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Trends and Outliers

TIBCO Spotfire's Business Intelligence Blog

Monthly Archives: June 2012


Visual Software Brings the Joy of Stats: 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

If you believe (as we do) that visual software brings data insight and analysis to life,  you’ll definitely envy the magic used by Hans Rosling in his video presentation, “The Joy of Stats.”

0 150x150 Visual Software Brings the Joy of Stats: 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 MinutesThe whole program is an hour long, and it offers a fast, often funny tour of cutting edge techniques in statistical analysis and presentation.

But you can also see Rosling’s tour de force sample presentation on YouTube. In just four minutes, the legendary analytics guru tells a complex story of the modern world, explaining the relationship between life expectancy and income as it unfolds over 200 years in 200 countries.

Underlying the presentation – 120,000 numbers, organized into a statistical narrative that shows how complex relationships change over long periods of time.

Through the power of image overlays, the video depicts Rosling “creating” a time-animated scatter plot graph in what appears to be real space. You watch as data bubbles (color-coded to reflect country group, e.g., Europe, Asia, etc., and sized to reflect population) rise and fall, grow and shrink, forge ahead and lag behind to dramatize changes over time, highlight emerging patterns, and reveal persistent relationships.

Rosling is the guiding spirit behind the Gapminder Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on fact-based education about global issues. Gapminder has developed Trendalyzer, the software that made “moving bubble charts” possible – and popular. Google purchased Trendalyzer in 2007 and incorporated the program into its Google Docs spreadsheet under the name Motion Chart.  (For more about this process, take a look at this post.)

Although the technology is not brand new, these charts – which tell a high-level story that makes sense of huge datasets and long timeframes – have generally been used to view world-sized data. But as corporations and local governments have to deal with more and more data, it’s likely they’ll also be searching for new and better approaches to visualization.

Most of us won’t be able to duplicate Rosling’s movie-magic strategy for bringing charts to life, but everyone can experiment with visual software and motion-enhanced charts. Download desktop software from Gapminder or play around with Motion Chart at Google Public Data.  And here’s a tutorial on using Motion Chart in Google Docs.

Also worthwhile:  an informative audio interview with Rosling – 10 minutes of fascinating insight into the educational power of data visualization.

Next steps:

  • Subscribe to our blog to stay up to date on the insights and trends in big data, data analytics and data visualization.
  • See how Spotfire version 4.5 empowers users to discover actionable insights hidden in big data and unstructured information in our on-demand webcast, “What’s New with Spotfire 4.5.”



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How to Define Big Data

Lumiere et optique How to Define Big Data “Big data” is a popular term these days – it seems to pop up everywhere. But do people mean the same thing when they say those words?

In The Big Data Management Challenge, a recent report from Information Week, Michael Biddick provides a very useful description of what constitutes big data. He suggests there are four elements needed for data to qualify as “big.”

  • The most obvious is size. A good point of demarcation is around 30 terabytes.
  • Next is type. Structured data can be easy to work with even in very large amounts, whereas multiple data types (for example, structured, unstructured, plus semi-structured) can be challenging even when data sets are smaller.
  • One of the most challenging elements is latency. “Really big” data typically changes fast.
  • Finally, there’s complexity. Complex data may involve sparseness, inconsistency, and other atypical qualities.

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Many Companies Unprepared for Big Data Boom

Data explosion 2 150x150 Many Companies Unprepared for Big Data BoomGartner Inc. has identified big data as one of the top 10 strategic trends in 2012. The fact is big data has rushed onto the information technology scene over the past two years. And it seems nearly everyone is looking to cash in on the promise of newly generated revenue streams teeming with profit.

However, as more and more organizations decide to take the big data plunge, many of them realize that they may be unprepared.

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Filed under: Big Data, Unstructured Data


How Analytics Can Propel IT to be the New ‘It’ Group

data propel 150x150 How Analytics Can Propel IT to be the New It GroupSome naysayers have predicted that the consumerization of technology would mean the death knell for IT departments – and even the CIOs at some companies.

But, ironically, the tsunami of data flowing into companies that’s generated by their customers, prospects and competitors has buoyed the importance of their IT organizations and opened a huge opportunity for CIOs to bolster the leadership positions of technology within their organizations.

Consider a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers that notes that business analytics can mean that the “IT organization can become the go-to group, and the CIO can become the true information leader,” according to the report. “Although it is a challenge, the new analytics is also an opportunity because it is something within the CIO’s scope of responsibility more than nearly any other development in information technology.”

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C-level Execs: Big Data Means Big Value

value big data 150x150 C level Execs: Big Data Means Big Value Big data and analytics are top corporate, top-three corporate or top-10 corporate priorities in their organizations’ strategic agendas, according to 65% of 1,469 C-level executives taking part in a recent survey by McKinsey & Co.

Forty-four percent of the respondents say that they’re generating more value from big data and analytics than their competitors, while only 28% say the same for social tools or technologies.

An even larger share of executives in healthcare and pharma (56%) and business-to-consumer companies (50%) say the same about big data and analytics.

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How BI & Data Analytics Pros Used Twitter in May

Analytics and BI on Twitter2 150x150 How BI & Data Analytics Pros Used Twitter in MayIt’s time for a wrap. A Twitter wrap. Here’s your monthly guide to what you might have missed on Twitter in the geeky field of BI and data analytics in May.

We have a few awards, a gold rush and the impact of snoozing on big data projects. Let’s get started.

Best Twitter Handle – @brainpicker – I laughed out loud when I discovered this clever name. The person behind the brain picking is Maria Popova. She’s a writer for Wired UK, the Atlantic and other publications, but her brainchild is She describes her blog as “the human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.”

While her blog is cool, the reason she made our list is that her Twitter feed is full of data analytics-driven news. Well worth a follow. And her blog might just make you a bit smarter and more curious, which is the No. 1 skill needed in our industry and apparently the driver of Thomas Edison’s 1888 “things doing and to be done” list.

Best Twitter Photo

Larry Carvalho (@robustcloud) is a software consultant and speaker based in Ohio. He focuses on “removing the fog from cloud computing.” And he also has a pretty cool Twitter pic. His Twitter feed is full of insights from the many events he speaks at and attends. Worth a follow and his caricature is a gem.

Now on to some highlights from across the Twittersphere.

Data Journalism – An Emerging Field? 

The big guns in journalism are reporting on it and using it to fuel their online media properties. Just a few examples: The New York Times’ Visualization Lab; Forbes’ Data Driven section; and the BBC’s approach to giving readers data tools to dig deeper as reported in the open-source Data Journalism Handbook.

The handbook project is a project of the European Journalism Centre and you can find the project on Twitter @ddjournalism.

There’s Gold in the Analytics

May was the month of gold in analytics on Twitter. Just take a look at these Tweets – we hit pay dirt in our quest for the best nuggets of data analytics on Twitter:

@cioonline – Big Data Analytics Gold for the Call Center by @stephanieoverby – this article showcases the “gold value” in the data that enters organizations over the phone. This article also received the most ReTweets on Twitter, according to Topsy. It garnered got over 7,000 Tweets. That’s golden for our industry.

@BITechWatch – #analytics‬ in action: Data miners find there’s gold in them thar files – The Age – this article discusses the growing field of finding gold in the piles of big data. It’s a good overview of how companies are finding valuable insights in the data.

@brett2point0 – Does it take a “data scientist” to find gold in ‘dem ‘der #BigData hills?”  #BI  #analytics  #MDM  #datamining – Thursday’s Spotfire blog post on whether it takes a scientist or a business person with data gold fever received some Twitter love. (Thanks, y’all says your humble writer.)

MIT Panel Say You Snooze, You Lose in Big Data Opps

Found this recap of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium panel on the benefits and challenges of big data and analytics from Linda Tucci (@ltucci), senior news writer at SearchCIO. A few nuggets from her recap:

  • Success in big data “stems from being able to identify patterns containing insights that might drive better business decisions.”
  • Who is responsible for this analysis? Tucci writes, “It takes mathematically and technologically savvy people, to be sure, but also requires deep business knowledge.”
  • Who should drive the analytics and big data operation? Interestingly, the panelists, which include Tom Davenport (@tdav), IT and management professor at Babson College; Shvetank Shah, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Executive Board Co. (@CEB_Connect); and James Noga, CIO at Partners HealthCare System in Boston, say that the CIO should be involved, but that the data analytics projects should be business-led and functions of R&D.

The Follow List

It’s a wrap and to complete the package, here’s your convenient list of BI & data analytics pros to follow:









Next steps:

  • To learn more about how analytics can improve your business and increase your bottom line check out these complimentary guides:
    • 5-Minute Guide to Business Analytics,” to find out how user-driven “analytic” or “data discovery” technologies help business and technology users more quickly uncover insights and speed action.
    • 5-Minute Guide to HR Analytics,” to discover the three critical capabilities a modern analytic environment must provide to the entire spectrum of HR staff so they can adequately support the enterprise.
    • 5-Minute Guide to CRM Analytics,” to learn how agile analytics technology can help you deliver critical value to executives and front-line marketers.

Amanda Brandon
Spotfire Blogging Team

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Hottest Trends in Mobile BI

mobile dashboard solutions top 150x150 Hottest Trends in Mobile BIAlthough most organizations are in the early stages of adopting mobile business intelligence (BI), they are focusing on deploying mobile BI to senior executives, according to a 2011 study by Aberdeen Group.

The survey finds that nearly three quarters of the responding organizations are focusing on deploying actionable analytics via handheld devices to senior members, allowing them to make critical business decisions in real-time.

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