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Data Visualization: the Medium is the Message

By Tad Travis | December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

While evaluating a vendor’s new data visualization / big data analysis product last week, I reflected upon the process implications of these tools.  Going beyond the obvious impact to the data/information/analysis/insight/action paradigm that has dominated our sales analysis work for decades, I was struck by the potential for how it will change how we work. 

I think that this will open a new era of sales analysis.  First, the way that the information is presented will be as important at the information itself.   How the data is visually displayed will become the method of understanding because it instutionalizes behaviors.   For example, client heat maps applied to virtual territory maps gives CPG represenatives an entire new means of instanteously understanding client statuses, without having to scan a row/column report or scan multiple dashboard components.

Second, the ability to rapidly associate disparate data sets without building a multidimensional data model will be quite liberating.  To use a simple example, leaders are accustomed to viewing quota attainment dashboards, often with red/yellow/green indicators.  Going forward, they will use simple dashboards to unstantaneously grok cause & effect behaviors.  With a swipe a manager can immediately associate a new set of second-tier metrics, such as rep-level training scores or customer satisfaction scores, to see what may be causing the results.  Or put differently, they will grasp insights much faster because they are no longer constrained by physical analysis limitations, like dimensionality, aggregations, and joins.

In response, as IT leaders evaluate and deploy the emerging solutions in the big data, natural language query, and data visualization category, I encourage everyone to put user personas at the core of your design.  Use the stories to frame the core of the questions that may be asked in order to define the loose boundaries of data sets, data completeness, and data accuracy that  you will need to provide.  Also use them to define how users want to grok the information.  With those premises in hand, your business community will quickly adopt the tools.

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