Analytics Tools: How to select a Data Visualization tool

This is part 4 of our series onSelecting Analytics Tools, previous segments are available in our archives.

Next step in the value chain: Visualization tools.

Data Visualization link of the analytics value chain

Once you have your data in storage, you need to extract value from it in the form of metrics and analytics. A great way to start down this path is by visualizing the data. The great news is that data visualization has experienced a massive wave of innovation over the past five years so you have many options for powerful visualization tools.

Before considering tools, first answer these questions:

  • Who will be using it? Whether your data team will use it exclusively or if everyone will have access determines how easy to use the product needs to be. Some are designed for everyone, others are more powerful and designed for experts. A simple filter is whether everyone on your team knows how to write SQL queries.
  • Do you need reports or research? Visualizations can be used for reporting (dashboards, etc.) that are the heartbeat of your business or for research and exploration in search of insights.

It it easy to switch data visualization vendors, but choosing a great tool will unlock significantly more value for you. Here are the criteria to use:

Great tools will be…

  • Flexible. To truly explore your data, you need to be able to visualize any given metric using any given chart or graph type. In their search for simplicity some tools will “recommend” various charts for certain data and make it hard for you to switch. Take control and make sure you decide how to view your data.
  • Beautiful. At some point you will be using the visualizations to tell stories about your data (see our series on Data Storytelling and Data Visualization). The better the visualizations your tools generate the easier telling those stories will become.
  • Social. Unless you have a single data person, multiple people will be using the data visualization tool at the same time. The easier it is for them to collaborate the faster your team will work and the better the outcome.

Beware of…

  • Data format requirements. If your data visualization tool requires a specific data schema or format, then it will reduce the flexibility you sought in your storage platform. The best tools should work with your data the way it is, not require you to conform to their requirements.
  • Over-pricing. Some visualization tools are massively expensive, including many features you don’t need unless you are an expert. There are fantastic free and open source data visualization tools out there, so never pay more than you feel comfortable paying.
  • Desktop apps. The best data visualization tools today are all web applications that can be used on any laptop and any browser. Older tools still require you to download their proprietary app that doesn’t support all operating systems or platforms. Don’t fall for it, demand modern technologies.

Whatever you choose, please don’t create two dozen dashboards that you spend hours every week reviewing. That would make me sad and mean everything we cover here in the Data Driven Daily is not working for you! If you aren’t sure how best to set up your visualizations, review our series on Data Visualization.

Tomorrow we’ll finish our march down the value chain when we cover the newest link: Analysis.
Quote of the Day: “Today’s graphics use multiple shapes and colors to cover up a paucity of data.” – Edward Tufte