Regardless of size, no business enterprise with even the smallest of ambitions can ignore the actionable information provided by big data. The big data revolution has made the daily, perhaps even hourly or minute-to-minute analysis of data an enterprise-wide vital activity. However, good decisions can be made only when there is good information.
Increasingly, the information decision makers need is being provided in reports that are easy to read, understand, and comprehend. Data visualization has become the quickest and most efficient way to turn data into actionable information. However, visualization is not as easy as you might think at first glance. Not only do you need some creative skill when creating a useful graph or chart, you also need the proper tools.
Microsoft realizes the need for better tools when it comes to data visualization. This is why the company has been acquiring other companies, technologies, and expertise for the past few years to shore up its offering of business intelligence tools. All that activity has come together in Microsoft's Power BI application, which is part of Office 365.
Power BI can tap data sources throughout your enterprise, including relational databases, Salesforce data, and even Excel workbooks. The application can take all that information and present it in dashboard form on everything from a corporate boardroom to a smartphone. The only real limit is your imagination.
And therein lies the problem. Power BI and other tools designed to create visual representations of data are only as good as the people using them. Data visualization is a skill—a skill not everyone possesses.
Some training required
This gap between the technical capabilities of Power BI and the technical capabilities of the people who try to use it is well known to Microsoft. It is one of the reasons Power BI is so often ignored by enterprises when it comes to their business intelligence analyses. For many organizations, Excel and a bank of boring numbers is the alpha and omega of the reporting process.
To close the training gap for Power BI, Microsoft is offering free Data Visualization and Storytelling online courses. The courses were developed in conjunction with renowned visualization expert Alberto Cairo, the Knight Chair of Visual Journalism at the School of Communication at the University of Miami.
The purpose of these courses, in a nutshell, is to help users learn how to tell the story of enterprise-generated data. Microsoft calls this technique data journalism.
The transformation of enterprise-generated data into actionable information for decision makers has been a vital process for success since the invention of "business." For the modern enterprise, however, that transformation is more complicated than just presenting some numbers.
To truly tell the data story that needs to be told there must be a viable visual component. But creating that visual story requires a good set of tools and a properly trained workforce to use them. This is one of those little things that separate successful enterprises from struggling enterprises.
Whatever you do, do not skimp on training your employees how to use tools like Power BI. Every enterprise in the world generates data by the truckload every single day—but only the successful ones can analyze that data and transform it into actionable information. Even fewer enterprises can tell the true story of that data with visualization. Which category does your enterprise fall under?
- Tech leaders: it's time to stop shadow reporting and provide intelligent data (TechRepublic)
- Tableau presents new ways of analyzing data (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft and the ubiquity of data intelligence (ZDNet)
- Mobile analytics: 10 great apps to visualize big data on the go (TechRepublic)
- Big data policy (Tech Pro Research)
Are you taking advantage of data visualization in your enterprise? Share your opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.