Which data visualisation tools should you be using?

Eoin Pierce our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 5/3/2016 12:38 PM

There is no denying the ever increasing applications of Data visualisation tools for the modern business. Everyone is aware of them in a business environment, whether they are conscious of it or not. Personally I have been making use of data from a sales perspective long before I was conscious of the titles Business Intelligence and Analytics. Using a simple geo-mapping tool to visualise account locations and statuses, I then shared this with senior management and the sales team. A very simple but useful application, and a far cry from sticking coloured pins in a map!

Visualising your options

A new breed of data visualisation tools have become prevalent in recent years. Given the number of vendors, varied features and implementation costs, it can be difficult to know which ones to:

A) Implement as a Business

B) Become familiar with as a BI Analyst/Developer.

The purpose of Business Intelligence visualisation tools is something everyone can appreciate. As for centuries people have used pictorial or graphical representations of data for it to be universally understood. The usage and investment in this part of a corporation’s BI platform seems to be ever increasing.

According to the trustradius 2015 BI survey:

Medium (101-1000) and large (1001+) size companies are most likely to invest in this area of their business in 2015- even more so than big data (Hadoop, Cloudera) and predictive analytics solutions (R, SPSS etc)

How to stay in demand

When talking to clients, particularly regarding new positions being created and growth of BI teams, visualisation experience is increasingly sought after. Sometimes this is to maximise existing tools and platforms, and often to help assimilate their usage into the new Business Intelligence solutions and maximise their use for end users across the business.

There are many differences between vendors, but the ones I encounter being used most often are Tableau, Qlikview, Spotfire and the MS BI platform. They all have pros and cons depending on existing systems, data streams, usage plans and of course (and often most pertinent) budgetary issues.

From a client perspective, there will be numerous contributory factors to consider when selecting which one to implement, however I think it is important to highlight you will never be able to attract all candidates with any one choice. There will always be analysts and developers with strong subjective preference for certain tools.

The positives to take from this is that many BI professionals I speak to are eager to learn a new tool. Furthermore, the general consensus between talented analysts and developers seems to be that established skills are highly transferrable between top vendor’s product offerings.

This view seems to be mirrored by hiring managers, not just in the larger corporations. Of course for certain companies, teams and projects, the skills focus will lean towards and include prior experience with a particular vendor’s product as a necessity. However, often, as long as the back end data warehouse and data stream experience is compatible, there is generally a level of flexibility when hiring.

Who is using who?

This sentiment also rings true with the type of job specifications we are seeing. There is both increased demand for visualisation experience and a degree of flexibility on the particular tools analysts and developers have used in the past.

With regard to job type, as a general rule, spotfire seems to be the most favoured for visual analytics, Tableau for visual OLAP, Qlikview for data visualisation drilldown and the MS BI stack for back end Data visualisation which makes sense given its direct compatibility with SQL server databases.

Are you on the right track?

So the message for hiring managers seems to be to research the type of profiles you’re looking to bring into your BI team and focus your efforts on candidates with that particular skillset. And finally aim to get a handle on which tools are most compatible in terms of transferable skills and usability. With regard to BI professionals it is impossible to have experience with all of the BI visualisation tools out there, but the key is to prioritise the ones you know are most compatible with the industry you are hoping to work in long term.

For example if you are keen to progress your career towards a BI manager role within a big 4 consultancy, and you’re finding the job specs focus on particular tools you have not used. Keep up to date through courses, webinars, conferences and media events.

From all the BI and analytics professionals I have worked with (including Developers, Analysts, SAS programmers, Programmers, DBA’s and consultants) over 49% have used one of the top four vendors for visualisation and reporting. This is only set to increase in 2016 as the market consolidates, and conversely the proliferation of broader skills and experience won’t go to waste with the advent of new tools coming to market.

What is your experience as a BI professional or someone trying to build a team? How do you view the suitability of particular tools with regard to the stages of the BI solution from Data Warehousing?

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