We have a visual brain. Video stays with you for a longer time than a written interview. Infographics offer insights faster than mere enumerations. A bar, line, pie, dot graph or chart helps to interpret data and numbers and to ease decisions. “Seeing is understanding,” summarizes Joris Klerkx. As a practice manager at Visionworks, he helps customers solve complex BI puzzles using data visualization.
Look for ‘Joris Klerkx’ in a search engine, and you will notice straightaway: Joris is well known in the world of data visualization. For 13 years, he studied the subject at the University of Leuven, first as a doctoral student - in addition to his computer science degree - and then as a research manager and expert. He guided many students through their dissertations, and until recently he taught students about the value of data visualization.
Visualization in learning environments
“During my academic career, I researched the power of visualization in the learning environment. But visualization’s strengths aren’t limited to education”, Joris says, “decision makers in companies don’t rely on their gut feeling anymore. They have to dissect data and discover trends and connections. Data visualization is at least as important in the corporate world.” As a researcher, Joris worked with partners like VLAIO to map the visualization needs of businesses. It prompted him to switch to corporate life: he wanted to apply his academic knowledge and to be out there at the frontline, to be in contact with customers. Joris got a lot of offers, but he chose Ordina. “Their many large customers in different sectors and their open, humanistic corporate culture convinced me,” he explains.
Corporate decision-makers don’t rely on their gut feeling anymore. They have to dissect data and discover trends and connections.
From information to insights
In 2017, Joris traded in the university for Visionworks, our BI and analytics business unit. He started working as a data visualization consultant and solution expert. In 2019 he became a practice manager: he doesn’t only guide client projects but also works on the vision and objectives of his entire team. He prospects, shares his knowledge, and even recruits new colleagues.
Did he see any evolution in the types of questions by customers in the last two years? “Absolutely. Data visualization is hardly new. Business Intelligence (BI) solutions have been visualizing KPIs for decades, but the fact that the data are in a dashboard doesn’t mean they also cause any insights. For years this was a touchy subject between IT and business people: the IT team was proud of the dashboards even though users didn’t really understand them. By visualizing information smarter and combining data in a single format or pattern, you can show the correlations between batches of data. This ensures that information is understood, not just looked at”, says Joris, “and companies are catching on to this. There is a trend towards adding data visualization to big data projects.”
By combining data in a single format or pattern, you can ensure that it is understood and not just looked at.
Design thinking and co-creation
The customer portfolio of Joris’ team is booming. In the last few months, they realized a whole bunch of successful data visualization projects for various companies: from Nike and network operator Elia to bank and insurance companies.
Their approach is the key to their success, Joris thinks. A project with Visionworks always starts with a short pilot project to showcase the advantages of data visualization. For this, they use the design thinking methodology: ”we consciously opt for short sprints, often just two weeks,” he explains, “co-creation is critical. Instead of asking the customer what they need, we get together with IT and future users to understand their way of working and their specific challenges. Based on these insights, we produce a prototype, which we present in a ‘hallway test’: we interview two people about what they see and which patterns they recognize. This leads to surprising feedback, which we can immediately process into the model. Working this way helps to get tangible results in a short period. And because you actively involve users in the design sprints, you immediately get a lot of ambassadors.”
Because you actively involve users in the design sprints, you immediately get a lot of ambassadors.
Tools for meeting needs
The team also starts with the client's needs when choosing the tools to visualize data. Joris: “Data visualization always starts with paper sketching. We can use a large array of tools to translate that first sketch into a prototype. Before, we used Java in 2D, but now there is a lot of software: Tableau, PowerBI, Qlikview, or even D3.js for complex models. The tools are not an end in themselves but merely means to bring a message. In every project, we pick the best solutions that fit the customer’s needs.
Low entry costs, high pay-off
Joris has been an avid fan of the power of data visualization for 15 years already. Working with a growing number of colleagues, he can translate his knowledge into practice. “The biggest multinational or the local fry shop: every business benefits from visualizing the data they collect and thus discovering patterns. And nothing is stopping them: data visualization projects have low entry costs, but the results are nearly immediate”, concludes Joris, “our clients have understood this well by now. We are working with 20 people on our team. And we’re always on the lookout for more colleagues.”
Every business benefits from visualizing the data they collect and thus discovering patterns. And nothing is stopping them: data visualization projects have low entry costs, but the results are nearly immediate.