Visualisation for business: Seeing is innovating

All eyes on real-time data visualisation


Every business deals with some form of data set – from financial accounts to server monitoring – but the big challenge is turning raw data into real-time intelligence and that's where visualisation can make a huge difference.

Ben Phillips, principal research fellow at the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, says visualisation offers many advantages, not least a simpler way to understand data.

"When people have a visual interface they can quickly understand large data sets," Phillips says. "We find using a spreadsheet can be a confusing array of numbers, but a more visual approach is a lot easier and more functional. Most people find a visual interface more appealing to understand the business, more intuitive and flexible."

The centre provides clients with visual interfaces which allows people to change dimensions of tables on fly so they can do analysis themselves for real-time data visualisation. Phillips says people often discover new opportunities for improvement when performing their own analysis.

"It's fairly early days for visualisation in Australia, but it is promising a better way to understand data to uncover problems in business and government," he says.

An example of real-time data visualisation is displayed by Finnish organisation Lucify which has created an interactive data visualisation of Europe's current migration crisis based on data from the UN and other sources.

Hover over Germany and you'll see the path and number of people heading into the country represented by arrows. Lucify's self-stated mission is to foster collaboration on interactive data visualisation for journalism.

Peter Gray, director of analytics and information service at Oakton, says visualising data can allow people to easily gain insights into what is really happening.

"For example, in a shopping centre, by overlaying retail sales and foot traffic data over a map of the centre, you can clearly see the different people movements and spending patterns which then allows you to optimise store mix and rental agreements," Gray says. "By then delivering this on a geo-spatially aware mobile device, you're able to stand in a particular part of the centre and see what the returns are from the different stores, and put that information into context."

We're just at the start of a new era in visualisation for business. More readily available equipment and cloud services coupled with applications and use cases will drive a new appetite for innovation. Don't let the legacy of text and telephone hold your business back.