Tech hotshots: The rise of the dataviz expert

Big data doesn't work if decision-makers can't absorb what it means. Enter the data visualization expert to sort it all out.

By Tam Harbert, Computerworld |  

Meanwhile, companies seem to be recognizing the need for data visualization training not just for their business analysts but across their organizations.

Cisco's Lewandowski took Few's course six years ago. "It really opened my eyes to the important, but subtle, things that many people miss," he says. "There are so many different things you may not notice right away but make all the difference in the world."

Like many data visualization specialists, Lewandowski circuitously gravitated into the field. He started in sales and business development at Cisco 14 years ago. Then he moved into a role of managing channel partner relationships, where he started using BI applications. He gradually expanded his expertise in BI and data analysis, and now heads a three-person team within Cisco Global Business Operations that is responsible for delivering business intelligence throughout the company. He describes the unit as a hybrid business and IT organization, although he doesn't consider data visualization to be an IT function.

Lewandowski's team spends much of its time on data visualization, both on specific visualizations of Cisco data and on promoting best practices throughout the company. The team is hoping that "a bit more education could get rid of the flaming, spinning 3D pie charts of the world," he says. "At end of the day, everybody has a responsibility to try and communicate better."

Here Few chose a simple line graph to make the main point of the data -- market share -- easy to see, with labels directly next to the data lines rather than in a separate legend box. Integrating a table at the bottom of the graph provides precise values for those who want them without cluttering up the main image. Click here to see a "before" image of the same graph without Few's principles applied.

For data visualization professionals, however, the end goal is not necessarily to present data that answers specific questions, Lewandowski notes. "Part of it is about allowing our leaders to be able to articulate questions that they never had before because they are seeing things in a way that they've never seen them before," he explains. "If we're successful, people can see the threads in a way that allows them to ask better questions, which leads to better strategy and ultimately to a better company."

Good data visualization has proven to have real bottom-line business benefits at Cisco, says Lewandowski. He developed a graphic called "Lewandowski's pyramid," for example, which "has led to changes in global strategy." It's so strategically important, in fact, that he won't give much detail. "It's basically a segmentation, or stratification, model, where we count something, for example, number of orders or number of customers, and then segment it into different layers."

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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