Boris Evelson By Boris Evelson

I get many inquiries from clients on how to select a data visualization vendor / solution. The criteria that my clients often site are

  • Thick and thin client
  • Dynamic visualizations, not just static charts 
  • Ability to pull data from multiple sources
  • OLAP-like functionality

All these criteria are pretty much a commodity these days. The real differentiation will come once you start looking at advanced (key word "advanced") visualization features such as

  • If it’s a thin client does it have Web2.0 RIA (Rich Internet Application) functionality (Flash, Flex, Silverlight, etc)?
  • In additon to standard bar, column, line, pie charts,etc how many other chart types does the vendor offer? Some advanced examples include heat maps, bubble charts, funnel graphs, histograms, pareto chats, spider / radar diagrams, financial market specific charts (candlesticks, etc), project management specific charts (gantt, etc), scatter plots, relationship diagrams, overlapping sets, cluster analysis, and others?
  • Can the data be visualized via gadgets/widgets like temperature gauges, clocks, meters, street lights, etc?
  • Can you mash up your data with geospatial data and perform analysis based on visualisation of maps, routes, architectural layouts, etc?
  • Can you have multiple dynamically linked visualization panels? It’s close to impossible to analyze more than 3 dimensions (xyz) on a single panel. So when you need to analyze >3 dimensions you need multiple panels, each with 1-3 dimensions, all dynamically linked so that you can see how changing one affects another
  • Animations. Clicking through 100s of time periods to perform time series analysis may be impractical. So can you animate/automate that time period journey / analysis?
  • Multi dimensional charts. Can you have a 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc dimensions, such as a size of a bubble, color of a buble on an XY axis?
  • Subsets ands supersets. Can you select a point, rectangle, or a "lasso" (irregular region) and drill down into the subset or roll up into a superset (if selecting across several charts)?
  • Can you have microcharts (aka trellis or sparklines) – a two dimensional chart embedded in each row or cell on a grid?
  • Can you do contextual or gestural (not instrumented, not pushing buttons, or clicking on tabs) manipulation of visualization objects, as in video games or iPhone like interface?
  • Is the data that is being analyzed
    a) Pulled on demand from source applications?
    b) Stored in an intermediary DBMS
    c) Stored in memory? This last one has a distinct advantage of being much more flexible. For example, you can instantaneously reuse element as a fact or a dimension, or you can build aggregates or hierarchies on the fly.
  • Is there a BAM-like operational monitoring functionality where data can be fed in into the visualization in real time?
  • In addition to historical analysis, does visualization incorporate predictive analytics components?
  • Portal integration. If you have to deliver these visualizations via a portal (SharePoint, etc) do these tools have out of the box portal integration or do you need to customize.
  • Can you reuse metadata, such as KPIs, KPMs, that was already setup in your BI or ETL or DW models?

What did I miss?