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May 24, 2015


Data Visualization, Discovery and Visual Analytics – Use Cases, Tools, CoE, Vendors

by Ravi Kalakota

DataVisualizationNumerical quantities focus on expected values, graphical summaries on unexpected values.” – John Tukey, Exploratory Data Analysis, 1977.


Decision support needs better visualization. Scorecards, Dashboards, Heatmaps, Alerts, Management Reporting, Operations and Transactions Reporting are all enterprise example of data visualization outputs.

Some data visualization examples include:

  • Data Scientist — uses “R”, a programming language used for statistical modeling, to understand traffic flows and congestion patterns and advise on options to improve travel times for Local delivery drivers.
  • Pharmaceutical Sales Representative — uses QlikView on an iPad to access current industry sales trends and doctor prescription history while on a sales call with a busy physician.
  • Healthcare Chief Medical Officer — uses Tableau Software to analyze all aspects of hospital performance including population management, emergency room effectiveness and Affordable Care Act compliance.
  • Crime Analyst— uses Microstrategy to maintain a consolidated view of crime levels and optimize staffing allocations to dispatch police into high crime areas.
  • Retail Store Manager — uses QlikView to analyze which products are selling best which impacts store assortments and which products get featured vs which ones get discontinued.
  • Telecom Customer Service Agent — uses Spotfire to monitor call center statistics and how it translates into customer satisfaction and retention.


From these use cases you can see that there are many different ways of asking questions and telling a story. Enterprise value is typically derived from these Use Cases:

  • Interactive Modeling – Speed-of-Thought Analysis, What-if Analysis and Forecasting, Rapid Scenario Planning
  • Scorecards – Personalized scorecards, Measure against goals, “At a Glance” information on Business Performance, Convey information in intuitive format
  • Dashboards – Support “what-if” scenarios, Drill down capabilities, Visualize Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Management Reporting – KPI monitoring, Briefing Books, Summarized views
  • Operations and Transaction Reporting –  Alerts, summarized views of day-to-day activities of the batch and raw data reporting

Dashboard example from Proctor & Gamble. mycockpit-pg

Enterprise Data Visualization Fundamentals

The challenge for executives and senior leadership today:

  • How do we increase the maturity of Analytics and Visualization area?
  • In a fragmented landscape… how do we benchmark our current state?
  • What structural changes – skillsets, toolsets, mindsets — need to be made to become world-class?
  • How can we drive more business value quicker from all these tool/platform investments?
  • How do we go beyond the current core audience, which has been business, and reach out to the mobile customer/consumer?

Data visualization is the software to help companies analyze large amounts of data through easy-to-read charts and graphs. It’s the use of abstract, non-representational pictures to show numbers by means of the combined use of images, diagrams, animations, points, lines, a coordinate system, numbers, symbols, shading, words, and color-coding.  Visualization today has ever-expanding applications in business, science, education, engineering (e.g., product visualization).

A big complaint from business users…. BI platforms and big data today increasingly suffer from non-intuitive visualization. Most organizations are data rich, information poor and insights starved. Lots of tools, new technology and data but insights are hard to visualize signals from the background data noise.

Transaction automation and multi-party data aggregation is no longer the focal point. The problem has shifted to effective use. It’s interesting how in almost every meeting I am in, More Effective Data Visualization (and Improving User Experience at even reports/dashboard level), is coming up as key business demand driver for new projects.  There is a growing demand to enable everyday business users to answer critical questions with ease (self-service visualization).

In the quest to help employees and customers see and understand data, enterprise Data Visualization initiatives tend to have five basic objectives:

  • Reporting and BI can only be as good as what source data you have… so ability to connect to internal, private and public data sources to produce visualizations is key
  • Exploration of the content of a data set (e.g.,  location-based visualization in mobile applications that helps users complete tasks more instinctively, such as locating a hotel, checking inventory levels, or finding the closest store.)
  • Find structure in data (correlations etc.)
  • Checking assumptions in statistical models (causation, root cause analysis etc.)
  • Communicate the results of an analysis in easy to consume way (e.g. mobile consumption where intuitiveness is paramount) .

Better Data Visualization – a Growing Enterprise Trend

“By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes, a sort of information map. And when you’re lost in information, an information map is kind of useful.”  — David McCandless TED talk

The expectations of the enterprise users around intuitive, user-friendly interfaces are rapidly shifting forcing enterprise BI firms and application developers to react. The focus is on enabling users to explore and analyze data with simple drag-and-drop operations.

Consumer user experience and engagement are the new standard for enterprise applications. Consumer innovations like iPhone which allow users to utilize drag-and-drop gestures to execute queries, seamlessly shift graphical perspectives on their data and easily answer new questions as their thinking progresses are the new norm.

Improving user engagement around dashboards is a key strategic goal.  There is no disputing that organizations increasingly regard their data as a critical strategic resource. The remarkable growth in the volume, diversity and accessibility of digital information creates the potential for people to make more informed, timely and intelligent decisions.  Improvements in access, processing, and analytics speed can increase user engagement with data and enhance the range, quality and timeliness of insights that are developed.

Visualization improvements are key to comprehending data volume, velocity and variety. According to IDC, the amount of digital information created, replicated and consumed will grow from 0.8 trillion GB in 2010 to 40 trillion GB in 2020. Many organizations will experience a doubling in the volume of data across their enterprises every 24 months, according to IDC, and are investing heavily to scale their data storage and management platforms to accommodate this growth. These growing volumes of data are also diverse in terms of their source, format and location.


End User Demand for Better Visualization

Query -> Reporting -> Scorecards -> Dashboards -> Interactive Visualization -> Analytical Modeling is the demand trajectory in most organizations.

In August 2012, Forrester Research estimated that there will be 615 million information workers globally in 2013 and it predicts that number to grow to 865 million by 2016. Additionally, a Forrester survey of information workers conducted in the fourth quarter of 2012 indicated that only 17% of respondents use a data dashboard or BI tools as part of their job. A significant percentage of information workers are not accessing BI software, and they instead use alternative approaches to meet their analytical needs.

As a consequence of the increasing richness and volume of data, knowledge workers are demanding agile analysis – faster access to information in order to gain insight, solve problems and monitor the performance of their organizations. The growth of cloud computing technologies and the proliferation of connected devices such as tablets and smartphones are enabling users to access information anytime and anyplace.

These trends are accelerating the demand for next generation Visual Analytics and Data Visualization technology, as more information and engagement provokes more questions and fuels demand for more analysis, answers and value. At the same time, advances in user experience driven by consumer technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have raised user expectations regarding intuitive, flexible and convenient access to information.

These factors have created a backdrop of growing data resources, increased user appetite for information and rising expectations for accessibility and ease of use. As a result, many organizations are seeking technology that will allow their people to easily access the right information, answer questions, gain insight and share their findings. These organizations are seeking to empower their employees and to unleash their creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Static Reports are Dead

Impactful and engaging visualization is the next frontier.

People within organizations have traditionally accessed data via static reports from enterprise applications and business intelligence platforms maintained by IT departments. These systems, predominantly designed and built in the 1990’s, are generally heavy, complex, inflexible and expensive. As a result, business users are forced to depend on specialized resources to operate, modify and maintain these systems.

The divide between users seeking insight and technical specialists lacking business context introduces inefficiencies and time lags that inhibit the utility and value of these systems. Because most business users lack the time, skills and financial resources necessary to address the limitations of these systems, their adoption has largely been limited to a narrow population of power users with technical expertise and training and to a narrow population of companies.

Faced with these challenges, many knowledge workers today rely on spreadsheets as their primary analytical tool. While spreadsheets are widely available and easier to use than traditional BI platforms, they have a number of limitations. Spreadsheets are not generally designed to facilitate direct and dynamic data access, making the process of importing and updating data manual, cumbersome and error prone. In addition, spreadsheets are not built to accommodate large data sets and offer limited interactive visual capabilities, thereby reducing performance and limiting analytical scope and insight.


“Aggregate -> Explore -> Analyze -> Visualize”   Vendors

There are four categories of Data Visualization vendors

  • Spreadsheet software providers, such as Microsoft
  • Emerging business analytics software companies, such as Tableau Software, QImplementingBusinessAnalyticslik Technologies Inc. and TIBCO Spotfire.
  • Enterprise software companies, including suppliers of traditional BI products that provide one or more capabilities that are competitive with our products, such as MicroStrategy, IBM Cognos, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP AG;
  • Traditional Statistical and Computation vendors like SAS, SPSS, Mathematica who allow you to do complex visual analysis… filter, sort, perform aggregations, and summarize;
  • and others..

Almost every vendor in the Business Analytics landscape (see figure below) is going after the Data Visualization space as a strategy. Enterprise grade BI tools are expensive although price points are coming down as competitors like Tableau are gaining marketshare.

The future is mobile data visualization….Tableau, for instance,  is taking the wraps off a new project called Elastic, which will bring the company’s style of simplified data analysis to tablet users. The goal is to let small businesses and individuals enjoy analyzing their data, bypassing desktop tools.

Selecting a Data Visualization Vendor

  • Tableau Software
  • WAVE
  • Domo
  • SAP BusinessObjects
  • Oracle
  • SAS



Tableau Software

Tableau Software, Inc. provides various business analytics software products. The company was founded in 2003 and is headquartered in Seattle, Washington.

It offers Tableau Desktop, a self-service analytics product that empowers people to access and analyze data without IT involvement; and Tableau Server, a business intelligence platform with data management, scalability, and security to foster the sharing of data, as well as to improve the dissemination of information in an organization, and promote enhanced decision-making.

The company also offers Tableau Online, a cloud-based hosted version of Tableau Server; and Tableau Public, a cloud-based platform that allows the users of bloggers, journalists, researchers, and government workers to visualize public data on their Websites. It also provides related maintenance and support, and training and professional services.

Tableau sells its products directly, as well as through technology vendors, resellers, OEMs, and independent software vendor partners. It has an alliance with Splunk Inc. to enhance the visual analytics and machine data; and strategic partnership with Brillio.

Tableau generates revenues in the form of license fees and related maintenance and services fees. License revenues reflect the revenues recognized from sales of licenses to new customer accounts and additional licenses to existing customer accounts. License fees include perpetual, term, and subscription license fees. Maintenance and services revenues reflect the revenues recognized from fees paid for maintenance services (including support and unspecified upgrades and enhancements when and if they are available) and, to a lesser extent, for training and professional services. When purchasing a license, a customer also purchases one year of maintenance service and has the opportunity to purchase maintenance service annually thereafter.



Qlik Technologies provides user-driven BI solution that enables customers to make business decisions. The company was founded in 1993 and is headquartered in Radnor, Pennsylvania.

The company offers QlikView Business Discovery platform, which enables business users to explore data; ask and answer their own stream of questions; and follow their own path to insight on their own, and in teams and groups. It also provides license, maintenance, and professional services.

Competitive Positioning…. Qlik’s Business Discovery platform is powered by an in-memory engine which maintains associations in data and calculates aggregations rapidly, as business users interact with the software. The software platform is designed to give  customers significant improvements in usability, flexibility and performance at lower costs compared to traditional BI solutions.

The customer base consists of ~35,000 active customers of flagship product QlikView. Qlik serves various industry verticals, such as consumer packaged goods, financial services, pharmaceuticals, retail, manufacturing and healthcare. Qlik sells its products through its direct sales force, as well as through an indirect channel partners, including distribution partners, value-added resellers, system integrators, and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to license and support its software platform. It serves customers in the Americas, Europe, and internationally. Wave entered the $38 billion analytics market with the launch of its sixth cloud in the Salesforce  Platform. Wave is the cloud analytics platform designed for salesforce users. Companies can now deploy sales, service and marketing analytics, or build custom mobile analytics apps, using any data source.

Wave is natively integrated with the Salesforce1 Platform and shares the same single sign-on, data security and compliance features of the platform. This enables users to quickly drag and drop data from Salesforce, including data from partner apps built on the platform, to deploy sales, service and marketing analytics apps. In addition, developers and IT can use Wave APIs and other data connectors to easily connect to third-party data sources—from structured SAP and Oracle data to unstructured machine and social data. And because Wave is a platform, developers can also build custom analytics apps for any business function, or embed analytics into a new generation of apps and connected products for customers.


See this blog posting

IBM Cognos

IBM Cognos is a full BI and performance management suite. Dashboards and data visualization provide the front end of a much larger solution suite that spans across multiple departments and vertical industries. IBM offers a broader range of hardware and business software with Cognos providing the intelligence layer of the overall stack.

IBM has components that map to each element of the data architecture shown below.


SAP Business Objects

SAP Business Objects is a BI solution set within SAP’s larger suite. SAP offers solutions for different verticals and  departments that include overall BI suites as well as reporting solutions (Crystal) and interactive dashboards (XCelsius). These dashboards can be deployed independently or as part of a larger BI solution.

Dundas Data Visualization

Dundas offers data visualization solutions for .NET, SQL Server Reporting Services and SharePoint. Dundas provides products to enable the development of charts, key performance indicator (KPI) analysis, general dashboards and scorecards, and geographic data analysis.


“the really difficult thing [is] formulating questions that we are currently too stupid to ask now, let alone understand the answers to.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

One of the easiest ways to make sense of data is to visualize it. In addition to complex computational and statistical data manipulations, it is important to have an effective visual exploration tool to help with the extraction of information from large heaps of data.


Sources and References

  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte
  • Qlikview in the Enterprise – Center of Excellence
  • Statistical graphics, also known as graphical techniques, are information graphics in the field of statistics used to visualize quantitative data. Whereas statistics and data analysis procedures generally yield their output in numeric or tabular form, graphical techniques allow such results to be displayed in some sort of pictorial form. They include plots such as scatter plots, histograms, probability plots, spaghetti plots, residual plots, box plots, block plots and biplots …
  • Journalism in the Age of Data…
  • A great Tumblr blog for visualization examples and inspiration:
  • Data Visualization – Medium is the Message Post
  • Consumer grade visualization…. The following is an example of a Consumer Apps Dashboard from fitport.  Simple but information rich on a 5.5 inch screen.ConsumerappsUI

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