Tips on becoming a Visual Organization


There’s little doubt that basic, static pie charts and even infographics can tell a story. But, as I write in my new book, Visual Organizations understand that contemporary dataviz tools are just plain better. They allow for a high degree of interactivity, motion and animation.

So, what does this mean? Think about it this way. Technological advancements allow users to play with data and discover new, critical, and often unexpected relationships among variables. If at all possible, I recommend deploying and creating dataviz tools with embedded interactivity. These types of tools allow non-technical employees to easily and quickly ask and answer questions. In the end, better business decisions are likely to result.

Here are a few other tips from The Visual Organization:

  • Visualize both small and big data: Lists of sales, customers, employees, products and the like qualify as small data. That data is structured and easily represented in databases and spreadsheet programs. In many cases, small data enhances the insights and value to be gleaned from unstructured information (read: big data). What’s more, the opposite holds true as well. The two are complements, not substitutes.
  • Visualize good and bad data: No one wants to make decisions based upon inaccurate information. Don’t let the potential presence of errors or questionable data inhibit the development of a data visualization. In fact, one of the simplest ways to spot outliers is to present them in a visual way.
  • Look outside of the enterprise: To be sure, there’s much potential value to be gleaned from data residing in corporate databases, enterprise data warehouses and the like. Foolish is the enterprise, though, that relies exclusively on these stalwarts. There’s tremendous value from social data (read: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest), a vast trove of Open Data sources, third-party data and metadata (data about data) from firms such as Nielsen, and myriad other sources external to organizations.
  • Walk before you run: Companies like Netflix can do amazing things with their data. For an organization just getting started with big data, this can be daunting. Recognize that these behemoths have been doing this for a long time. That is, Google today can do things it couldn’t in 2004. In 2024, it will do things it can’t do today. Recognize that it’s a journey, not a sprint.
  • Be open to where the data leads you: Far too many people at all levels of organizations believe that they don’t need data to do their jobs. I’ve worked with plenty of dataphobes throughout my career. Becoming a Visual Organization requires employees to often step out of their comfort zones. No, not everyone needs to be a data scientist. Still, it behooves organizations to remember the famous quote from legendary Silicon Valley icon Jim Barksdale: If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.
  • Encourage self-service and exploration: In an age of Google, most employees don’t want to go to the IT department to ask for data. Many of us are used to fishing for ourselves. Putting IT square in the middle of data requests only adds friction to decision making when speed is often imperative. These days, one need not be a programmer to play with data and ask fundamentally better questions of it.

Simon says

Empower your employees with new tools and a culture that encourages data exploration and good things are more likely to result.


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. In the fall of 2016, he joined the faculty at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business (Department of Information Systems).

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