Intelligent Enterprise Readers’ Choice Awards feature an odd data visualization winner

When the Readers’ Choice Award in the data visualization category given by Intelligent Enterprise magazine—one of the few periodicals focused on business intelligence—goes to IBM Visualization Data Explorer, we should question the merits of these awards. Don’t get me wrong; IBM Research does some exceptional work in the field of data visualization, but IBM Visualization Data Explorer is not business software, at least not in the same sense as data visualization products such as Tableau, Spotfire, and Advizor Solutions. It is a programmer’s tool for developing sophisticated visualizations and analytical applications, which is used predominantly by scientists. Here’s an example of the type of visualizations that are typical of its use:

IBM Visualization Data Explorer Typical Example

Most business people would take one look at the product’s user interface (see below) and run like hell back to the safe haven of Excel.

IBM Visualization Data Explorer Screen Capture

IBM Visualization Data Explorer is probably a very good product, and it could certainly be used by a programmer to develop an application that business people could use to analyze business data, but it is useless and potentially misleading to compare products of this type to visual analysis applications that are designed to be used by business people.

If you go to IBM’s Web site to learn about IBM Visualization Data Explorer, you will quickly discover the truth for yourself. Of the many examples of visualizations that have been produced by the product, only a handful fall into the general business category, and even those don’t fit what we usually think of as business intelligence. Here’s an example to illustrate my point:

IBM Visualization Data Explorer Business Example

Although a stock analyst could probably learn, after a great deal of practice, to interpret this graph, you would want to keep it far away from the faint of heart.

Frankly, most of the business examples that can be found on IBM’s Web site are not well designed. This next example uses a rainbow color scale (a bad practice for a continuous range of values), the heights of states, and the heights of bars on a 3-D map to encode stock information, which could be displayed in a much more comprehensible manner using a tool like Tableau.

IBM Visualization Data Explorer Poor Example

If you’re in the habit of selecting software based on readers choice awards, you’re in for a big surprise if you use this year’s winner in Intelligent Enterprise’s data visualization category as your guide. Something really screwy happened to produce this result. Perhaps someone tampered with the electronic ballot box.


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