A couple of comments on an entry I made a while ago: "What does your Dashboard look like?" lead me to continue this dive into visualization. Some of the comments are interesting, and ask questions like: what's the business value of visualization? Is it really needed in our industry? It might be nice, but it might be a niche product too... In this entry we'll explore a few of these things, and see what kinds of answers (if any) we can dig up.
Is data visualization just another fad?
Well, I have to go back to quite a few articles over the past several years which mention that there is convergence afoot. There is convergence in Data Integration, Warehousing, BI, there is convergence across customers, finance, and sales. There is convergence with manufacturing, service brokers, and software. Most everywhere we look - things are converging.
There's even convergence across scientific areas and business in the form of nanotech. New standards are being born, and as one paradigm slowly tails off, new ones spring up. It's the ever changing nature of change. "What doesn't change - dies. What evolves - grows and adapts. The only thing constant is change."
In order to understand if Visualization is just a fad, we should look at the existing technologies and delivery mechanisms and ask, how have they changed in the past 10 years?
Bar, pie, and spreadsheets are indeed a valuable tool - if you want details and to drill into specifics. It is important not to belittle their significance or their contribution as a part of the "visualization" of data.
However, they haven't changed much since their inception. Businesses change, paradigms shift - albeit slowly. The way businesses view and review their data should also be changing, a natural extension of the current graphics is 3D landscapes, and interactive scenarios laid out in new ways. In other words, if I want to view my business in a new way, or force myself to think differently, I should be looking for different ways in which to experience my data. The real world is not made up of just 2D surfaces, or numbers (addresses on a mail box), it is made up of interactive experiences.
There have been many experiments conducted across many well respected institutions that show: experiential settings appear to be one of the better ways of learning new things and thinking in new manners. From this we arrive at 3D interactive graphics for new and different ways to visualize data. Again, I make the point: the BI vendors have made tremendous strides to make their engines solid, to bring the value proposition of their engines to the fore-front, to include data mining and other mechanisms of retrieving data, all I'm suggesting is that "visualization" include the next step, the next layer, the experiential 3D learning environment.
I don't think visualization is just a fad, I think it's a broad range of delivery mechanisms that include bar, pie, line-graphs, and Excel spreadsheets - but I think the next "change" is again, to include the new interactive means of examining data.
"If you don't change what you're doing, you're going to end-up right where you're headed."
Is this new visualization really needed in our industry?
Ok - so scientists, and biologists, and chemists really have a use for this technology, but what about CxO's, executive staff, senior management? Is the business really in tune with having a need to drive this technology?
I'm not so sure how to answer this question, but I do know that sometimes showing new ways of seeing and interacting with information can spur new ways of application. I also know that sharp business minds are already experimenting with this technology as a competitive advantage. So I hypothesize that it's a symbiotic need, both parties (technology and business) need to come to the table to really spur the movement. That sitting back on our laurels and waiting (on either side of the fence) won't get us anywhere.
I suppose I could go back to Oil & Gas exploration industry, they use land-maps and geological studies, and earth core samples to figure out where the best place is to house tank systems, drill for new oil, and run pipes on solid ground. In the financial sector, what if a representative model could be developed? Different levels of transactions representing different levels and strength of ground layers, different levels of revenue and aggregation points representing pipes and flow valves, different divisions representing different tanks. Then map this to "find the leak", or "see which tank isn't producing enough", what's the optimal or maximum flow capacity of our financials? It could raise some eyebrows.
It's funny, we say business needs to drive technology, true. But sometimes business doesn't know what's possible until technology says: Hey, look at me, this is a new way of thinking - do you have a use?
It's a symbiotic relationship - and a delicate dance, how does technology justify new creations and investment without a potential customer? How do potential customers know what they might be able to accomplish without knowing what technology can create? Hence market studies, what-if with trusted customers, beta production of ideas, seed money, and investment capital from VC's and angels.
Personally I believe interactive landscapes and 3D modeling are just an evolution of data visualization, because in a way - bar charts, pie graphs and even spreadsheets are visualization of information too.
Thoughts and comments are welcome.
Posted October 11, 2005 8:23 AM
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