Your Guide to Software Selection

Visual Analytics Tools: What Are They And Which Should You Use?

“I love to read through thousands of rows of data tables to digest information,” said no one ever. Most of the data you collect through business analytics tools end up in some kind of standard table of rows and columns. Although you could leave it in this form, it’s not only boring to look at, but also incredibly difficult to actually understand the big picture. Sure, you may get a general sense of what the data holds — you may even be able to spot a pattern or two. But to get a true picture of the story your data tells, you need visual analytics tools.

What is Visual Analytics?

Falling under the category of visual business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA), visual analytics is basically just a visualization of data analysis. It involves data displayed in a visual chart or dashboard that makes it easier to understand than if it were presented in endless rows and columns of a table. This makes it easy to decipher trends at a glance, without taking up too much of your time. Additionally, visual data analysis tools make data analysis easier to understand for those who aren’t data scientists.

As an example, look at the two pictures below. Which looks more appealing to you: the data table on the left, or the graph on the right?

Credit: Shutterstock

The data on the right looks like it’s a little easier to work with, doesn’t it? Just imagine trying to spot trends in a giant table in order to, for example, improve the effectiveness of your email marketing. The data on the right is much clearer, allowing you to spot trends with nothing more than a quick peek.

So where does the “analytics” aspect come in? Visual analytics doesn’t just visualize your data — it also performs actual data analysis, too. According to Techopedia, visual analytics is unique in that it involves statistical work, data mining or other analytical work to visualize the data.

What this means is your visual analytics program isn’t just making your data look pretty — it’s actively organizing it, discarding duplicate and incorrect data, and sometimes even offering insights based on the data. Utilizing machine learning algorithms, the artificial intelligence in data visualization software learns from the data to guide your analysis of it.

Common Features of Visual Analytics Tools

Like any other piece of software, there are certain features of visual analysis tools that are standard among every vendor. There are also some that may not be standard but are necessary to get the most out of your data. This list includes both. We have an in-depth requirements checklist to help you delve in deeper, but here’s a crash course. If you happen to find yourself evaluating a visual analytics vendor, look for the following:

Get our Visual Analytics Tools Requirements Template

Data Visualization

This should go without saying, as it’s the essence of what makes visual analytics tools… well… visual analytics tools. Data visualization simply refers to the ability to take data sets and display that information in graphics, charts, figures and bars. It is used as a way to deliver visual reporting to users for the performance, operations or general statistics of an application, network, hardware or virtually any IT asset. This data is generally in the form of numbers, statistics and overall activity. This could be in a bar chart, pie chart, histogram, scatter plot, cluster graph or any other type of chart or graph.

Displaying complex data in easy-to-understand graphics helps our brains process the information in a much more direct way than analyzing numbers. Some methods for achieving this include turning the data into a visual narrative via storyboarding or the animation of static data. Most software offer assisted guidance through the data discovery process (auto charting) and prefabricated templates for visualizations (plugins). Some even incorporate data presented in three dimensions (geospatial interaction). Your data visualization needs will vary based on the type of data you’re analyzing.

Data visualizations can be used to present any type of data, from monthly revenue to lead generation to warehouse inventory levels. This means they’re useful for gaining insights into any process you want to improve. No matter if you’re trying to discover why your revenue dipped or you just need to compare marketing strategies, data visualization helps simplify your analysis.

Dashboards

Dashboards are where the majority of data visualization takes place. They create charts and graphs for specific data, constantly updating with the latest real-time information to keep you informed.  Dashboards are great for at-a-glance or ad-hoc analysis when you just need to quickly check your data. For example, you can compare the number of leads generated from email sign-ups by email type to gain insights into marketing effort effectiveness.

The most useful dashboards are real-time dashboards, which update their visualizations minute-by-minute. By implementing real-time dashboards, you can monitor the status of whatever data you’re tracking as it happens. This allows you to notice issues as they arise. The ability to discover issues in real time allows you to address them quickly.

Especially in a fast-paced supply chain, fixing issues quickly is a must. It reduces the number of setbacks you could face, such as warehouses with too much inventory or shipments that arrive late. There are many other benefits to utilizing real-time dashboards, like monitoring KPIs, driving accountability, as well as saving employees time and money.

Get our Visual Analytics Tools Requirements Template

Integration with Multiple Data Sources

In order to visualize data about various processes, you have to gather them from wherever you collect and store them. This means your visual analysis tool needs to be able to communicate with all of the different data sources you have. This allows data visualization tools to pull that data, analyze it and visualize it.

There’s no shortage of data sources that businesses commonly use. The most common source is some kind of database — such as NoSQL, Hadoop or a cloud service — that can hold millions of data points. Not every small business uses databases, however, so integrating visual data analytics tools with other software systems is also common. This could include pulling supplier, distribution and inventory data from SCM software; customer and lead information from a CRM; and employee data from an HR system.

System integration can also refer to the IT or engineering process concerned with joining different subsystems or components as one large system. It ensures each integrated subsystem functions as required. It is the ability of software to cooperate and communicate with other platforms, applications and software. This can be anything from CMMS systems to CRM software to a business’ website to an email platform. Integrating systems consolidates data and makes it easier for sales and marketing teams to coordinate efforts. Not to mention it makes everyone’s life easier to have a single dashboard for information.

Collaboration

As we all learned in kindergarten, sharing is caring. Why silo your data visualizations and other analysis processes when you can provide easy access to other users within your organization?

Collaboration features allow multiple users to view and work with the data you’re analyzing. This functionality allows you to decide what type of analysis to perform as a group. Additional benefits include the ability to share your analysis with other business users, add comments on different visualizations and hold discussions in the visual analytics platform.

The 5 Best Visual Analytics Tools

At this point, you’ve heard enough about what visual analytics tools are. Now it’s time to look at who’s leading the industry. Below are five of the best visual data analytics tools on the market, each of which is a great option for filling your data analytics needs.

Compare Visual Analytics Software Leaders

Board

Board offers a wide selection of gauges, data views, maps, charts, widgets, tables and other data-aware objects for storyboarding and data representation. This visual analysis tool offers interactive dashboards.

Board also provides advanced charting features and interactive maps that let users focus on the “where factor” and gain spatial insights on their data. These tools include heat maps, treemaps, waterfalls, bubble charts and radar. Users have ample visualization options to make sense of their data.

Board offers intuitive data visualizations

Board offers advanced analytics capabilities enabling users to build intuitive and interactive dashboards, analysis or reports. The solution includes Board Beam, an automated predictive modeling approach for accurate forecasting and scenarios analysis. This module adds further information to the scenario to reflect the impact of external variables on the forecast.

Additionally, Board Beam offers a set of out-of-the-box statistical functions ranging from the traditional min/max, average and standard deviation to algorithms specifically designed for business analysis. They can be utilized to determine and track KPIs such as frequency, recency, dormancy and nascency.

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Tableau

Tableau’s Big Data Analytics solution offers strong data visualization capabilities enabling users to create intelligent business reports through its storyboarding feature. The solution enables users to present data in different predefined charts and animated forms to visualize changes across multiple groups or time periods.

Tableau Big Data Analytics supports geospatial interaction. The New Spatial File Connector tool allows users to leverage spatial data directly in Tableau for powerful geospatial analysis.

Tableau has a variety of visualization options

The visual analysis tool from Tableau enables users to perform ad-hoc analytics using several strong data analytics features. The solution is capable of descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytical capabilities that yield trend lines, forecasts and predictions based on the behind-the-scenes algorithmic analysis. The solution also provides profit analysis via an intuitive CFO dashboard.

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TIBCO Spotfire

TIBCO Spotfire provides strong data visualization capabilities through an array of over 16 types of visualizations including bar, line, map, pie charts, heat maps and network graphs. The solution provides easy-to-interpret insights vital for spotting valuable trends and patterns.

Users can create a guided experience through their data and communicate complex concepts by adding images, descriptions and step-by-step navigation to narrate their findings. The solution provides guidance to the users by suggesting best possible representations of the data.

TIBCO Spotfire’s location analytics provides geospatial interaction. Users can create and view instant maps establishing more comprehensive connections between data and location, helping users understand data, generate insights and predict future possible outcomes.

TIBCO Spotfire can display the same information in a range of ways

Spotfire offers advanced analytics enabling users to gain predictive insights using statistical and regression models. The solution connects multiple data sources to quickly view intuitive visualizations and predictive insights, aiding exploration and sharing.

TIBCO’s BA module allows users to run analysis on a query-to-query basis. The solution is fully loaded with predictive, descriptive and prescriptive analysis to make the interface explorable.

Users can point-and-click to get instantly linked views, one-click predictions and proactive data profiles. The solution is embedded with an R engine and can run statistical language with an open source within the software analysis. The R code provides point-and-click authoring for all levels of users and offers admins the ability to run custom R models in the analysis. The solution is also capable of drilling down to existing databases.

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SAS Visual Analytics

SAS provides a strong, dynamic and interactive visual intelligence solution helping users create appealing analytical storyboards. The solution allows users to map out all major actions before analyzing data. SAS Visual Analytics enables collaboration and storytelling through Microsoft Office integration.

This solution supports auto-charting, enabling users to start explorations from an ideal point and easily pick the best graph for user data. SAS Visual Analytics supports geospatial integration with Esri ArcGIS Online or OpenStreetMap. The solution is also enabled with interactive animations and charts suggestions.

SAS’s unique data visualization dashboard

SAS is capable of handling single specific user queries and performing ad-hoc analytics. The solution is equipped with a predictive analytics feature which includes tools such as SAS Visual Analytics and SAS Enterprise Miner. The solution can search down to existing databases and provide descriptive and prescriptive data analysis, enabling users to visualize and calculate real gains.

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Microsoft Power BI

Microsoft Power BI provides customizable and pre-built dashboards which unify key metrics into a single view and show real-time updates on every device. The solution helps users build scorecards that include advanced filtering, guided navigation, interactive analytics and visualization. The solution offers various chart suggestions and animations to represent data in a customized and explanatory way.

The Power View and Power Map features support visual data exploration with ad-hoc interactive reporting and geospatial analysis. Users can take advantage of Power View Add-in functionality that allows them to present and share insights with others through rich storyboard presentation capabilities. Power BI also supports geospatial integration with SQL Server Geospatial engine, BING maps and Esri ArcGIS maps.

Microsoft Power BI offers customizable dashboards for data manipulation

Microsoft Power BI provides powerful ad-hoc analytics capabilities, enabling users to handle both single and multiple business queries. They can also undertake predictive analytics for understanding past trends and getting important insights for future decisions.

This solution is loaded with data mining features, enabling users to examine large pre-existing databases to generate new information. Power BI helps users analyze profit through customized and in-built dashboards.

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Compare Pricing for Visual Analytics Software Leaders

The Final Verdict

Next time someone asks, “what is visual analytics?” you’ll be able to answer like a pro! Make sure to check out our visual analytics software comparison report to get a better idea of what different BI visual analytics solutions will offer.

What visual analytics tools do you use? Did we answer your questions, or do you have more? Leave them in the comments!

Bergen AdairVisual Analytics Tools: What Are They And Which Should You Use?

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