This post by Dorie Clark first appeared at Forbes.
We’ve all heard that Big Data is the future. But according to Phil Simon’s new book The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions, that may not be quite right. Big Data is a powerful discovery tool for companies seeking to glean new insights. But without the right framework for understanding it, much of that knowledge may go unrecognized. Oftentimes, it’s data visualization that allows Big Data to unleash its true impact.
“The Visual Organization is fundamentally about how progressive organizations today are using a wide array of data visualization (dataviz) tools to ask better questions of their data – and make better business decisions,” says Simon, citing the example of companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Netflix, among others.
Of course, many companies have long been using rudimentary dataviz tools, such as a Microsoft Excel graph or chart, he notes. “But that’s unlikely to promote true data discovery.” On the contrary, at the most advanced companies, “you’ll see that employees are doing a great deal more than creating simple graphs, bar charts, and pivot tables. Employees here are interacting with their data, and learning new things about their businesses in the process.”
Two recent factors have conspired to make this the moment for data visualization. First, says Simon, is the rise of Big Data and the growing public awareness of its power. “Today more than ever, professionals are being asked to argue their cases and make their decisions based on data,” he says. “A new, data-oriented mind-set is permeating the business world.”
But that push outside IT circles means that many non-technical professionals must now produce and comprehend insights from Big Data. Visualization can help, and a raft of new tools makes that possible. “IBM, Cognos, SAS, and other enterprise BI (business intelligence) stalwarts are still around, but they are no longer the only game in town,” he says. “Today, an organization need not spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to get going with dataviz. These new tools have become progressively more powerful and democratic over the last decade. Long gone are the days in which IT needed to generate reports for non-technical employees. They have made it easier than ever to for employees to quickly discover new things in increasingly large datasets. Examples include Visual.ly, Tableau, Vizify, D3.js, R, and myriad others.”
For Simon, data visualization is the necessary ingredient in bringing the power of Big Data to the mainstream. How is your organization using dataviz?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.