Skip to main content

What is data visualization?

Data visualization is the use of visual elements like charts, graphs, and diagrams to represent data. This makes the information easier to understand and interpret. It helps you identify patterns and trends, and these, in turn, help you make good decisions.

Financial analysts, healthcare providers, marketing companies, social media platforms and government agencies all depend on data visualization to improve and make decisions using data. But regardless of the size or type of business you run, you can benefit from making your data easier to understand. Let’s talk about why data visualization works, why it is so important, and how you can use it to your advantage.

Data visualization

Why data visualization works

Most of us find it much faster and easier to grasp information from images. This is because our eyes and brains process visual information with incredible speed, literally in the blink of an eye. In a study by MIT, subjects viewed images at progressively faster speeds, up to 75 frames a second. In the end, the study subjects were able to identify every image, even after just a 13-millisecond look at it.

Further, Paivio’s dual-coding theory suggests that combining images with text is ideal for learning and memory. First, the image allows us to absorb multiple ideas at once, then the text adds more specifics. Using charts or graphs is one of the simplest ways to combine text with images in a practical way that is easy to understand and remember.

Additionally, a study by Cornell University shows that adding even simple images with data makes a greater impression on us.  They found that if a scientific claim was presented in words or numbers only, 68% of people will believe it. On the other hand, when they added a simple graph to the claim, 97% believed it.

This is important in business because we often analyze our data in order to motivate, change, and improve. Seeing a graph that shows a big difference between two numbers is more convincing, and therefore, more motivating than a list of numbers alone.

Data visualization

How data visualization can help your company

Data visualization can be an incredibly valuable tool for your company. Use it to:

  1. Make better decisions. A graph or an image can show you patterns, trends, and insights that may not be obvious in raw data. This lets you take all factors into account when making a decision.
  2. Save time. Instead of spending hours poring over spreadsheets, data visualization tools can show you everything you need to know at once.
  3. Communicate better. Make your business meetings shorter and more effective. Presenting data in a visual format makes it easier for stakeholders to understand the data and its implications.
  4. Show transparency. Data visualization can help you be more transparent about your operations and performance. Presenting data to people in a clear and accessible format builds trust and demonstrates accountability and transparency.
  5. Get a competitive advantage. Companies that use data visualization to analyze and communicate data effectively have the edge over those that don’t. They continuously improve their performance and gain a greater understanding of their customers and markets.

Overall, data visualization can help you save time, make better decisions, communicate more effectively, build trust, and gain a competitive advantage in your industry.

Visualize your company's data structure

Data visualization can help you map and understand your organization’s data structure. Use graphics and diagrams to see relationships between different data elements and how they are organized within your storage and systems. Here are a few examples of data visualization tools that can help you map your company’s data structure:

  1. Entity-Relationship diagrams: Use shapes and lines to represent different entities in your database and the relationships between them.
  2. Data flow diagrams: Show the flow of data between different processes and systems in your organization.
  3. Tree diagrams: Illustrate the hierarchical structure of data, such as the different levels of a folder structure.
  4. Network diagrams: Show the connections between different data elements and systems within an organization.
  5. Heat maps: Use color-coding to show the frequency and distribution of data elements within an organization’s database.

These maps, images, and diagrams will let you visualize your organization’s data structure. Spot data quality issues and understand how data is used across different departments. Identify opportunities to consolidate, minimize, and optimize the data you store. Monitor and protect special categories of data. Let’s talk more about that last point.

Get ShareSimple FREE for one user today!

Monitor and track special categories of data

Having eyes on your data is key to keeping it safe. You need to know where you store confidential data, who has access to it, and how long you keep it. This is where data visualization can help. Try using data visualization for the following special categories of data:

Personal and sensitive data

One of the key requirements of GDPR is to keep a record of how you collect, process, protect, and share people’s personal data. Creating visual representations of this information makes it much more meaningful. This will help you see how data really flows through your company, identify potential privacy risks, and correct them.

Storage limitation is one of the core principles of data protection under the GDPR. This means you cannot keep personal data endlessly. Rather, only keep personal data for as long as you need it for the purposes for which you collected it. Charts and graphs showing how long you’ve kept different categories of personal data can help.

GDPR also requires organizations to report data breaches to authorities and affected individuals within 72 hours. Data visualization can be used to quickly identify the extent of a data breach and the types of personal data that may have been compromised. This makes it easy for you to respond quickly and effectively to the problem.

Intellectual property and trade secrets

Keep track of your valuable intellectual property (IP) assets and protect them. Data visualization can help you understand and track patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and any other forms of intellectual property. It can also let you see how people access and use IP within your organization.

First, look at who has access to your IP. Then, ask yourself, does everyone need access to all that data to do their jobs properly? Finally, set up proper access controls.

NDAs, contracts, and agreements

Naturally, you need store copies of all the contracts and agreements you make with clients, vendors, suppliers, partners, and employees. These documents may include terms and conditions, service-level agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and licensing agreements. All of this is confidential information. Protecting it protects all the parties involved, including you.

But are you familiar with all the agreements and contracts you’ve made over the years? Data visibility makes it easier to keep up with your agreements and their terms. It can also help you protect them by setting access controls. Finally, data visualization makes it easy to identify contracts and agreements that are no longer valid. In some cases, you may want to eliminate expired documents to protect the private information they contain.

A data visualization tool for sensitive data

DataMapper lets you monitor all your company’s data from one dashboard. Whether it’s personal and sensitive data, intellectual property and trade secrets, NDAs, contracts, and beyond, DataMapper finds it all. This really gives you a picture of your data structure. See who has access to the data, where it is, how long you’ve had it, and more. For extra analytics and visual tools, integrate DataMapper with PowerBi.

Read more about DataMapper →

Sebastian Allerelli

Governance, Risk & Compliance Specialist
Follow me on LinkedIn to get tips on GDPR →