Data visualization is a hot topic. Companies now see the value in taking data beyond complex reports and endless reams of statistics to deliver clear, concise and actionable visualizations that effectively communicate the concept under discussion. It’s a win-win for IT and C-suites alike: Funding for further analytics efforts is often greenlit with the right messaging, while executives get the benefit of straightforward, easily consumed data points used for both strategic decision making and to answer critical stakeholder questions.

Yet there’s a caveat: Tossing data on a graphic doesn’t automatically equal accolades and action. Companies need to get creative; here’s a look at how your business can effectively embrace the emerging “see” change.

Scope

The best data visualizations do more than simply present facts — they offer perspective. However, look at one of the most commonly used forms of stats reporting: The ranking table. Countries or corporations are ranked based on their consumption of specific resource, revenue or other criteria, and then placed into a long list format. It’s simple, easy and gets the job done. Right?

Not exactly. Consider the case of oil consumption by country. While looking at a typical chart tells you that the United States uses 21.58 percent of the world’s oil supply, it’s hard to put this in perspective, since the next country down the line — China, which uses just 11.22 percent — is the same width and height. A data visualization like the Treemap made by Stats Monkey, meanwhile, creates a proportional “box” for each country based on consumption, making it easy to see which countries are using the most and provides a much-needed sense of scope. The same could be applied to application resource use, downtime causes or other corporate variables to provide a better understanding of critical concerns instead of supplying facts without necessary context.

Relationships

How do pieces of data relate to one another? This is the goal of big data analytics — to uncover new relationships that in turn drive action and improved ROI. Though data visualization too often ignores the interconnection of variables for the simplicity of reporting data; each point is shown as an island, unconnected to those around it and seemingly uninfluenced.

The alternative? It’s already being used by tools like Liveplasma, which allows users to type in the name of a band, movie, artist or director, and then provides a list of related content. It’s a simple idea, but one that offers a critical sense of connection: Data naturally comes with linkages, some merely correlative and some causal — by providing visualizations that speak to these relationships, it’s possible to gain a deeper understanding of how specific changes will affect the system as a whole.

Interaction

Another creative trend in data visualization? Interactivity. Consider the “why do buses bunch?” project created by Lewis Lehe. A small interactive graphic lets users see the impact if they delay buses moving around a short track — how do passenger distributions and waiting times change in response to even slight delays? While it’s possible to report this information via static visualization techniques, the value is much more immediate and striking when users control the end result. In a corporate setting, this could be applied to network downtime: How does it impact the performance of other processes or hamper project deadlines?

Data visualization is a much-needed step up from traditional charts and graphs. It’s possible to glean even more value, however, by applying a new layer of creative thinking.