Big Data Visualization Tools and Techniques

Big Data Visualization Tools and Techniques

Obinna Chimaobi Okechukwu (Arkansas State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3662-2.ch028
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In this chapter, a discussion is presented on the latest tools and techniques available for Big Data Visualization. These tools, techniques and methods need to be understood appropriately to analyze Big Data. Big Data is a whole new paradigm where huge sets of data are generated and analyzed based on volume, velocity and variety. Conventional data analysis methods are incapable of processing data of this dimension; hence, it is fundamentally important to be familiar with new tools and techniques capable of processing these datasets. This chapter will illustrate tools available for analysts to process and present Big Data sets in ways that can be used to make appropriate decisions. Some of these tools (e.g., Tableau, RapidMiner, R Studio, etc.) have phenomenal capabilities to visualize processed data in ways traditional tools cannot. The chapter will also aim to explain the differences between these tools and their utilities based on scenarios.
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Business decisions have always been reliant on available information. Without the right type of information at the right time, business decisions can be flawed and in some cases catastrophic. Managers and top line executives alike rely on data, facts and historical records to be able to take actions that would solve a problem, avoid a potential business problem or even create new business opportunities. In a recent research study conducted among 600 medium sized British firms, insufficient information and information barriers are accounted as one of the biggest constraints to management efficiency (Bloom, Lemos, Qi, Sadun, & Reenen, 2011).

It is argued that the visual representation of data (data visualization) is perhaps one of the most important aspects of data analysis. Decision makers can relate better with a visual reference to information that is given to them as opposed to textual information. Through visual perceptions and cognitive processes, data can be made easier to understand and better business insight can be obtained from the data. Let us consider an example.

Figure 1.

Visual navigation map showing vehicular route from Hauppauge to Long Island (Google, 2015)

Figure 2.

Textual description of the vehicular route from Hauppauge to Long Island. (Google, 2015)


In the example above, an illustration of how graphical visualization can provide better information than textual information is shown. Suppose an individual wants to determine the relative geographic position of Hauppauge from Long Island. Figure 1 will better provide that individual with information on the relative positions of both locations than Figure 2 would. This illustrates the effectiveness of visual data presentation over textual data.


Visualization Techniques

In every business organization – and even in people’s personal lives – there is a constant flow of data visualization. These come in several forms such as bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, scatter plots, etc. However, not every graph or chart can be used to display the result of every type of data. There are several parameters or factors that determines what sort of visual reporting tool is most appropriate for reporting the results of a given set of data. Some of these parameters are:

  • The characteristics of the data set: numeric, alphanumeric, graphical, etc.

  • The volume of the data: few records of data or large records of data.

  • The dimension of the data: few data attributes or large number of data attributes.

  • The relationship between the attributes of the data.

  • The number of variables in the data set: univariate, bivariate or multivariate.

  • The data source, etc.

Other factors that can affect what reporting tool should be used is the data type. A set of data can be discrete or continuous in nature (Soukup & Davidson, 2002). These data types are referred to as discrete variables and continuous variables respectively. Discrete variables can be:

  • 1.

    Nominal: These are finite variables with multiple categories that are not in any specific order. An example of this would be cities in the state of Colorado. While there are multiple cities, there is no intrinsic order to the cities in the state.

  • 2.

    Dichotomous: These are finite variables with only 2 levels of categories. A good example of this would be gender (male or female).

  • 3.

    Ordinal: These are finite variables with multiple categories that are in a specific order. An example of this would be the stages in education (Elementary, High school, Some college, College, etc.) As you would observe in the example, there is an inherent order in the categories.

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