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How Can I Build Visual Analytics Expertise?

Barry Mostert
Senior Director

When I think of a simple tool, I immediately think of a hammer – it’s a very intuitive, easy-to-use tool. You pick it up and you can begin striking things with little input or guidance. By itself, striking things, however, doesn’t make you a carpenter, or an architect – other skills are needed.

Although they aren’t as simple as a hammer, visual analytics tools are designed to be much more intuitive than traditional BI tools, since mastering traditional BI tools often required extensive formal training. Is this the only skill that is needed to become a proficient data visualization analyst?

Let me ask, “Where we should look to find the best candidates to become today’s data visualization experts?” At first blush, there may be a temptation to choose IT experts since they are likely to quickly pick up the nuances of the tool. Comfort with the tool is certainly necessary but, like using a hammer to become a carpenter, something else is needed to become a proficient data analyst with visualization tools. That extra skill, not often found within IT, is an understanding of the data – its business meaning and the interrelationships.

Not understanding the data makes extracting information to provide meaningful insights very difficult, regardless the tool being used. Often, this failure is blamed on the tool, itself, for “not figuring this out for me.” Although most tools have intelligence built in to provide some help, at the end of the day, it doesn’t “know” the data like an experienced business user “knows” the data. To gain insight or to make any meaningful interpretation really requires a solid understanding of these metrics, their dimensions and their relationships in context to the intelligence being sought. These skillsets, and the prime candidates for data visualization experts, are usually found within the business user community.

Of course, these business candidates must be willing, able, and, preferably, eager to learn the visual analytics tool. Is learning the tool too onerous for business users? I have seen that, with a little guidance from experienced users, the use of online videos, and the review of “tips ‘n tricks” documentation, a user can quickly become quite capable in the use of visual analytics tools. After this quick orientation, mastering the tool is best done by “playing with it.” It certainly does not require poring through bulky reference manuals, or costly formal training sessions.

The bottom line is that, for most organizations, when looking for the best candidates to become data visualization masters, look for those with a good understanding of their own data and an eagerness for learning new tools.

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