The Advent of Data Visualization Technology
Spreadsheets have been in use for over 100 years. Now obviously not the modern-day electronic spreadsheet that we know of today with programs such as Excel and Google Sheets, but this concept of entering data into rows and columns to organize and analyze information pre-dates the computer. The original spreadsheet was precisely what it sounds like, a ledger book with many spreadable sheets of oversized paper. It allowed us to spread information such as costs, income, taxes, overhead, etc. on a single sheet of paper for us to examine when making a data-based decision.
The functionality of the spreadsheet was improved when it was made electronic 50 years ago, this new electronic version of the spreadsheet was fully capable of replacing paper spreadsheets, but initially, the cost and the lack of a graphical user interface made these new spreadsheets expensive and too difficult to maintain for an average spreadsheet user. It took another 20 years or so before the GUI was designed in the form of Excel 1.0, and the rest is history. We began using electronic spreadsheets in business, and it proved to be a much more efficient way to analyze information. So much so, that we began expanding our use of spreadsheets until we got to the point where we made spreadsheets for EVERYTHING. Over the past several years, we have started to see the spreadsheet methodology be considered less efficient. Now we often hear spreadsheets referred to as the “Wild Wild West” because of the lack of control over the information entered and lack of ability to track changes over time.
The advances in data visualization technology have enabled us to free up the time of our subject matter experts
WHY? What has changed in business that has caused spreadsheets to breakdown?
The age of Information.
The age of Information has changed the way businesses operate. Businesses now have access to more data than ever before. Computers have gone through a period of maturity and now function at operating speeds that far outpace human beings, but human beings are still ultimately responsible for making the critical decisions that are needed for a business to work efficiently. So we divide up the market into different areas, and we have people from throughout the company enter their information into a spreadsheet, then once we are all set with our piece of the process, we send that spreadsheet over to the next group to enter their information, and so on and so forth until it reaches an executive. The executive picks up the spreadsheet or presentation and tries to make sense of all of the different information presented, but it takes them a long time to fully digest all of the news because it is not standardized. Each person has their way of showing their information, neither of them necessarily right or wrong, but just different.
So how do we get to connect the power of computers and big data and pass that information along to people to ensure the right decisions are being made at speeds faster than ever before?
Over the past few years, we have been introduced with new and more robust data visualization software such as Tableau, Power BI, and Qlik. These tools are great and are sometimes even free to use for personal use cases, but they can be quite pricy when you try to roll out this software at an enterprise level. So why do companies do it? What is the ROI that companies are receiving from purchasing and implementing data visualization software?
To start, companies are saving time, and done correctly, a lot of time. These tools come with built-in capabilities to connect to almost any type of data source automatically and utilizing the powerful engines that were explicitly designed for analyzing and visualizing data; we can now turn long drawn out processes that can take hours and days to complete a report and automate those processes to take minutes and sometimes seconds. Even better, these automated processes are hands-off, meaning it’s utilizing computer power instead of human power to get these reports created.
In addition to time savings through process automation, visualizing data can often save time as well. We can take a report that is not visual and only just by changing the way the data is presented, provide time savings by reducing the amount of time it takes to consume the report. This type of savings may be a bit harder to put an actual number on but is still a value add whether it is noticed or not. A lot of people are hired to perform a specific function within a company that is not reporting related, but because of the needs from the business at the time, they end up spending all of their time reporting. The advances in data visualization technology have enabled us to free up the time of our subject matter experts by empowering them to make critical decisions more quickly with custom-built solutions.