From Wall Stree Journal Online, Jeanette Borzo writes Get the Picture
Executives in a broad range of industries around the world are finding that information-visualization software helps them make critical business decisions by cutting through information overload. Instead of wading through endless spreadsheets and text analyses, executives can get a quick overview with the graphics offered by visualization software, and still find whatever level of detail they need with a few clicks of the mouse. Some are even finding that the visual presentations allow them to see patterns they wouldn't have noticed otherwise.
The article talks about how a variety of companies are using data visualization / business information software to help wade through vast amounts of data to help make decisions. The visualizations range from graphs that intelligently collect many factors into one display, or sophisticated maps that use shape, color and size to represent vast datasets. For many companies, the growing interest in these tools is due to increasing flow of data through the organization. It is coming too frequently and there are simply too many data points to hope to analyze individual spreadsheets.
The article does not discuss the critical issue of learning what questions to ask of this type of software. Rather than spending time doing the individual analyses, these types of software enable analysts to think about what questions are most pertinent to their business. With those decisions made, these packages help present the results in useful ways.