Data Visualization is the front end of your BI system. It will be seen from the user’s point of view as the whole BI system! The reason for that is users only will see this part of the BI system, they won’t see Data Warehouse, ETL, andData Governance… What they see is only dashboards and charts explaining data values. So it is essential to do the data visualization right and effective. A good data visualization should be able to tell story behind the data. A bad data visualization won’t help users even if you have a good data warehouse or ETL design. So you should spent time to analyze ever dashboard, chart, and table and make that a good story teller to the user.
I want to show you a very basic example of how data visualization techniques are efficient. Table below shows Sales for different cities;
So which cities has the best sales? which cities the worst? It is hard to say with above table. Now have a look at below table which is exactly the same table but with a small bar added to each cell.
It is much more visible in this view, I’m pretty sure you are agree with me too. colors, sizes, font styles can help a lot in visualization, so a good chart, table, dashboard should use them efficiently. This was a very basic example of how to make your data visualization better.
Let’s see another example: Pie charts used a lot in dashboards, however they are not that much efficient as other charts. chart below shows sales in cities in Germany. even with coloring and the chart it is really hard to say which cities sold best or worst.
Now let’s make a very small change: change the chart to Column chart. Even without coloring you can answer the above question far easier.
There are heaps of tips and techniques like this in data visualization world that you should learn. As a BI professional you should be good at data visualization techniques and also skills. So I spread resources in two main areas based on that: Techniques of Data Visualizations, Tools for Data Visualization.
7- Data Visualization Techniques and Best Practices
Stephen Few is a well-known name in data visualization world, he has written some books and also he run training courses all around the world. I highly recommend you to read books below to have a good understanding of best practices of data visualization. You will feel the difference soon afterwards.
Data Visualization Tools
Microsoft has wide range of data visualization tools, any of them are good to serve for specific purposes. Excel services are good for end users that are familiar with Excel and office and using it everyday. Reporting Services is powerful tool for building reports that can be printed off and published in web. PerformancePoint is a dashboard tool as part of SharePoint which serves SharePoint users well. Power View is an interactive dashboard and visualization tool which is mobile friendly and great for self-service users. Power Map is a Geo-spatial 3D data visualization tool as an add-in on Excel. Last but not least, Almost a week ago Microsoft bought a tool called Datazen which is a great mobile data visualization tool.
Well, That’s too many tools to choose from, but don’t worry, I’ve had multiple sessions in conferences overseas and spoke about When to Choose which tool, I will write some posts about that in the future hopefully. As the discussion about choosing which tool is an advanced technical discussion, I would like to keep it out of this blog series post, and I would write about that in another blog series in the future. In nutshell for you as a BI professional it is important to have skills in all of these data visualization tools and use them in appropriate situation.
7-1- Excel Services: PivotTable and PivotChart
I’m pretty sure that most of you already know these features, or at least you are familiar enough with it. PivotTable and PivotChart has been with Excel for very long time, they are fully embedded in Excel so no one feels them as components of Excel, you might just think about them as Excel itself. I’ve learned Excel Services simply by practicing it, Excel is self-explanatory enough for you to learn it without additional help. However I’ve found this book online which might be useful:
7-2- SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)
SSRS is Microsoft mature reporting tool which is part of SQL Server product. This product has been with SQL Server for long time (from 2004 as an add-on to SQL Server 2000), it enhanced significantly in this period.
SSRS has many features and for learning these features you have to study books and videos. Fortunately there are many books for SSRS and many videos to choose from. I just mention couple of books here as starting point.
This is a beginner level SSRS book that familiarize you with most of SSRS features with many tutorials and examples.
This book has more technical level rather than the first one and will help you to be more professional technically in this technology. Don’t worry if books are on 2008 versions, there has been minor changes on SSRS from 2008 onwards which you can simply read from blogs and videos.
PerformancePoint is a service of SharePoint Enterprise edition which first appeared in SharePoint 2010. This service provides BI visualization elements such as dashboards and charts to be hosted on SharePoint site. PerformancePoint works best with SSAS Multi-Dimenaional.
There are not so much books about this technology, as it had one major release (which was at 2010) and after that it didn’t improved much. There is only one book that I like to mention here which is really good book and worth reading.
7-4- Power View
Power View is a highly interactive dashboard and visualization tool which is part of Power BI tool nowadays. This tool doesn’t have a long history, it first appeared in SQL Server 2012 and SharePoint Enterprise 2010, and then it embedded in Excel 2013 for local use. This tool work with both SSAS tabular and multi-dimensional. the Power BI version of this tool works with HTML5 and is mobile friendly. If you want to have a feeling of charts and dashboards created with this tool, have a look at FIFA Worldcup 2014 data analysis post which is all based on Power View visualizations.
As this technology hasn’t been so long in the market, there are not so much books for it. However below book is a good book for Power View, Power View changed a few after publishing this book, but those changes can be picked easily with playing with the product.
7-5- Power Map
Power Map is one of the newest data visualization tools of Microsoft which is part of Power BI and works as an add-in for Excel. Power Map is 3D Geo-spatial data visualization tool. You can create animations and stories and export it into videos with this tool.
The tool is not a complex tool, you can start playing with it with a very simple process. There are not that much books in the market for this tool yet, but there are number of good videos for using this tool with great examples on MSDN website. Actually the tool is simple and easy enough that won’t require a book at this stage. I recommend reading MSDN Power Map links at this stage;
MSDN: Power Map How to Do posts:
- Introduction to Power Map
- Explore your data in a Power Map tour
- Geocode your Power Map data
- Move around in Power Map
- Visualize your data in Power Map
- Change the look of your Power Map
- Create a custom map in Power Map
- Add or move a scene in a Power Map tour
- Filter data in a Power Map tour
- Change Power Map time options
- Export a Power Map tour as a video
Well, Microsoft bought Datazen almost a week ago, so it can be considered as Microsoft visualization tool now! Datazen is great data visualization tool which works with data sources such as Analysis Services and deliver high quality dashboards and visualization elements for mobile devices.
At the moment the best source for learning Datazen is the product documentation which is 177 pages PDF file.
Walk-through Steps: I’m New to BI, Where to Start? – Part 0: Prerequisites
Walk-through Steps: I’m New to BI, Where to Start? – Part 1: Fundamentals, Data Warehouse and ETL
Walk-through Steps: I’m New to BI, Where to Start? – Part 2: Modelling with BISM
Walk-through Steps: I’m New to BI, Where to Start? – Part 3: Data Governance
Walk-through Steps: I’m New to BI, Where to Start? – Part 4: Data Visualization