The Challenges of Big Data Visualization Tools

Big data put simple, is extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. In order to process big data efficiently, organizations need Big Data Visualization Tools to help them. For example, a big data visualization tool that you probably use often is an Excel Spreadsheet.

Organizations can use excel spreadsheet to record data, and then visualize the data through all the charting capabilities of Excel. Visualizations can then be easily printed or shared via any preferred modality. In recent years, graphing and charting in Microsoft Excel has become even more powerful.

One challenge that Excel users often run into is the ability to analyze large datasets (millions of rows). Tools, such as QlikView, leverage an in-memory, heavily compressed snowflake model to overcome slow loading and page lags. Health Catalyst can overcome some of these challenges in Excel by transforming large data sets into dimensional models before they are consumed in Excel.

Excel also brings to the table what might normally be associated only with more expensive, licensed software platforms. While Excel may not be ideally suited for qualitative analysis, it might be a preferred program, especially among analysts in the financial sector of healthcare, for quantitative analysis. On its own, Excel has grown more powerful over the years in terms of what it can deliver for visualizing analytics. PowerPivot was a nice addition to Microsoft Excel 2010, which added a data modeling experience that is separate from the visualization experience.

PowerPivot also leverages an in-memory tabular data model that can handle larger datasets. Microsoft Excel 2013 introduced PowerView, which is an entirely separate user window built into Excel for a crisper dashboard-like user experience.

In 2014, Microsoft released Power BI which is a stand-alone visualization product completely outside of Excel with its own pricing, but which introduced several features that broaden the ability to share data views that are managed from a centralized location. Power BI also has a growing user base with a successful community input process that is driving feature enhancements.

The Usefulness of Excel in Quantitative vs. Qualitative Analysis

While Excel is built for quantitative analysis, it’s not a substitute for QlikView or Tableau when it comes to visualizing qualitative data. Therefore, it’s not the ideal application for analyzing clinical data. However, Excel needs to be considered for some of the advantages it offers over these other tools.

For example, a healthcare system, working with Health Catalyst, can load all of its data from various source systems into our enterprise data warehouse. We will transform and apply business rules to the data and create Subject Area Marts. Then the data is loaded into a visualization platform, like QlikView, which compresses the data for quick retrieval, and then it can be displayed in a dashboard. This is also true of Tableau and similar tools.

An application created with these tools will answer specific questions that the healthcare organization asks over and over again; information that it needs every day or every month so it can see how things change over time.

But when someone in the organization starts asking other exploratory questions that require ad-hoc analysis, this requires a different environment, usually an Excel pivot table. It’s easy to overtax some tools and ask them to perform analyses for which they aren’t designed. Some questions are better left up to Excel, which can be like a sandbox in terms of functionality for flexible, ad-hoc analysis.

There are different Excel templates that are available that are tailored to specific needs like, budgeting, project management, etc. Reusable templates make it easy to streamline business processes, and these spreadsheets are fully customizable, so they can be modified to suit your needs.

Whether you need an Excel spreadsheet for business or personal use, simply click the download button below each template to select and save the file to your computer.