How visual analytics can improve your operations

4 November 2020
Damian Bemben

Never before has it been possible to collect so much data. However, the data is worthless until you can mine it for information, which in turn is useless unless you can understand it. It’s disappointing that most companies are still reliant on two-dimensional charts, graphs and tables of impenetrable figures. The underlying data is labour intensive to collect and processing it can take so long that actionable reports are often out of date.Finally, if you decide to respond in a particular way, you will have a further wait before you can evaluate the outcomes. Visual analytics combines the tools needed to perform all these steps but on a much faster timescale.

 How it works 

Briefly, your information resources can be collected automatically by sensors and cameras or by querying a wide variety of company data resources. Once you have a single point of access, data mining or similar pre-programmed algorithms can rapidly extract and organise it. You will then be able to extract meaningful correlations and aggregate key statistics. At the monitoring end, the salient information is provided in visual forms that human beings can understand at a glance and then respond swiftly. 

Although they are complex, visual analytic systems are extremely flexible. If you can gather digital data on the activities or operations you need to monitor, you can apply visual analytic tools to them. This means it has a role to play in business, security, governance and on industrial production lines. 

With many tools now available in the Cloud, it is within the reach of small to medium sized businesses for the first time. Many visual analytic systems are configurable using simple drag-and-drop interfaces, so although you need to understand your own operational requirements to design them, you don’t need skilled specialist IT teams to operate them for you. 

If you can collect your data in real-time, such as from remote sensors and cameras linked across the IoT, then you can not only respond in real-time, but view the consequences of that response in real-time too. Many analytic suites also enable you to explore the consequences of a policy or production line change before you commit to it, as well as to identify historical trends.

 Ease of use 

Data science and statistical analysis isn’t something that everyone has time to understand, but pointing and clicking with a mouse is now commonplace. Visual analytic interfaces are designed for operational managers, to help them focus on their own areas of expertise and their own specific issues. Business managers and operational technicians can collaborate to devise solutions without needing to refer to IT specialists or external consultants. 

Development is also simple. Sophisticated analytic systems can be built up without ever having to call in a coding team. Your solutions can be built in the Cloud, inside your intranet, or close to critical points in your operational infrastructure. The absence of a steep learning curve means there is a rapid return on investment for the company. 

Digging deeper 

The flexibility of these systems enables, rather than replaces, human insight and experience. There are many areas where you can use these tools, guided only by your own creativity and imagination. In the course of exploring different data views you are very likely to discover answers to questions that you might never have thought to ask. 

Before data analytics, if a report made you aware of a problem but didn’t explain the cause you would have to request more detailed information from front line departments and then wait for a further report. In contrast, visual analytics lets you explore a succession of views until you find the one that answers your question. You can dig deeper, or change the way you examine it with a single click until you find the view that makes the answer clear. As a result, your analyses are more thorough, more penetrating and, critically, up to date. 

Front line decisions 

Analytic resources can be used to create a leaner, more agile enterprise, by making your front-line teams and managers more self-sufficient. Visual systems can reveal exactly where your production line bottlenecks are happening, or to predict where they are going to occur in the future. You can then make prompt adjustments to keep production flowing. 

Access to a visual analytics dashboard can empower every member of your organisation by revealing exactly how their process is performing and whether it is keeping pace with other dependent processes. It can also be used to track management objectives, such as KPIs and other project landmarks.

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