I was watching this TED video on data visualization, check it out. Then I was noticing on Twitter today that every tenth tweet had a link to an infographic and it got me thinking about a visual challenge I deal with when consulting.
One of the major things we do when advising clients on technology improvement is to teach them how to graphically represent complex digital plumbing. We do this to provide context to myriad of pieces of technology that every organization now has in place. I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons we have a gap between many leaders and their IT staff is that most organizations have little idea how to reduce the complexity of their digital plumbing to a picture that can be easily digested by lay people. The digitally gifted use acronyms, create diagrams only geeks can read, and we secretly revel in the fact that normal humans still struggle to program their phones! I saw a raging example of this when I took the executive team of a client to see a collocation facility (for the first time) and had the chance to observe a VERY intelligent network engineer explain the benefits of the facility to five people that probably understand 30% of what he said.
As technology exerts more influence over the prosperity of companies, I would think that executive teams would demand that IT people do a better job of explaining to them how these tools work. If you have been a reader of this blog for very long, you know I use a metaphor of digital plumbing as a way to draw analogies for non-technical people. This allows me to deal with concepts like storage, data flow, cloud computing, SaaS, and business intelligence in a way that visually makes sense to the executives I need to get up to speed. Which brings me back to data visualization… If you did not click on the link above and watch the video, I suggest you do that right after reading this.
As technology gets more complex, and believe me, network engineering, social technologies, and software platforms are getting more complex daily, we will need to develop new skills in using art/visuals/graphics to communicate information. I guess this is why we have an exploding amount of people doing infographics on about every subject known to man. Sadly, many of these are simply colored boxes filled with statistics. They rarely contain visual data that creates instant pattern recognition for the viewer. We technologists need to get much better at expressing complicated technology concepts and information in visual ways that instantly can be digested by the non-technical. This does not mean complicated maps with so many lines and symbols that a crypto expert has to be brought in to interpret.
The latest visual we have been creating for clients is a map that shows the connections between a companies Web properties, and their social tech connections and conversations. This map allows us to visually map out how a customer flows through the clients digital marketing assets. By visually walking through the steps, we often find steps that do not make sense, or connections that we should be making and are not. At the same time, the creation of this visual map of Internet tools helps the entire team get on the same page as to our strategy, strengths and weaknesses in a way they never would by having half formed pictures in their own heads.
I suspect that over the next ten years we will see a new career type emerge and this will be a person that translates data, processes, and technology infrastructure into graphical representations. Imagine this if you will… an artist/geek with business acumen. Yea, that is what we need!