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Choosing Tools for Data Visualization

When creating data visualizations, the most important thing to focus on is data preparation, not tools. That said, it's easy to be distracted by the variety of tools that are available for creating visualization.

All tools are not created equal. Tying yourself to a tool before you know what needs to be displayed is a recipe for failure. If your company has already chosen a specific tool, obviously, you have to figure out how to work with that one. But if you have the freedom to decide on a tool, make sure to let the data drive your choice.

When choosing a tool, it's important to know what separates truly advanced tools from simpler ones. In a 2012 Forrester Wave report titled "Advanced Data Visualization (ADV) Platforms," Bob Evelson and Noel Yuhanna outline several points that separate the current crop of advanced tools from older, less powerful tools:

  • Dynamic data content: The data is interactive and can be updated regularly to show changes.

  • Visual querying: Users can click icons and other visuals to update the data.

  • Multiple-dimension, linked visualization: Multiple types of data can be linked to show different dimensions.

  • Animated visualization: An animated visualization enables you to quickly go to the data you want to see so that you don't have to spend time clicking through data that's not relevant to you.

  • Personalization: The software assigns different levels of access to the data as well as access to different slices of that data based on the particular user.

  • Business-actionable alerts: The software triggers alerts that can notify various stakeholders when appropriate.

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