Data Visualization Drives the Era of Information Activism

by   |   April 20, 2016 2:30 pm   |   0 Comments

James Richardson, Business Analytics Strategist, Qlik

James Richardson, Business Analytics Strategist, Qlik

The world of data is experiencing a seismic shift in 2016, spearheaded by a generation of passionate and tech savvy individuals, many of whom are part of the Millennial generation.

Having grown up with the web, millennials are used to having access to all the information they want with just a simple finger tap on a screen. As millennials enter the workforce, they are bringing these expectations into the office, behaving less as data consumers and much more as information activists. These workers expect to be able to use data actively to express their views and individuality.

As data visualization tools are often free to download and user-friendly, more and more people are able to create self-service visualizations, allowing them to express their interests and discoveries through graphs and charts. This generation of data activists is creating visual representations to tell its stories with widely available data from a variety of sources, from sports scores to music charts at home to big and small data at work. Data, increasingly, is becoming a form of self-expression, both personally and within the enterprise.

The information activism trend draws parallels to the printed word. From the invention of the Gutenberg printing press until the advent of the Internet, the ability to write and publish information was a highly technical skill, in the hands of a select few individuals. The arrival of blogging made the written word a mass activity, open to all. Similarly, people are now eager to express themselves using data visualization to tell engaging and visually stimulating stories without the need for a graphic artist or cartographer. They can just do it for themselves.

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Healthcare is a perfect example of how individuals are transforming how data is being used. By taking hold of and analyzing the “data of me,” information activists are altering how they view and understand their own heath, and often taking action to change unhealthy habits. The widespread adoption of this behavior has the potential to change every facet of healthcare, from individual well-being to insurance practices. This marriage of data visualization and information activism is being fueled by data from wearable sensor technology. As we have seen the widespread adoption of FitBits, Apple Watches, and other devices, the average data consumer is increasingly acting on personal health data from these devices. Information activists are even banding together in virtual communities of likeminded people to share, learn from and, ultimately, act on the insights from their joint data to achieve citizen-driven data insights and implement change.

As an inevitable extension of the wearable devices trend, health insurance companies are beginning to act on the plethora of new information coming from FitBits and similar devices. This sensor data explosion is leading insurance companies to create new ways of quantifying and measuring people in a more personalized way, providing individualized care and support beyond simply building models based on generic socioeconomic indicators.

Journalism also has become more data-centric, led by information activists who are both analytical journalists and readers, rather than information repeaters. Data visualizations such as dashboards and infographics have provided journalism with a new medium to communicate data-driven stories and drive wider engagement.

For example, data-driven journalism played a large role in communicating the story of the highly publicized water crisis in Flint, Michigan. A reporter at Michigan Radio used publicly available data and a data visualization tool to map out the dangerous extent of the Flint water crisis, bringing clarity to the story.

Information Activism in Business

The information activism trend is making waves in business just as much as it is in health and journalism.

In retail, data visualization and information activism are enabling smart merchants to unclutter the supply chain and optimize their business. By becoming information activists and taking advantage of the widely available data on competitors, merchandise, and finances, retailers can make better – and quicker – decisions by way of the insights presented by their data.

An example of this is Lush, a natural beauty store that equips their employees, from salespeople to warehouse staff, with visual analytics, empowering them to be information activists. As their products have a shorter shelf life due to their organic nature, Lush personnel are able to track how products are selling and how they are being stored, which results in quicker, fact-based strategic decisions on where they can reduce production rather than being stuck with an abundance of outdated merchandise they can’t sell.

In just two years, the insights from their data saved Lush $1.7 million. Data access and activism enables workers to make valuable contributions to the business, saving money, time, and resources day in and day out.

Information activism is catalyzing a renaissance in the world of data, transforming the entire field of analytics. People no longer are mere data consumers, passively waiting for information. Now, individuals are actively engaged with data throughout the entire discovery process, wherever their questions take them, allowing for truly informed learning and decision making.

As the tempo of our lives has increased in the past decade, the information activism and visualization trend has simultaneously pushed our data discovery and decision making speeds, propelling data-driven possibilities and innovation to new heights.

James Richardson is Business Analytics Strategist at Qlik. Prior to this role, he spent six years as a Gartner analyst, covering business intelligence and analytics. During his tenure, Richardson was the lead author of the Magic Quadrant for BI Platforms report, and chaired and keynoted Gartner’s European Business Intelligence (BI) Summit. Before Gartner, Richardson spent 13 years at BI and performance management software vendor Hyperion in various roles.

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