My Perspective on Data Visualization

Visualization as a business process could be viewed as the transformation of accepted business reality into a new perspective within your business reality.

In my family life, an example might be the gradual shift in the way an in-law parent views their daughter’s boyfriend; as he shows himself to be responsible, caring, and generally a positive influence on their precious little one’s life. Back in the day, when I first obtained a credit card, I shifted my future mother in-law’s perspective on me. I had transformed her visualization of her daughter’s future from lowly girlfriend of off-beat loafer, to someday-spouse of struggling lower-middle-class business clerk. Yeah me.

Ah, the thrill of being a twenty-something. But it is true, my mother in-law began to love me after that slight adjustment in her visualization of who I was. The shift occurred because she received new data (my credit was improving) and viewed my prospects against a new background, that of a mediocre business person – a step up from “The Dud.”

In business, business data visualization can have similar impact. The way we view our business, or the businesses we work for, impacts our ability to make effective decisions. And let’s face it, decision making is what drives business – up, down or sideways. A viable business that chooses to not grow may adequately maintain its position in a market for many years. However, experience indicates, that deciding to simply retain the status-quo in a market may lead directly to a death spiral in the face of real competition. Grow, change or die, is the reigning intonation. And growth entails making effective and forward thinking decisions in a timely fashion.

Consider all of the businesses impacted by Google or I’ve been downsized several times by Google’s decisions to give away services I happened to be selling. I hate when that happens.

I’ve also personally purchased a large ticket item through Amazon – a $2,500 Hammond portable stage organ – that had been drastically price reduced, way below any other reseller. I once worked for a business that sold to Amazon. Amazon blatantly ignored our published reseller price structures, straining relationships with our longstanding business partners. And today I notice local grocery stores in rural Maine preparing to compete with Amazon auto-reorders on basic items like toilet paper and washing machine soap.

Competing with or selling to giant companies like Google or Amazon bring genuine challenges for businesses. These challenges require forward thinking strategies and news ways of doing business; perhaps new ways of visualizing your business.

Business map visualizations are one way to bring fresh perspectives to your business strategies and planning. Using the Hammond Organ example above; Hammond could create a national map view of the stage organ business that displays several critical layers of business data by address.

In this map the background map layer would be national because Amazon’s reach is ubiquitous. The business data would be located by address detail to exposes the most accurate depiction of business realities and any trends that might be pertinent to the analysis. Hammond sales people might want to know, what should the Hammond organ distribution network look like in an dominated world?

One thing Amazon does not have yet are show rooms. Show rooms are a real differentiating factor for other resellers. I would consider viewing several of the below map layers against a USA background map:
• All stage piano retailers nationwide with showrooms
• All competing organ resellers nationwide – for a full picture
• All organ customers for the past five years
• All Hammond competitor store locations with showrooms
• Census higher-level median income by county
Perhaps the goal here would be to establish store locations in areas where Amazon dominates? Or maybe the way to go about improving distribution is to avoid those Amazon dominated areas and push retail client inquiries to showrooms that have the best chance of achieving results outside the Amazon network? Business mapping visualizations help provide answers to questions like these.

Viewing these business data layers as color coded symbols on a map will reveal where sales are occurring and through which sales channels they most often occur. By including a competitive layer on the map, we should find evidence of areas where Hammond showrooms might drive better results. Change or die, right?

Visualization processes like this can serve as a guide to help define and inform decision-making within any business. Business maps expose real trends and can imply solutions to difficult business challenges. Business maps provide a viewing platform that can become a catalyst for the better decision-making.

Data visualizations and business maps are applied in slightly different ways by each organization. A consumer sales organization will include Census demographics in their analysis. A B2B sales team might rather see business listings as a background layer. Large retailers like five-mile radius analysis while retail maintenance agencies prefer to expose route corridors that can impact travel efficiencies. Many distribution organizations view ship-to, ship-from, and drop-ship locations across national maps showing cities, which helps them find ways to improve profitability, balance inventories and speed up deliveries. Non-profits like to import donor lists and segment them for campaign management. Your business will have its own perspective on visualization through business mapping software.

The visualization of your business will be defined by your particular need. Don’t limit the possible views, explore whatever location data layers you have access to. Your only limit is the number of layers per map – avoid a cluttered map. Too much data on one map will overwhelm its purpose. Napoleon never requested restaurant listings on his maps. He wanted terrain, roads and rivers – his requested map layers served his specific purposes. Sometime solving additional problems requires creating a new map.

So get that new perspective, visualize your business data against a map using business mapping software. And keep on doing it. Decision making is a constant requirement for all business owners and managers. Make that new perspective on your business happen.

Turn to business maps for competitive analysis, expansion planning, market analysis, optimized route generation, sales territory mapping, and new applications that I may be unaware of. Look at things differently; your business survival may depend on it.
And your mother in-law may be very impressed as well. Eventually. Or maybe not.

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