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Data visualization has undergone a dynamic shift over the years as Big Data has taken over. Whether you know it or not, Big Data radically impacts everyone’s day-to-day life and decision-making. Generally, the effects are hidden as data merchants analyze and assess how they can use the thousands of pieces of data they own per individual advantageously. Often though, the effects are shown off right in front of you, such as when advertisements begin appearing on your social media feeds based off your purchases, google searches, and chats with friends. So where does data visualization come into play? Just as Big Data has exponentially grown, so have the capabilities of data visualization tools. Your basic pie and bar charts have evolved into interactive dashboards and reports capable of building off of a multitude of sources containing massive amounts of data.

Let’s discuss how DL is leveraging data visualization for an existing Federal Government customer. While DL is vendor-neutral, it can be helpful to name a specific technology. In this case, I will use MicroStrategy as my example.

Interactive Business Dashboards

Interactive Dossiers and Dashboards are the bread and butter of a data visualization product like MicroStrategy. With endless possibilities, designers can hand deliver metrics and charts to the exact specifications of the end user. Interactive filters, bold KPIs, and a wide variety of data visualization options work together off carefully connected data sources to display a visually appealing and informative dashboard. They can be constantly refreshed with ever-changing data and save time for end users who are required to make quick decisions and set new goals.

Below is an example of a dashboard similar to one we delivered to a major federal government customer this fall:

Each visual was carefully selected to present specific KPIs, either independently or combined. An entire blog post could be dedicated to why visuals are selected, based on the metrics and components they represent. But we’ll go over a few here:

Tree Map/Circular Tree Map: These visuals allow the end user to quickly identify patterns based on the size of the shape (rectangle or circle) representing a relative weight. They have the benefit of being broken down into multiple attribute groups, which can in turn be broken down further in a nested form. Circular Tree Maps can be less space-efficient than standard Tree Maps due to the empty space but can be more effective at showing hierarchal structure. When the end user hovers over a section of the tree map, the visualization will display the corresponding data.

Sequences Sunburst Chart: This interactive chart builds out into multi-colored concentric rings. The entire chart is built around a metric and each level represents a different attribute. The most central circle is the root node, and the hierarchy builds outwards. Our example uses spending as the metric, the root node is the Source, and the next level in the hierarchy is the Work Category.

In our example, we’ve also added additional KPIs that display the dollar value and count of the selected section. The end user can see that not only is Beta Spending 30% of the total spending, but there are 6 data entries and the total amount of Beta spending is $1,723,087.

Incredible Filtering Capabilities

Where a data visualization product like MicroStrategy truly thrives is in the vast number of filter options you can implement for your dashboard. This allows data to easily be included or excluded from the report calculations. Want to filter on a specific data source? Easy. Want to filter on a specific date range? Done. Want to search for an ID? Go ahead. Want to incorporate all three filters at once? It could not be simpler; you can incorporate as many filters as you’d like.

Shown below is one example of the filters that we have implemented for one page of a dashboard. In it, we have three drop-down menus, a source selector, a date range, and a search bar. All of these interact seamlessly together.

Creating filters only requires three decisions: what kind of qualifier you would like, what data it will filter, and what type of filter to use. (See more here.)

How to mix and match data using Intelligent Cubes

Intelligent Cubes are a wonderful feature that MicroStrategy allows designers to leverage. These cubes allow the stored data to have multiple dimensions (i.e., a category and time dimension), making them much more versatile than a single data source. Building reports off a singular in-memory cube can allow data to be returned from the data warehouse and shared across multiple reports. This facilitates Agile development because we release in stages, starting with existing reports and spreadsheets before moving on to more dynamic data sources. DL even specializes in developing Intelligent Cubes using Freeform SQL queries.

Within a major federal government customer, there are countless smaller organizations, each of which needs specialized reports that fit their needs. The DL team has leveraged Intelligent Cubes as a source to build and distribute these reports to that clientele. But as cubes are stored as an in-memory source, they need to be refreshed each time a client requires an updated report. Rather than manually refresh the cube following each request, a data visualization product like MicroStrategy offers a feature to schedule when a cube should be re-executed against the data warehouse to update the data. We have initiated subscriptions to get our in-memory cubes on a refresh schedule so that each specific client receives exactly the data they need, exactly when they need it, whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, or any other time variation.

Eyes from the Upper Echelon

Most importantly though, these dashboards are far reaching. The teams at DL work every day to create dashboards and reports with greater impact for key stakeholders and decision makers. During early 2021, we were involved in a major effort to get federal leadership their scheduled reports on national matters. They had reports that were run manually on old data sources, and the DL team was able to replicate them and make them available to run on-demand in the appropriate reporting portal. User engagement continues to trend upwards as these dashboards prove to be more of a necessity by the day. As knowledge of our capabilities grows, we continue to set greater goals for these DL-delivered dashboards and reports into 2022 and beyond.

 

Written by:
Kareem Najib
Data Analyst at Definitive Logic

1At Definitive Logic, we are vendor-neutral. We use a wide range of market-leading technologies to meet our customers’ needs. We leverage that experience to give you practical, unbiased, fact-based advice. We also like to share real-life examples. We’ll often name a specific product or vendor in our examples. These mentions aren’t an endorsement. They’re just a data point.

 

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