Recently, the volume of information that the human brain has to process has been ratcheting up, and 90% of existing information has been created since 2012. Because of continuous technological development, the volume of information is expected to morph into an information tsunami, and to handle it, numerous data processing software has been developed.
Research shows that people perceive visual images 60,000 times better than text, and 90% of information that the human brain receives comes in a visual form. That is why software development technology takes a turn towards data visualization, and today a variety of dedicated applications exists.
The Essence of Data Visualization Software
Data visualization software does not perform heavy computing or the management of complex systems; it only helps people grasp information. Dedicated applications convert patternless text into an easily perceptible visual form, which allows identifying trends and correlations that may be under the radar of human perception. However, the processing of an abundance of text requires an intensive development process and the application of complex algorithms.
The Mission of Data Visualization Software
While the evident goal of visualization software is to translate texts into informative images, a much more sophisticated underlying mission is to facilitate a decision-making process. We do not actually need to convert text into images, such as bars, schemes or charts for the sake of it.
As raw data is difficult to digest, there is a clear-cut reason for why we need this conversion: it helps streamline and accelerate analysis. In turn, a thoroughly performed analysis helps make efficient and sound decisions.
These applications come into the most extensive use in a variety of professional activities, such as science, healthcare, and, most importantly, business. An increasing number of companies opt for this type of software as it allows making regular analysis-related operations efficiently. That is why analysts, economists and managers of all levels are the software’s core audience.
Typical Features of Data Visualization Software
Naturally, different software providers invest specific functions in applications that they produce. However, there is a range of functionality that is typical of visualization applications, regardless of vendor, such as:
- Information representation in the form of interactive and non-interactive line and number charts, maps, bar graphs, pie, gauge, area and spider charts, scatter plots, tables and other types of infographics
- Interactivity, such as drill-down and drag-and-drop capabilities
- Connectors to various information sources, such as cloud storage platforms, software frameworks for data storage and relational databases
- Alerts to inform about particular events
- Information import and export
- Data sharing to exchange it with colleagues and partners
Data Visualization Software and Business Intelligence
Today, data visualization has become a required property of modern business intelligence (BI) tools because of its outstanding capability to prepare information for an in-depth analysis and further result processing. As leaders of the BI software market, Microsoft, Tableau and Qlik exemplify, superior rendering capability is a required property of an efficient BI software. In light of this, visualization has become a standard for a business intelligence software.
In most of the cases, standalone applications visualize information much more efficiently than business intelligence tools with built-in information rendition functionality do. Usually, besides visualization, BI tools carry out reporting and mining, analysis and other tasks.
Best Data Visualization Tools
The public opinion research on data visualization software has shown that the absolute leaders are Lumira by SAP and Google Chart Tools. Both primarily visualize information and are unfit for complex processing.
SAP Lumira. Naturally, Lumira is the first choice for SAP customers. Alongside its powerful self-service BI functionality, the tool is very easy to install and use, and it requires only minimal training. However, Lumira provides just standard graphic objects, which is why the creation of custom objects necessitates technical expertise. Also, the tool does not have a Mac OS-friendly version.
Google Chart Tools. This tool is a premier choice for heavy users of other Google software. Also, it perfectly suits users who do not require comprehensive visualization functionality and just need to develop unsophisticated but quality graphics.
The Specifics of Custom Data Visualization Software Development
In cases when vendor-supplied functionality is not enough, companies usually opt for custom development of data visualization applications. However, as with the majority of software, custom development is quite a cost- and time-consuming process. Also, the scarcity of visualization software experts may deter companies from deciding upon this method.
Yet this option allows creating solutions that perfectly fit a company’s business and IT landscape and provide the required technological capacity while reducing the expenses on features that they do not need.
We at SaM Solutions have prepared a checklist of important business and technological challenges that companies should consider if they decide to develop the data visualization software on their own.
“To get real business value from dashboards, designers need to find ways to pull in end users,” says David Stodder, director of BI research at The Data Warehousing Institute in Renton.
Indeed, while user involvement adds value to any software, the participation of potential users is especially important in the case of applications for data visualization. The ultimate goal of these applications is to convert obscure information into structured and insightful information that streamlines and facilitates its analysis. Without this capability, an application makes no sense, as the only thing that it will be delivering is colorful but filler images.
Consulting with a potential audience is a prerequisite for the creation of a successful visualization software, as it allows developing applications that users actually need. That is why designers should meet with potential users as early as the planning stage to gather their ideas and functionality requirements. If possible, designers should involve users that perform different duties within their company.
Content and Efficiency over Appealing Appearance
Quite often, in an effort to create eye-catching visual objects, a company may go over the top and focus on the application’s appearance instead of providing it with powerful functionality.
In the development of software that visualizes information, it is crucial to walk the delicate line between gorgeous graphics with abundant frills and application efficiency. In the chase of bright and colorful visuals, many companies neglect the functionality of their solutions.
That is why we suggest developing graphics in a streamlined and “nothing extra” manner, as this way of presenting the information does not distract from the content of the visuals. “Less is more when presenting high-level information,” says Keith Metcalfe, vice president at WCI Consulting.
Also, when focusing on the delivery of meaningful information, do not be excessive. The mission of data visualization software is to facilitate information perception for users, but not make them feel in their heads when faced with large amounts of information.
Interactivity is another important aspect of efficient dashboards. These applications should be more than just a visual representation of long documents. They should also deliver valuable insights, which is nearly impossible without a robust drill-down capability that helps users understand what underlays the information and possible outcomes. Software that fails to provide required interactivity may languish as users fall back on time-honored tables and spreadsheets.
Data Visualization Software and Big Data
Big Data is quite a recent trend, but the revenue that it has been generating is growing consistently. By 2020, it is expected to almost double as compared to 2015 and reach $210 billion.
The vigorous growth of Big Data applications necessitates the emergence of dedicated tools that enable proper processing of the results they deliver. The first choice here is software that provides results in a visual form. It involves the human visual sense that is the best way to understand large amounts of information and get useful insights from it, which is crucial in the case of Big Data.
Obviously, elaborate and informative dashboards significantly contribute to the efficiency of tools that visualize data, as vivid information representation allows their proper processing and analysis.
We suggest considering that Big Data is gaining traction, and the increasing amount of information that it produces requires quality processing. That is why Big Data-friendliness is becoming a prerequisite for efficient and future-proof solutions, as some of them become Big Data visualization software.
The ongoing evolution of the mobile market encourages companies to develop mobile versions of their applications for Android, iOS and Windows Phone operating systems. However, a wide variety of portable devices and screen sizes significantly complicates the development of these solutions, as they require the proper presentation of visuals.
That is why developers that create the data visualization software need to remember that dashboards should provide proper information visibility without compromising software efficiency and the easiness of information perception. A company that has decided to launch a mobile version of their dashboard can choose one of two approaches:
- Dashboard porting from PCs, usually in the form of a sliding window. This approach is cost-effective, but it requires users to scroll the screen to get a view of the entire image, which is a purgatory for users of small-screen mobile devices. If a company still decides to port dashboards from PCs, the option they need to adhere to is to provide only simple ones that cover critical data. Also, based on page series, some companies create special-purpose dashboards that are suited for portables.
- The creation of a standalone mobile application. Quite a time- and cost-consuming option, but it provides a positive user experience, especially if built on a native mobile platform.
However, some experts consider that the brisk growth of mobile applications may result in significant silos in analytical data between mobile and desktop apps. That is why desktop software is and will be a number one tool for efficient information visualization and analytics.
How to Build Software for Data Visualization
The process of the development of software for information visualization is similar to that of any other software. However, it also involves a number of specific aspects.
The Development of Data Visualization Software
The development of this type of software implies not only the consideration of appropriate technologies and required functionality, but also the creation of an attractive facade.
At the planning stage, a team should make a decision on the following software characteristics that vector the whole development process:
- Stipulate required options
- Choose location (web-based or on-premises) based on the domain’s growth prospects
- Determine the level of the flexibility of software configuration
- Make provisions for software integration with other corporate tools and systems and legacy data
- Decide on an animation type – 2D or 3D and outline the design
As visualization software is inseparably associated with information, its quality is a critical factor that influences the overall application performance. Only healthy data can serve for true-to-fact analytics, which is why a company should place special emphasis on the quality of incoming information. We recommend determining a quality threshold to pick out only appropriate data for processing.
For users’ convenience, an application should support a wide variety of incoming data formats and should be able to integrate their different formats. Also, this software should enable a concurrent teamwork to encourage efficient collaboration and represent changes that users make in a real-time manner. This feature significantly improves the user experience as it grants immediate access to up-to-date analytics results.
Besides technologies and design, strict security considerations is another crucial aspect, as companies often visualize sensitive data. Companies that need to grant different terms of access to separate user groups may require role-based access to specific information. That is why development teams should consider application’s access management and threat detection capabilities.
Not only does technology constantly alter, but so does the business environment, which is why the ongoing updating of software functionality is a prerequisite. With the course of time, some of the dashboards may become irrelevant, while new requirements may emerge. Companies, therefore, need to refresh their applications no less than once a year.
The Cost of Custom Data Visualization Software Development
Needless to say, companies that require this software have a question: “How much does it cost to develop the data visualization software?” No one can quote a precise cost that is relevant to all visualization applications. The project’s price heavily depends on a variety of project requirements, such as:
- Functionality complexity
- Interface intricacy
- The choice of a platform
- The diversity of supported data formats
- Other factors
Even the slightest software components may affect the cost, which is why only software development providers can make a correct cost projection.
Make the Best Use of Your Data
Proper data rendition is the first step to efficient analytics. That is why many companies opt for custom development of data visualization software, as it allows prioritizing their unique requirements and considering its business specifics. To get an efficient software that provides outstanding visuals, we recommend companies approach only reliable service providers. Also, the choice of the provider becomes more involved as these applications usually process sensitive data, prompting significant security considerations.
SaM Solutions usually works in concert with their customers, which allows developing spot-on visualization applications that meet all technological, business and industry requirements. Suited for large companies, SME and startups, our solutions do not just pinch-hit text reports; rather, they cast unstructured data into the information that is easy to digest and analyze.