It’s easy to connect two dots. Or 20. Or even 200. What happens when you need to connect upwards of 200,000 dots? It could be just a confused mess of lines, straining our ability to make sense of the emerging pattern.
The amount of data enterprises gather and is exposed to is growing exponentially. This has led to a new concern of our modern age: Information Overload. Big Data technologies are promising unprecedented opportunities for businesses to achieve deeper, faster insights that can aid quick and data led decision-making, improve the customer experience, and accelerate the pace of innovation. Recent advancements in technology may be able to handle incessantly growing amounts of data – but consumption of huge sets of data leading to a business relevant action is always a challenge for the business users. Traditional methods of viewing data – humble pie charts, bar graphs, histograms and scatter plots – fail when faced with the density and complexity of today’s dynamic data. Data scientists and analysts are overjoyed, however, it is big data visualizers that are under the pump.
Visualizers need to find powerful new ways to tell stories from their vast stocks of data. Swedish doctor and academic Hans Rosling provides a good illustration by breaking through a wall of 120,000 data points around 200 years of life expectancy and incomes for 200 countries to drive unique insights (for those who may have missed Rosling, go here). He then communicates those insights in memorable ways using immersive visualization.
Impressive as Rosling is, data and its visualization have taken giant strides in the last few years. Enterprise reference data can now be mashed up with diverse sources of data. It can include real time live data streams plus social feeds, cognitive and locational intelligence can be injected into the mix. This can lead to interactive and immersive visualizations.
The ultimate goal is to master data by giving it forms that augment human thinking and decision-making. For example, information from thousands of sensors on oil rigs that record vibrations, temperature, stress, pressure, chemical composition, audio and video can be represented to guide users to trouble spots and make forecasts such as, “This boiler is likely to fail in the next 2 weeks” and so on.
Data has gone from visually relating data sets and plotting trends to information discovery. As mobile devices come into play, data visualization will become an extremely sophisticated science and art. Form factors, touch capability, mobility and sensors such as accelerometers will play a crucial role. They will determine how your data looks, the stories they tell and what your business finds within.