Start looking at data in new ways


In the last 30 years there has been a revolution in the sophistication – and to some extent the falling cost – of management information systems. But are managers any better informed today?

Senior managers still find that most of the information they get is not timely enough, not relevant, often difficult to interpret, and their information needs are not being adequately met.

Something isn’t quite working. So – what’s the problem?

Is the information bar rising faster than technology can meet it? Managers need more and more information, ever more quickly, competition is more severe and the whole pace of business has got faster. We’re on an escalator that is constantly moving.

Or has the ineffectiveness of the technology got to do with the managers themselves? That they still don’t have the skills or the mindset to make use of the tools that are there?

It was therefore with some interest that I came across Information Age’s suggestion that perhaps the answer lies in the way the human visual system processes information:

“…the full potential of the visual system not only to understand but also to analyse information is still underused by business information systems.”

Founder and Principal of Perceptual Edge – an independent analyst and consultant whose work focuses on data visualisation – Stephen Few argues that the notoriously high rate of failure among business intelligence (BI) projects can be attributed, in part, to the failure of software vendors to design their tools to reflect the way human beings perceive information.

In its piece – The Analytical Eye – Information Age goes on to say:

“Of course, top of the range BI software allows users to create all manner of charts and graphs with more effects and visual adornments than one could ever need. But this is not the same as designing a system that lets the user exploit the potential of their visual system to perform analyses they would be unable to do mathematically.”

BI technologies will of course continue to evolve as business requirements change, helping to capture and share knowledge about customers, markets, and other key areas of the business.

However, if they are to be effective, such tools will have to become more capable of mimicking the human capacity for thinking multi-dimensionally, for comprehending spatial, geographical and visual sources of information, and for making inferences.

2 responses

  1. Two thoughts:

    1) the definitive guide on how present data is “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte. He wrote it over 40 years ago, and it’s never been bettered

    2) if your readers want an example of how data representation can illuminate and enable decision making, check out any of Hans Roslings presentations at TED.

    If Stephen Few can create software that enables THAT sort of analysis, he’ll be onto something


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