Data visualization has come a long way in recent years. Where once you might get an occasional bar chart or pie chart as part of a business intelligence (BI) report, now software can tailor graphically appealing screens to different types of users.
That said, the key is to find a data visualization tool that suits your specific needs.
"All BI vendors provide similar data visualization capabilities, so the real trick is how to design and use them effectively," said Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Vendors keep adding more chart types, and more ways to interact with the data."
3 Trends in Data Visualization Tools
Three major trends are influencing data visualization tools, said David Abramson, director of Product Management at Logi Analytics.
- Advanced self-service capabilities. Users have been able to leverage self-service visualization tools to create basic charts and graphs for some time. But now, more advanced self-service capabilities enable users who want to dig deeper into data to create visualizations that are more complex (e.g. trends, forecasting and complex calculations), diverse (e.g. geo-spatial visualizations, funnels and heatmaps) and interactive (e.g. support for real-time streaming data, custom filtering and user-defined, drill-down layers).
- More sophisticated data preparation. Good data visualizations start with good data, so advancements in the ability to prepare data for analysis and visualizations are vital. This includes the ability to connect and blend data from a variety of sources, real-time data streaming (particularly for Internet of Things-enabled devices and machines) and self-service tools that allow users to work with data without dependence on IT or developers. Features include defining custom data sets, easier data modeling and guiding users via recommendations.
- Responsive design. This trend goes hand-in-hand with increasingly interactive data visualization tools. It's important to deliver visualizations to people in the context of where they work every day. That means you may need to display the same visualization on everything from a large LCD monitor above a machine floor, to a laptop at an analyst workstation, to a tablet or smartphone for full mobile access.
"The visualizations need to be able to respond properly to the screen size and resolution, support a wide variety of touch-enabled actions and allow responsive loading across all devices," Abramson said.
Here is what Logi and six other notable BI vendors are doing in terms of data visualization tools.
Logi Analytics has a new self-service discovery module, which can be embedded within Logi Info. It offers a drag-and-drop user interface that enables users to easily explore data, build complex visualizations and share them in dashboards and reports.
Features of this module also include the ability to recommend best-fit visuals to match users’ data and dynamic binning, which allows business users to do data modeling on-the-fly.
Qlik makes a data visualization tool available for free for Windows users. Using drag-and-drop functionality Qlik Sense Desktop makes it possible to create personalized and interactive data visualizations, as well as reports and dashboards, from multiple data sources. It is free for personal and internal business use, and includes multi-data source integration.
Many data visualization tools rely on underlying data models, so queries have to fall within prescribed parameters. However, Qlik's associative architecture opens up any-to-any data source relationships.
"Qlik continues to be a top choice for self-service data exploration," Evelson said.
Forrester also gives Tibco Spotfire high marks for data visualization. According to Evelson, Tibco seeks to differentiate itself from what are increasingly being regarded as commodity capabilities such as data exploration and visualization by embedding predictive and streaming analytics into its application and integrating it with the rest of Spotfire's in-memory software capabilities.
Andy McCartney, director of Product Marketing, Information Builders, has seen a cooling of interest for data discovery, which was quite hot a few years ago, in favor of enhanced data visualization techniques.
"Only a relatively small percentage of people in an organization will want to conduct discovery, whereas the vast majority of businesses run on a portfolio of reports, charts and dashboards," he said. "As more data sources emerge, additional ways to visualize data are appearing."
His company has responded by providing a larger selection of visual formats and chart types, from matrix charts, to graphic variables, to an HTML5 chart library and custom D3 charts. IBI WebFOCUS includes InfoAssist+, a self-service authoring tool for reporting, analysis and visual data discovery. It caters to a variety of visual and tabular needs.
It helps business users with a pre-determined need create ad hoc queries, reports, charts, documents and other types of analytical views. At the same time, it can be utilized by business users who do not start with a specific outcome in mind but who would like to ask questions and explore their data for trends, patterns and new insight.
InfoAssist+ supports data discovery and data visualization, running against a high-speed data sandbox and many other data sources. Data visualizations can be saved, shared, published and delivered into PowerPoint presentations for building business cases.
SAS is heavily invested in data visualization. It complements data visualization with search and natural language query technology for business users to interact and explore relationships within data. As more self-service data visualization capabilities are added, this inevitably creates demand for self-service data preparation. If you cannot prepare data quickly, then how can you make the downstream workflows efficient? This means a higher degree of convergence, in which formerly distinct tools are now being combined.
"More customers will demand data visualization, discovery and predictive analytics capabilities to quickly converge in a single solution," said Tapan Patel, principal product marketing manager at SAS.
SAS Visual Analytics offers visual discovery, interactive reporting and dashboards, and self-service analytics for mainstream business users and analysts. It can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud. Interactive charts, dashboards and reports enable users to glean insights from any size and type of data, including Hadoop.
Integration with mapping technologies allows users to add geo-specific information to reports. In addition, text sentiment analysis makes it possible to gain insight into social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Google Analytics) and other text data, and know whether sentiment is positive or negative.