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Executive Summary: Data Visualization and Discovery for Better Business Decisions

Far from mere “eye candy,” data visualization is critical to fulfilling widely held goals for expanding organizations’ analytics culture and driving more decisions with data. Across organizations, employees who are subject matter experts in areas such as marketing, customer service, online engagement, finance, and more need to interact with data and analyze it for significant patterns, trends, and anomalies. Yet, most of these professionals would hardly consider themselves “business intelligence users,” much less professional data scientists or data analysts. Tools and practices for data visualization, data discovery, and visual analysis are enabling these “nontechnical” users to make effective use of data and reduce their time to insight.

Data visualization sits at the confluence of advances in technology, the study of human cognition and perception, graphical interfaces, widespread adoption of standards for rich Internet applications, and the continuing expansion of interest and experience in analytics and data discovery. Data visualization can contribute significantly to the fruitful interpretation and sharing of insights from analytics, enabling nontechnical SMEs to perform data discovery in a self-directed fashion. Implementation of chart engines and the growth in the number and variety of visualizations available in graphics libraries are supporting new sophistication in visual analysis, allowing users to go beyond simple bar and pie charts to express more advanced insights about quantitative information.

This TDWI Best Practices Report focuses on how organizations can use data visualization, visual analytics, and data discovery to improve decision making, collaboration, and operational execution. The report provides analysis of an in-depth research survey and user stories to reveal current strategies and future plans for data visualization and analysis. The report offers recommendations for successfully evaluating and deploying data visualization, data discovery, and visual analysis technologies to achieve shorter time to insight for users across the enterprise.

Users need data visualization for a variety of BI and analytics activities, including reporting, scorecards, operational alerting, and data discovery and analysis. Rather than just giving users “new toys” to play with, organizations should examine how they can match visualization technologies and practices to user requirements. Across the board, however, a key element in the success of visualization is data interaction; users need broad capabilities for manipulating data, including to drill down, cross cut, slice, and dice data directly from graphical interfaces.

For many organizations, dashboards take the center stage for data visualizations, especially for BI reporting and performance management. Many users would like to consolidate views of multiple sources and types of information into their dashboard workspaces. One new source of interest is geographical information. Although using maps to enhance corporate data (and vice versa) is not yet widespread, organizations in a growing number of industries are interested in geospatial analysis as an addition to their visualization repertoire. Mobile device adoption is likely to accelerate interest in visualizations offering location information and geospatial analysis; frontline employees in sales, service, and support will use these technologies to enhance customer interactions.

TDWI Research finds that organizations are pursuing a range of potential business benefits with their current and planned implementations of data visualization and discovery technologies. Operational efficiency is the top benefit sought, according to our research; organizations seek to implement data visualization and discovery to reduce the time users lose when they have difficulty accessing, reporting, and analyzing data. With self-directed capabilities for uncovering root causes as well as other insights from data, organizations will be able to move away from gut feel and common wisdom and use data to drive innovation in strategy and operations.

Adaptive Planning, ADVIZOR Solutions, Esri, Pentaho, SAS, and Tableau Software sponsored the
research for this report. 


About the Author

David Stodder is senior director of TDWI Research for business intelligence. He focuses on providing research-based insights and best practices for organizations implementing BI, analytics, data discovery, data visualization, performance management, and related technologies and methods and has been a thought leader in the field for over two decades. Previously, he headed up his own independent firm and served as vice president and research director with Ventana Research. He was the founding chief editor of Intelligent Enterprise where he also served as editorial director for nine years. You can reach him by email ([email protected]), on Twitter (, and on LinkedIn (

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