Visual analytics - A way to Explore and understand data
Not surprisingly, everywhere you look, software companies are adopting the terms “visual
analytics” and “interactive data visualization.” Tools that do little more than produce charts
and dashboards are now laying claim to the label.
Let’s start with what visual analysis is not: A graphical depiction of d ata. Virtually any
software application can produce a chart, gauge or dashboard. Visual analytics offers
something much more profound. Visual analytics is the process of analytical reasoning
facilitated by interactive visual interfaces.
Who is adopting visual analytics?
Visual analytics is being adopted by the world’s lead ing companies, universities and
government agencies. From the world’s largest and most innovative organizations – Proctor
& Gamble, Apple, Pfizer, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Google, Cornell University, Progressive
Insurance, Amazon, Georgetown University, the VA (Veteran’s Administration), Blue Cross
Blue Shield – to one-person consulting shops, visual analysis tools are now mainstream.
No aspiring painter would put up with a paint-by numbers canvas. But that’s what many
programs force on people when they use charting wizards and dashboards. Good visual
analytics tools accommodate people’s need for depth, flexibility and expressiveness in the
visual displays. This is especially important when people need to look at more than two or
three dimensions of a problem simultaneously. Imagine putting five dimensions of a
problem (e.g., Year, Month, Region, Product Family and Units Sold) into a charting wizard:
the result just doesn’t come out well. Visual analytics applications let people visualize
multiple dimensions of a problem effortlessly, in formats that are easy to understand.
Where crosstabs and pivot-tables often confuse and overwhelm, multi-dimensional
visualizations clarify. Visual analytics applications display complex problems with elegant
This makes me share our recent solution that helped a global pharmaceutical firm in
transforming their data into metrics -driven executive dashboards that provide the depth
and dimension required to measure business performance. Using Tableau, an advanced
visualization tool, we built dashboards that combine data from internal and external
sources in the same view, and allow their key management personnel get a comprehensive
view of their business.
Imagine an application that tells you how you should look at the specific problem you have.
For too long, analysts have been taught to thin k in numbers alone. A visual analytics
application jumpstarts the analysis process itself. This includes automatically suggesting
effective visualizations. A key benefit of automatic visualization is not just that it reduces
work time. It also helps people learn to think visually. If they can think in p ictures, they can
work faster and recall trends and patterns more easily.
Some of the most common and useful interactions in data analysis include:
• Filtering out what’s not relevant
• Sorting the data to see it in order of magnitude
• Moving between high-level (the big picture) and low-level (the details) views of the
• Drilling up and down through levels in hierarchically structured data
• Changing your view of the data, such as by switching to a different type of graph, to
view it from a different perspective
Good visual analysis software provides every means to interact with the data that you
frequently need (filtering, sorting, etc.), and allows you to perform each action conveniently,
without losing sight of the data. And finally, good visual analysis software makes it easy to
navigate through the analytical process, from view to view, interaction to interaction,
overview to detail, riding the wave of thought smoothly throughout the process.
Keywords: Visual Analytics, Data analytics, Tableau, Business Intelligence