Tuesday, March 25, 2014


scip.insight March 2014
Visualization Tools that Give Your Analysis Meaning

By Jennifer Swanson
Senior Market Analyst
Charles Stark Draper Laboratory
SCIP Fellow

I am getting ready to present a talk at the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) meeting on the Library of the 21st Century. As content becomes increasingly digital, the job of the information specialist will change, because employees will be doing their own quick research. This is a good thing. It means that the professional can spend time doing the research that will support decision making, giving us additional opportunities to contribute to the bottom line. And to enhance this research, providing the graphics that show the “answer” will make us even more valuable.

At Draper Laboratory, I provide in-depth market intelligence to internal customers. Topics range from industry reports, to analysis of the Department of Defense budget around a specific technology, to competitive product analysis. I got interested in data visualization because I wanted to create more interesting, valuable slides (which I use to create final reports). It appeals to the analyst in me as well as my creative gene. I’d stumble across a tool because I’d be frustrated trying to do something in PowerPoint, such as creating organizational charts. That search brought up a tool called SmartDraw, the first “visual processor.” I use it all the time not only for org charts, but also to show the flow of information around a specific topic, or project management charts, or anything else that I can think up. That success drove my desire to find other tools that will make my job easier, like www.powerframeworks.com.

The January 2014 LinkedIn Fellows question of the month was on data visualization. Here are some of the tools your fellow CI professionals recommended:
  • Tableau for analyzing data and creating graphics

  • NodeXL for creating network diagrams

  • Google Fusion Tables for network diagrams and other kinds of charts
As I watched the growth of business intelligence (BI), using internal data to make better decisions, I have thought of it as something to be integrated into CI, although I have not done much with it other than analyzing sales data. I envision providing brilliant analysis using both internal BI and external sources like social media analytics, patent analytics, news analytics, etc. for projects like win/loss analysis, market research, predictions on corporate actions and reactions, early warning for disruptive technologies, all in the name of actionable decision making.

Data visualization is what ties all these tools and techniques together, because without a clear illustration of what all this analysis actually means, and what it therefore implies for the person making the decision, it’s all just words and numbers. It’s the visualization that makes very apparent what point your client needs to understand. As the presenter, you only have a finite time to explain “the answer” and how you got there. I like seeing my graphics in my client’s presentation, because it means that I did my job right.

About the Author

Jennifer Swanson has over 30 years’ experience doing competitive intelligence, market research, and many types of analysis and model building in a wide variety of industries. She has worked on both sides of the equation – demand side (ARAMARK, Draper, MITRE) and supply side (Fuld, Gartner). Jennifer is currently a Sr. Market Analyst at Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, providing custom research to internal groups and building the market intelligence function. As a consultant, she has managed projects in healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, and business services, with a subject expertise in technology. She founded the SCIP Boston Chapter in 1991 and was a member of the board of directors twice. Jennifer has presented at conferences as well as written articles on CI and project management. She has an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management and an MLS from Simmons Graduate School of Library & Info Science.

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