Data Visualization Best Practices for 2021  

November 17th, 2020
Photo of hands holding binoculars; looking ahead at data visualization trends

The events that defined 2020 and dominated headlines -– the global pandemic and US presidential election – also led to more people becoming familiar with data visualization than ever before. While we tried to make sense of events as they unfolded, the ability to see how data was distributed over a map, hot spots, or trends over time proved invaluable and also drove more of us towards data literacy.

When it came to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, data visualizations helped to unearth valuable insights about various factors. Some that come to mind include: identifying risky behavior patterns, contact tracing, healthcare infrastructure assessment, the impact of air pollution, job losses due to the pandemic, and many others that are vitally important for human life.

The excitement around the presidential elections had us glued to progress bars and dials showing the race in real-time. Maps of the country showing states in red or blue to represent the two major parties are a staple of every American election. This time, while results unfolded, publications came up with a variety of ways to make these maps more informative and interactive, for example, showing the colors in three shades to denote whether the leading party’s victory was sure, likely, or narrowly possible.

As we put a tumultuous year behind us, it’s time to examine how we will approach data visualization in 2021. How will we leverage this increased data literacy, and what are the data visualization best practices for 2021 that we should incorporate into our work?

1. Visualizations must serve business-ready data and insights

As we view visualizations related to the pandemic or the latest natural disaster, we have grown to expect up-to-date information. Data visualizations that explain what happened in the past offer limited value. Although they are helpful to understand why something occurred or analyze causality and relationships, the focus today has shifted. The emphasis is clearly on developing visualizations that will enable proactive and timely decisions.

So the demand for visualizations that trigger human action or automated responses based on business logic is increasing. Information that is recent, or in real-time, or even predicted is seen as vitally important.

The data visualization showing the path of a hurricane is of value to an insurance provider when it is available before the hurricane’s impact is experienced, and it can be combined with policy data.  This will enable the company to map high-risk property exposures along the path of the hurricane. The company may be able to alert policyholders, minimize property damage and the resultant liabilities - preventing massive financial fallout.

So in 2021, business-ready data must be accessible to stakeholders as early as possible. Data visualization methods must help them derive those insights that will lead to better decisions.

Data visualizations about the spread of the pandemic become critically valuable when they can show how different locations will be affected, and businesses can predict disruptions of their supply chain and take necessary preventive steps.

Visualizations can also help healthcare managers to map the availability of hospital facilities in the context of cases predicted in a particular region. If they view a visualization that shows the requirement of beds if 10% of adults are infected or 20%, 30%, and so on, they can best optimize available facilities and plan for possible scenarios. 

2. SaaS platforms will deliver the most value

In order to deliver business-ready data,  the organization must have the right infrastructure and data visualization framework. The unforeseen events of 2020 clearly demonstrated that large and complex systems hosted on physical servers are not the way forward. Cloud infrastructure and online systems proved to be critical to enable a variety of businesses to continue operations and survive.

SaaS platforms equipped with analytics and data visualization provide speed, scalability, and agility to the business. Retailers who could not operate physical stores due to lockdowns were able to keep selling if they had or implemented the right SaaS platforms in time - for eCommerce, marketing, and analytics.

As data analytics is a field with rapid technological innovation, SaaS solutions bring cutting-edge features such as interactive visualizations and augmented analytics within reach, facilitating even small businesses to benefit from them.

Platforms that can access, integrate, and harmonize data from multiple sources and systems will be essential for creating a data visualization framework that best fulfills business needs.

One of the sectors that was forced to transform and become digitally enabled practically overnight is education. Data analytics and visualizations created by SaaS platforms enabled educational institutions to harness the power of visualization without having to invest in dedicated infrastructure and applications. 

3. Business leaders will want to be data self-sufficient

In 2021, CXOs and business managers are unlikely to have the time or patience to wait for data engineers to generate visualizations, reports, and insights. They will expect data visualization guidelines that help stakeholders to discover insights as early as possible. Business managers will want to engage with the data and visualizations to better understand underlying causes and relationships. They will want to see the bigger picture and have the ability to drill deeper where required.

So an important data visualization best practice for 2021 is to invest in platforms that make it really easy for business users to engage with the data and view visualizations that are most relevant to their objectives.

Enabling stakeholders to interact with the data and discover insights for faster decisions becomes possible because we are reporting either forecast, real-time, or very recent data, as we saw above.

AI plays a vital role in uncovering the underlying meaning of data and delivering it intuitively to stakeholders. This reduces the effort of querying, finding, presenting, and analyzing data. As this process is simplified, business managers become data self-sufficient. Data professionals can focus on the more strategic aspects of their role rather than generate reports and visualizations for functional and senior management. 

It’s clear that we are at an inflection point, and the expectations from data visualization will be very high in 2021. You can get ready to harness the power of data visualization in 2021 with the right platform in place. InsightOut is here to help. Find out more about how InsightOut today.

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