effectively, and the general consensus is that we remember pictures and images more readily than we remember words.

This makes a fair amount of sense when you consider that our brain is mainly an image processor, not a word processor. The part of our brain devoted to processing words is considerably smaller in comparison to the part that processes visual images. Words are abstract and altogether harder to retain, versus the more concrete manner of visuals; can you remember the last program you watched on TV? Probably. But trying to remember the last paragraph or sentence of the last thing you were reading (and no, this blog post doesn’t count!) is considerably more challenging.

[source]

While there are a select few that learn best when actively doing something, research shows that the majority of us are visual learners; we use images, pictures, colors and other visual stimuli to organize and learn information. The messages from visual content are transmitted to our brain much, much faster than text – 60,000 times faster, to be exact. Our eyes can register 36,000 visual messages per hour, and the brain can register images that last for just 13 milliseconds. The difference between the two is actually quite astounding. Given the above, in the average time it takes you to read this sentence you could have registered about 40 images… feeling unproductive? Fear not, in this post we’ll explore how you can use the visual power of the brain to express your data in striking and memorable ways.

2, 5 and 17 zeros

Today, we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. The fact that we’re now dealing with numbers that we have to research to understand their value (it’s 2.5 Exabytes of data, for those wondering) should provide context that we’re dealing with a lot of data. With the power of the Cloud and mega-data centers, storing all this data isn’t yet an issue. Although as we continue to create more data than ever – and show no signs of ceasing to do so – the prospect of just how much is out there can be quite overwhelming.

Of course, the other way to interpret all this data is that there is now more content for us to understand and work with, and more ways we can express and showcase this data than ever before. Platforms like social media have created an intense desire (and opportunity) to share what we learn and experience with others, and this can be attributed to data visualization. With so much data available to business users, it’s important they have the appropriate tools to allow them to turn data into something they – and anyone they show it to – can visually understand.

Drive your data

In TechTarget’s essential guide to dashboard development and data visualization, the term itself is expressed as follows:

“an effort to help people understand the significance of data by placing it in a visual context… …used effectively, new data visualization tools and well-thought-out dashboard designs help streamline the visual presentation of large, complex sets of data for better decision making.”

Understanding the significance of data is, we think, the most telling part of this definition. Being able to effectively display your findings has always been a point of emphasis in business – whether it’s showing your data to colleagues, presenting it to your team or your boss. Engaging and relating to your audience is much harder if you’re simply speaking your message and pointing at words on a screen. A lack of engagement and interest is going to result in no one remembering your presentation in a week’s time, even if that presentation’s content held some insightful and important messages. Data visualizations, on the other hand, can help to convey messages with considerable weight and leave a real impact on your audience. In the modern working world, the ability to package relevant and meaningful information in a unified manner is invaluable and is why data visualization tools have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years.

Data visualizations for the enterprise

ReportPlus, from Infragistics, is a dedicated data visualization app that lets users access all their data in a single space – whether it’s On-Premises, in local files, in Cloud storage software from Dropbox and Google Drive or in cloud apps like Salesforce. Dashboard and report access is  available on mobile devices (Android & iOS) and will soon be available on desktop. Real-time dashboards allow teams to make data-driven decisions with no gaps in information and users can share dashboards securely through email, the Cloud or as a presentation in PowerPoint.

ReportPlus really plays into our definition of ‘understanding the significance of data’. Rather than a tool that breaks existing decision making workflows, or requires a dedicated expert or team to setup and master, ReportPlus really can provide ‘Insights in an instant’. From adhoc roundtable discussions, to board presentations, or decision making in the field – ReportPlus pulls out the significance of data right there in the palm of the user’s hand when they need it most.

Once data has been connected, compelling visualizations can be dragged and dropped into place quickly and easily – and then shared. Imagine a typical boardroom scenario:

A presentation of a business case is going well, but a ReportPlus visualization on the big screen really sells the idea. The deal is sealed when you point the board to the hosted version of the data, allowing them to connect to the dashboard right there on the devices in their pockets.

At Infragistics, we understand that the enterprise is a prime destination for data visualizations to take control; ReportPlus offers support for data sources such as Oracle, Analysis Services, SQL Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Combining the power of the enterprise with the flexibility of mobile apps, ReportPlus lets you create and share striking visualizations wherever you may be.