Why businesses fail to maximise the value of data visualisation

Data visualisation has become one of the hottest tools in data-driven business management over the past few years. As business intelligence software becomes a more central part of companies’ toolkits and data practices, visualisations have improved while concurrently becoming more precise and versatile.

Even so, not every case of a business implementing BI software and data visualisation is a success. Although they are meant to streamline data analysis and comprehension, they can sometimes produce the opposite effect.

A recent survey by Ascend2 revealed that despite their best intentions, many companies fumble their data visualisation implementations and end up doing more harm than good. While this has not necessarily affected the popularity of BI and data visualisation, it does raise some interesting questions about what companies can do right.

The survey shows that while many have had success with their data visualisation and data dashboard strategies, a majority have only been somewhat successful, or worse, unsuccessful. 

Regardless, dashboards and visualisation confer significant benefits for organisations, so they are not likely to go anywhere.

Why some visualisations are less successful

The survey responses indicate that while data dashboards are still being used and developed, the number of companies that are experiencing strong success with them has dropped. When asked about the overall effectiveness of their data dashboard strategies, only 43% of those surveyed described it as very successful. Meanwhile, 54% called it somewhat successful, while 3% were unsuccessful in deploying data visualisations and dashboards.

One of the biggest challenges is that fewer respondents believed they had consistent access to the data they required. A major benefit of dashboards is that they provide only the data that is relevant to each user and exhibits it in an easily digestible manner. However, dashboard design can sometimes go awry and become either too cluttered or too sparse, obscuring important information in the process.

Indeed, the number of respondents who claimed they frequently or always had the right data to make business decisions fell from 44% in 2017 to 43% in 2018.

A focus on a specific type of data visualisation can misrepresent data, while a strong focus on one type of data can exclude up to 80% of a company’s full data stream

Nevertheless, it does appear that visualisations and dashboards are gaining popularity. The survey found that a total of 84% of respondents planned to increase their overall budgets for data dashboards and visualisations to some extent, although most only plan on increasing it moderately.

This is because despite the challenge of successfully implementing a data visualisation strategy, visual language has been proven to improve productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

Why companies will keep investing in visualisations

One big reason many companies undergo less-than-optimal implementations is that they do not have an effective answer to the question, “What is data visualisation?” For many, the definition is as simple as charts made from spreadsheets and basic diagrams. However, today’s business intelligence tools offer a significant variety of visuals that can make almost any data easier to comprehend and actionable.

A report by the American Management Association has found that visualisation tends to improve several aspects of companies’ decision making. According to the AMA, 64% of participants made decisions faster when using a visualisation tool, while another found that visual language can shorten work meetings by up to 24%.

More importantly, the AMA report cites additional third-party studies demonstrating that visual language helps problem solving, improving efficiency by 19% while overall producing 22% higher results in 13% less time.

With that in mind, however, the report by Ascend2 may be cause for concern, or at least a call to action, for many companies employing data dashboards. The importance of design and precision cannot be overstated when planning a data visualisation strategy.

In some cases, a focus on a specific type of visualisation can misrepresent data or make it harder to understand. Other times, a strong focus on one type of data—such as structured data—can exclude up to 80% of a company’s full data stream.

Having a clear deployment strategy that understands an organisations’ specific needs and objectives can also make the process easier. The Ascend2 study discovered that companies which focused on objectives that are more important—instead of those that are more challenging, but less critical—can also help organisations increase their success with data dashboards and visualisations.

Coursing the right plot

Data visualisations will continue to be a central part of organisations’ data practices. The improvements it offers for decision-making, consensus, problem-solving, and more make it a key part of business success. Still, companies should focus their efforts on building data visualisation strategies and data dashboards that give their teams the information they need, and deliver it consistently.

Editor's note: This article was written in association with StudioWorks.