Visualisation for business
This year has seen many developments in visualisation technology – from holograms to virtual reality headsets – designed to excite the senses and usher in a new paradigm of personal entertainment. Also exciting is the potential visualisation brings to many business processes still stuck in the doldrums of plain text and voice interaction.
Visualisation can be broadly defined as technology that brings a visual dimension (2 or 3D) to information or an object that is described as non-visual data or a physical object. Visualisation allows an object to been seen without physically being there with the help of computer modelling.
As computing power advances, visualisation will become more accessible from the cloud to smartphones and wearables. In the medical industry alone, Research and Markets forecasts the global advanced visualisation market to grow at more than 10 per cent each year reaching some $2.8 Billion in value by 2020.
Here, we'll look at the technology of visualisation and how organisations are adopting it to dramatically change the way they do business – both internally and for their customers.
2015: A leap year for visualisation
With the Google Glass smart eyewear showcasing the potential for visualisation over the past few years its sun setting this year seemed to trigger a burst of product development from a range of tech vendors: Microsoft announced HoloLens; Samsung released its Gear VR headsets; and Sharp released an interactive whiteboard for the office meeting room.
In addition to devices for augmented and virtual reality, this year has heralded new ways to turn mind-boggling volumes of data into patterns which can be "seen" and acted upon.
Matthew Golab, legal technology manager at Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers, says with typically litigation or regulatory matters running into the hundreds of thousands of documents, the use of visual network diagrams provides an overview of the universe, or of a subset.
"We also use visual breakdowns of type of document coupled with chronological views to sample the documents," Golab says.
Augmented reality and facilities like the UTS Data Arena are excellent tools for exploring data sets, but the future of visualisation lies in the ability to select visuals which will communicate an anomaly or an interesting trend to a user, according to Premonition.io managing director Brad Lorge.
"With the advent of smart watches, Google Glass and even smartphone notifications, apps need to be able to communicate complex trends and events incredibly concisely. The ability to understand what exactly to emphasise is the key," Lorge says.
The application of visualisation is only limited by imagination and practicality, and more often than not, will result in better understanding of information and more innovation.
Zip Industries, a local manufacturer of office hot water systems, has adopted 3D visualisation as a core part of its assembly and ERP processes as it is easier for people to see the volume of a component in 3D compared with a flat image.
When I met the company's CIO, Nick Mennell, he was spearheading an initiative to use 3D modelling to demonstrate products "in place" to potential customers as visualisation stretches from manufacturing and ERP to sales and marketing. An easy ROI for the company is to use 3D modelling to eliminate travel time to prospects and field photography.
While visualisation is making waves this year, it's worth noting that the Queensland Police Service has been using virtual reality for training since as far back as 2003. Education and training is another area which can benefit greatly from visual interaction.
The benefits of real time visualisation
All eyes on real-time data visualisation
Every business deals with some form of data set – from financial accounts to server monitoring – but the big challenge is turning raw data into real-time intelligence and that's where visualisation can make a huge difference.
Ben Phillips, principal research fellow at the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, says visualisation offers many advantages, not least a simpler way to understand data.
"When people have a visual interface they can quickly understand large data sets," Phillips says. "We find using a spreadsheet can be a confusing array of numbers, but a more visual approach is a lot easier and more functional. Most people find a visual interface more appealing to understand the business, more intuitive and flexible."
The centre provides clients with visual interfaces which allows people to change dimensions of tables on fly so they can do analysis themselves for real-time data visualisation. Phillips says people often discover new opportunities for improvement when performing their own analysis.
"It's fairly early days for visualisation in Australia, but it is promising a better way to understand data to uncover problems in business and government," he says.
An example of real-time data visualisation is displayed by Finnish organisation Lucify which has created an interactive data visualisation of Europe's current migration crisis based on data from the UN and other sources.
Hover over Germany and you'll see the path and number of people heading into the country represented by arrows. Lucify's self-stated mission is to foster collaboration on interactive data visualisation for journalism.
Peter Gray, director of analytics and information service at Oakton, says visualising data can allow people to easily gain insights into what is really happening.
"For example, in a shopping centre, by overlaying retail sales and foot traffic data over a map of the centre, you can clearly see the different people movements and spending patterns which then allows you to optimise store mix and rental agreements," Gray says. "By then delivering this on a geo-spatially aware mobile device, you're able to stand in a particular part of the centre and see what the returns are from the different stores, and put that information into context."
We're just at the start of a new era in visualisation for business. More readily available equipment and cloud services coupled with applications and use cases will drive a new appetite for innovation. Don't let the legacy of text and telephone hold your business back.