Businesses today realise that in order to maintain operational efficiency, they must be able to quickly and accurately convey vital information to key stakeholders. As requests for more complex reports grow, and the number of different data sources increases, data visualisation, and its associated tools (as well as the automation that comes with them) are no longer simply “nice to have”.
Data visualisation tools have continued to evolve rapidly, becoming increasingly sophisticated, and available through lots of different routes. More choice is great, but it makes selecting the most appropriate tool for your business a rather challenging task.
Just a quick manual search will bring thousands of overwhelming results - each promising more functionality than the last. But when choosing a data visualisation tool, or evaluating whether you have a need for one in the first place, you should go back to basics.
1. What data sources do you have?
This should be the first item you consider when evaluating your options. Most businesses want a data visualisation tool so that they can access and view multiple data sets or reports in one single location, for ease and convenience.
But in order to achieve this, you need to be certain that the data visualisation tool you choose is able to natively connect with your data sources - particularly if you’re using older, legacy systems. The native connection allows for automation, reducing the need for someone to manually pull the data through into your chosen system. The different tools available will vary on the exact connectors they offer, but the majority will support any data you upload via a spreadsheet.
Additionally, while most data visualisation tools will allow you to display data from multiple sources in a single dashboard, not all of them will have the functionality to allow you more control than this.
Knowing what data sources you currently have an understanding of how they’ll connect to your chosen tool will be vital in narrowing down your options. After all, if a tool isn’t able to handle the amount or nature of your data, you’ll need to be aware of this right away.
2. What kind of reports are you looking to generate?
When comparing data visualisation tools, it only makes sense to evaluate them in the context of what reporting you require. This could include how complex functionality needs to be, the amount of dashboards/ templates available, or what level of flexibility is required - the list can be extensive. As a starting point, ask yourself the following questions:
Who will be creating reports?
Data visualisation tools will vary in their complexity. Some will be easy to use, others will require significant knowledge. Which is best for your business will depend entirely on who needs to be able to actually create reports, and what level of complexity they will be able to handle.
For example, if a team of analysts is primarily responsible for creating and developing reports, then investing in a more complex tool that gives them flexibility would be more appropriate.
However, if your goal is for most (or all) people within your organisation to create visualisations in order to facilitate better decision making, then a tool with a lower barrier to entry that can also support more complex scenarios may be the better option.
How custom does your data visualisations need to be?
Fairly across the board, data visualisation tools will offer standard visualisations such as bar charts, line graphs, pie charts, and tables. Depending on your requirements, this basic level could easily suffice. However, sometimes these out-of-the-box visualisation types cannot always give you the insight you need - especially if you’re dealing with large amounts of data or multiple variables.
It’s worth considering how custom you need your visualisations to be. Often, businesses may assume that having extensive customisation capabilities is the way to go, only to then stick to using the standard visualisations. Explore your options in detail, and be sure not to under or overestimate your requirements.
3. How will reports be shared across your business?
If you’re trying to achieve better visibility over your data and establish a better reporting process, your data visualisation tool needs to be accessible to those in the business who need it. Think about:
Will reports need to be automated?
Reports will often need to be updated on a regular basis to enable better decision making for key stakeholders, which means you’ll need to decide to what degree you require automation.
Most data visualisation tools will connect to a live database, so can update as and when you need them to - with some even able to refresh in real-time. But some tools will have separate areas for this function, which is worth bearing in mind if you want a centralised solution.
How many people need access to your reports?
Reports often need to be viewed by many people across the business - this is a given. However, what you’ll need to determine is how many of these will require a greater level of access. Some data visualisation tools will allow you to share links, or log in via a portal - but will charge additional fees if multiple users need to view the reports.
Do users need to export data from your reports?
Often, key stakeholders in your organisation will want the ability to access and export data from the visualisations - usually for their own benefit or to share further with others.
If this is the case in your business, you’ll need to have some understanding of how the tools you’re evaluating deal with exporting the data. Some tools are focused on the visual aspect of reporting, so they may not have the functionality you require.
4. Does the tool integrate well with your current systems?
This is something to bear in mind when implementing any kind of software, but it’s especially important to consider when choosing a data visualisation tool. Most tools will list the systems they integrate well with on their website, however, it’s worth noting that some tools will function better than others.
For example, if you’re a Microsoft centric organisation, you have a greater selection of tools to choose from, as most will connect with your other systems easily and efficiently. Power BI, for instance, is able to connect with Microsoft products seamlessly - in addition to other systems.
It’s worth exploring how successfully the tools you’re evaluating will work with your current systems before making the commitment.
5. What budget is available?
Arguably, this question will be one of the first on your mind - no matter how excellent a tool is, if it doesn’t fit within your budget, it becomes unrealistic.
But beyond simply looking at the price tag alone, conduct a cost benefit analysis that looks at what positive improvements you could see within your business when implementing one tool versus the other.
Most data visualisation tool providers will give some indication of pricing on their website, but the pricing models will differ considerably. Some tools will be paid for upfront, while others will be subscription based. No matter how the tool is priced, though, it’s best to have an understanding of:
- How many users you’ll need - some data visualisation tools will charge more for additional users and access rights.
- Your business requirements - these will encompass what answers you give in the previous questions
Once you’re able to assess the potential value of a tool balanced with how much it will cost, it’s much easier to make a decision about which is the best fit for your organisation.
If you’ve got to this point, chances are you’re beginning to select contenders for your chosen data visualisation tool, or you’re wondering which are the best on the market to narrow down your search.
No matter where you are in the decision making process, we’ve created a simple comparison guide to help. Our free resource, The Best Data Visualization Tools for 2021, gives you an overview and comparison of the three major players in the data visualisation market: Power BI, Tableau and Qlik Sense. Get your copy below to see which comes out on top.