That doesn't mean you have to pay a huge cost for a piece of proprietary software you may use once or twice during the lifetime of your business. Fortunately, there are plenty of web-based applications that can display your data, in various fashions, so your company can benefit from the time spent in designing and collecting the data.
I have found five such applications. Each of them falls into a range of feature sets and complexity; but all of them will get you where you need to go. Let's take a look at these web-based apps and see which one will best fit your needs.
1. Many Eyes
Many Eyes is an experiment, by IBM, that allows you to easily visualize your data set. With Many Eyes you can either upload your own data set or make use of the many data sets already within the framework. Many Eyes offers multiple visualization types, such as: Scatterplot, Matrix Chart, Network Diagram, Bar Chart, Block Histogram, Bubble Chart, Line Graph, Stack Graph, Pie Chart, Treemap, Word Tree, Tag Clouds, and much more. In order to upload your own data set, you must be registered (which is free). The one caveat to using Many Eyes is that your data sets will be made available to the public. Make sure the data you are uploading is not sensitive or proprietary. Also, the size limit of any given data set is 5MB; so if you're looking to upload very large data sets, you'll have to turn elsewhere.
iCharts has two options - a free option and an option for business. The business plans start at $25.00 per month and goes up to an Enterprise plan (contact for details). The free plan allows for data interactivity, public sharing, and unlimited standard data sets. When you jump up to the paid versions, you get features like: Private charts, custom templates, upload images and logos, download high-res images, unlimited live database connections, survey data sets, large data sets, chartbooks, capture leads, branded chartchannels, mass report customization, and much more. With iCharts you can load just about any kind of data including spreadsheets, Google Drive documents, and more. Interactive charts are a unique feature that allows you to integrate data pop-ups, zoom & pan, or rich comments. If you're looking for a data visualization tool that will not only help you internally, but help brand your company, iCharts might be what you're looking for.
3. Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine which attempts to rival Google. What is unique to WolframAlpha is that you can enter a string and have the tool immediately compute the string and display the results. For example, I can enter "American Demographics", click compute, and instantly have displayed various pieces of information regarding that string. Or, with the Pro subscription, you can input your own data and have it quickly computed into various dynamic and interactive charts. The Pro account is limited to twenty uploads per month (images, tiles, tabular data, and more), and is $4.99 per month. The Pro account also offers much richer data results (unlimited step-by-step solutions, longer computations, etc.).
4. Visualize Free
Visualize Free is a hosted tool that gets you to upload your own data sets as well as gives you access to publicly available datasets. With this data you can build your own interactive visualizations to help illustrate your data. Visualizations include: Charts, maps, diagrams, dashboards, and much more. Creating a dashboard for your data is simple with the drag and drop designer. You can either upload a data set (spreadsheet or tab-delimited text) or you can cut and paste tab-delimited data into the cut and paste area (in the upload data page). You must register for an account (it's free) in order to get to the upload portion of the tool. You can also gain access to numerous public-available data (such as data.gov). As the name implies, Visualize Free is free to use. Any dataset you upload will be private only to you - so you don't have to worry about other users gaining access to your data.
5. Data Wrangler
Data Wrangler is a web-based service from Stanford University's Visualization Group. This tool is used for cleaning and rearranging data into a form that other tools can use (such as a spreadsheet). Although this tool will not actually visualize your data, it will clean it up so that visualization tools can actually make use of the data. What this means is you will spend less time formatting your data and more time analyzing it. With this tool you can split, but, extract, fill, translate, drop, merge, wrap, delete, promote, fold, unfold, and transpose various data points. Be warned, there is a bit of a learning curve to using Data Wrangler; but once you're used to the interface and the available tools, you'll be getting your collected data ready to be visualized in no time. Data Wrangler is free, but also in beta.
The larger your company grows, the more dependent upon data it will be. In order to keep up with the competition you must be able to get all of that collected into a visualized, interactive form in order to best use the results. Each of these tools will help you, in various ways (and at various price points) to achieve that very goal.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for Techrepublic and Linux.com. As an avid promoter/user of the Linux OS, Jack tries to convert as many users to open source as possible. His current favorite flavor of Linux is Bodhi Linux (a melding of Ubuntu and Enlightenment). When Jack isn't writing about Linux he is hard at work on his other writing career -- writing about zombies, various killers, super heroes, and just about everything else he can manipulate between the folds of reality. You can find Jack's books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Outnumbered in his house one male to two females and three humans to six felines, Jack maintains his sanity by riding his mountain bike and working on his next books. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website Get Jack'd.