The power of visual data

Before you can develop a clear, effective information governance strategy, you need to understand the environment where your data resides and then clarify the requirements and goals of your organization. The best way to accomplish this is with effective analysis of your electronically stored information (ESI). Once you have control and an understanding of your data, areas of policy deficiency become apparent.

Our ability to gather, display and interpret data has increased significantly in recent years, aided by tremendous advances in design. As the presentation of information has improved, so too has our ability to effectively analyze a myriad of data points. After all, information by itself is not sufficient if it doesn’t tell a bigger story.

Enter data visualization. Data visualization is a form of descriptive statistics that presents data as images, such as charts and graphs.  It is one of the best ways to present complex ideas by breaking them down into a manageable form. According to Edward Tufte, visual representations of data can assist in learning, reducing overall meeting time by up to 20 percent. This improvement in analysis and reporting is exactly what you want when developing any kind of information governance policy. You want the decision makers of your organization to understand the complete picture, leveraging the best intelligence available.

As an example, it’s one thing to say that you were 10 percent below your quota for Q3, but it’s an entirely different thing to see that statistic on a graph where the decrease is clearly illustrated. Visualization builds off natural human tendencies to measure and control information; by seeing an unexpectedly smaller slice in a pie chart, the area of concern is instantly highlighted.

Properly visualized data points should jump right out at the team members who view these spreadsheets or presentation bullet points, to show the issues clearly. Take a look at the example below to see how much easier it would be to grasp when your company is expending too many resources on retaining files:

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Another instance of the effective use of data visualization is in the creation of an information inventory. This helps to measure your current progress and forecast your future trajectory in deploying an effective information governance policy. Charts and graphs help to articulate the conclusions and clarify the issues (where are items stored, how old are they, are we in compliance with policy), making trouble points easy to identify.  However, this information must be analyzed in order to be effective. One of the best uses for visualized data inventory is as foundation to develop policy and auditing.

For all of this to function, however, it’s important to make sure your charts and graphs are properly sourced. Data needs to be up-to-date, accurately collected and be structured so changes are immediately apparent. Working with out-of-date, insufficient information can lead to the implementation of unsound policies. Remaining responsive and current in your reporting can be the difference between substantial gains and significant losses.

This is not to say that data visualization and inventory analysis represent a magical panacea; human intelligence must be used to make sense of data which is being presented.  Some problems are too intricate to be jammed into a graphical chart, or the real answers may be hidden under multiple layers of complexity. Further reporting, drilling down of the data or modification of parameters might be needed to make informed decisions.

While reporting and data visualization alone will not solve the fundamental problems of your strategy, it will make any issues more readily apparent. In turn, issues are easier to solve earlier in the process, saving time, effort and money.  Visualization makes it easy to grasp trends quickly so you can react accurately and effectively. Additionally, it frees you and your organization to make decisions with confidence and total support.

To learn more about Sherpa Software’s data visualization tools, go to www.SherpaSoftware.com or email information@sherpasoftware.com to register for a free demo.

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