My Submission to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Data Visualization Class

I’m a huge fan of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). I am always on the hunt for something new to learn to increase my knowledge and productivity; and because I run a blog, MOOCs provide fodder for me to share what I learn.

I recently took the Data Visualization class offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Coursera. The class is offered as part of the Data Mining specialty of six courses that when taken together can lead to graduate credit in its online Master of Computer Science Degree in Data Science.

Ok enough with the brochure items. For the first assignment I constructed a visualization based upon temperature information from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

Data Definition:

In order to understand the data, you have to understand why temperature anomalies are used as opposed to raw absolute temperature measurements. It is important to note that the temperatures shown in my visualization are not absolute temperatures but rather temperature anomalies.

Basic Terminology

Here’s an explanation from NOAA:

“In climate change studies, temperature anomalies are more important than absolute temperature. A temperature anomaly is the difference from an average, or baseline, temperature. The baseline temperature is typically computed by averaging 30 or more years of temperature data. A positive anomaly indicates the observed temperature was warmer than the baseline, while a negative anomaly indicates the observed temperature was cooler than the baseline.”

Interpreting the Visualization

The course leaves it up to the learner to decide which visualization tool to use in order to display the temperature change information. Although I have experience with multiple visualization programs like Qlikview and Power BI, Tableau is my tool of choice. I didn’t just create a static visualization, I created an interactive dashboard that you can reference by clicking below.

From a data perspective, I believe the numbers in the file that the course provides is a bit different than the one I am linked to here but you can see the format of the data that needs to be pivoted in order to make an appropriate line graph.

All of the data in this set illustrates that temperature anomalies are increasing from the corresponding 1951-1980 mean temperatures as years progress. Every line graph of readings from meteorological stations shows an upward trend in temperature deviation readings. The distribution bins illustrate that the higher temperature deviations occur in more recent years. The recency of years is indicated by the intensity of the color red.

Let’s break down the visualization:

UIUC Top Portion

Top Section Distribution Charts:

  • There are three sub-sections representing global, northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere temperature deviations
  • The x axis represents temperature deviations in bins of 10 degrees
  • The y axis is a count of the number of years that fall between the binned temperature ranges
    • For example, if 10 years have a recorded temperature anomaly between 60 and 69 degrees, then the x axis would be 60 and the y axis would be 10

UIUC Distribution Focus.png

  • Each 10 degree bin is comprised of the various years that correspond to a respective temperature anomaly range
    • For example in the picture above, the year 1880 (as designated by the tooltip) had a temperature anomaly that was 19 degrees lower than the 30 year average. This is why the corresponding box for the year 1880 is not intensely colored.
    • Additionally, the -19 degree anomaly is located in the -10 degree bin (which contains anomalies from -10 to -19 degrees)
    • These aspects are more clearly illustrated when interacting with the Tableau Public dashboard
  • The intensity of the color of red indicates the recency of the year; for example year 1880 would be represented as white while year 2014 would be indicated by a deep red color

Bottom Section Line Graph Chart:

UIUC Bottom Portion

  • The y axis represents the temperature deviation from the corresponding 1951-1980 mean temperatures
  • Each line represents the temperature deviation at a specific geographic location during the 1880-2014 period
  • The x axis represents the year of the temperature reading

UIUC Gobal Average

In the above picture I strip out the majority of lines leaving only the global deviation line. Climate science deniers may want to look away as the data clearly shows that global temperatures are rising.

Bottom Line:

All in all I thought it was a decent class covering very theoretical issues regarding data visualization. Practicality is exclusively covered in the exercises as the class does not provide any instruction on how to use any of the tools required to complete the class. I understand the reason as this is not a “How to Use a Software Tool” class.

I’d define the exercises as “BYOE” (i.e., bring your own expertise). The class forces you to do your own research in regards to visualization tool instruction. This is especially true regarding the second exercise which requires you to learn how to visualize graphs and nodes. I had to learn how to use a program called Gephi in order to produce a network map of the cities in my favorite board game named Pandemic. The lines between the city nodes are the paths that one can travel within the game.

UIUC Data Viz Week 3

If you’re looking for more practicality and data visualization best practices as opposed to hardcore computer science topics take a look at the Coursera specialization from UC Davis called “Visualization with Tableau”.

In case you were wondering I received at 96% grade in the UIUC course.

My final rating for the class is 3 stars out 5; worth a look.

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Calculate Bar Chart Percent of Total in Power BI

The humble bar chart is the heart and soul of any visualization tool and is the most effective way to compare individual categorical values. We as humans are very adept at detecting small differences in length from a common baseline [1].

To quote the Harvard Business Review [2], “The ability to create smart data visualizations was once a nice-to-have skill. But in today’s complex business world, where the amount of data is overwhelming, being able to create and communicate through compelling data visualizations is a must-have skill for managers.”

If you’re going to start learning a new visualization tool, there is no better place to start than with bar chart basics. In this video I will share how to place a “percent of total” measure (i.e. value) on a Power BI bar chart. We’ll also briefly touch upon customizing the chart’s diverging color scheme.

Since Microsoft is basically giving away Power BI Desktop for free, it may become as ubiquitous as Excel. Don’t be left out!

References:

[1] Cotgreave, A., Shaffer, J., Wexler, S. (2017). The Big Book of Dashboards: Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

[2] https://hbr.org/webinar/2018/02/the-right-stuff-chart-types-and-visualization-best-and-worst-practices

Tableau Sales Dashboard Performance

The following is a guest post contributed by Perceptive Analytics.

Business heads often use KPI tracking dashboards that provide a quick overview of their company’s performance and well-being. A KPI tracking dashboard collects, groups, organizes and visualizes the company’s important metrics either in a horizontal or vertical manner. The dashboard provides a quick overview of business performance and expected growth.

An effective and visually engaging way of presenting the main figures in a dashboard is to build a KPI belt by combining text, visual cues and icons. By using KPI dashboards, organizations can access their success indicators in real time and make better informed decisions that support long-term goals.

What is a KPI?

KPIs (i.e. Key Performance Indicators) are also known as performance metrics, performance ratios or business indicators. A Key Performance Indicator is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives.

A sales tracking dashboard provides a complete visual overview of the company’s sales performance by year, quarter or month. Additional information such as the number of new leads and the value of deals can also be incorporated.

Example of KPIs on a Sales Dashboard:

  • Number of New Customers and Leads
  • Churn Rate (i.e. how many people stop using the product or service)
  • Revenue Growth Rate
  • Comparison to Previous Periods
  • Most Recent Transactions
  • QTD (quarter to date) Sales
  • Profit Rate
  • State Wise Performance
  • Average Revenue for Each Customer

Bringing It All Together with Dashboards and Stories

An essential element of Tableau’s value is delivered via dashboards. Well-designed dashboards are visually engaging and draw in the user to play with the information. Dashboards can facilitate details-on-demand that enable the information consumer to understand what, who, when, where, how and perhaps even why something has changed.

Best Practices to Create a Simple and Effective Dashboard to Observe Sales Performance KPIs

A well-framed KPI dashboard instantly highlights problem areas. The greatest value of a modern business dashboard lies in its ability to provide real-time information about a company’s sales performance. As a result, business leaders, as well as project teams, are able to make informed and goal-oriented decisions, acting on actual data instead of gut feelings. The choice of chart types on a dashboard should highlight KPIs effectively.

Bad Practices Examples in a Sales Dashboard:

  • A sales report displaying 12 months of history for twenty products; 12 × 20 = 240 data points.
    • Multiple data points do not enable the information consumer to effectively discern trends and outliers as easily as a time-series chart comprised of the same information
  • The quality of the data won’t matter if the dashboard takes five minutes to load
  • The dashboard fails to convey important information quickly
  • The pie chart has too many slices, and performing precise comparisons of each product sub-category is difficult
  • The cross-tab at the bottom requires that the user scroll to see all the data

Now, we will focus on the best practices to create an effective dashboard to convey the most important sales information. Tableau is designed to supply the appropriate graphics and chart types by default via the “Show me” option.

I. Choose the Right Chart Types

With respect to sales performance, we can use the following charts to show the avg. sales, profits, losses and other measures.

  • Bar charts to compare numerical data across categories to show sales quantity, sales expense, sales revenue, top products and sales channel etc. This chart represents sales by region.

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  • Line charts to illustrate sales or revenue trends in data over a period of time:

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  • A Highlight table allows us to apply conditional formatting (a color scheme in either a continuous or stepped array of colors from highest to lowest) to a view.

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  • Use Scatter plots or scatter graphs to investigate the relationship between different variables or to observe outliers in data. Example: sales vs profit:

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  • Use Histograms to see the data distribution across groups or to display the shape of the sales distribution:

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Advanced Chart Types:

  • Use Bullet graphs to track progress against a goal, a historical sales performance or other pre-assigned thresholds:

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  • The Dual-line chart (or dual-axis chart), is an extension of the line chart and allows for more than one measure to be represented with two different axis ranges. Example: revenue vs. expense
  • The Pareto chart is the most important chart in a sales analysis. The Pareto principle is also known as 80-20 rule; i.e roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

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When performing a sales analysis, this rule is used for detecting the 80% of total sales derived from 20% of the products.

  • Use Box plots to display the distribution of data through their quartiles and to observe the major data outliers

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Tableau Sales Dashboard

Here is a Tableau dashboard comprised of the aforementioned charts. This interactive dashboard enables the consumer to understand sales information by trend, region, profit and top products.

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II. Use Actions to filter instead of Quick Filters

Using actions in place of Quick Filters provides a number of benefits. First, the dashboard will load more quickly. Using too many Quick Filters or trying to filter a very large dimension set can slow the load time because Tableau must scan the data to build the filters. The more quick filters enabled on the dashboard, the longer it will take the dashboard to load.

III. Build Cascading Dashboard Designs to Improve Load Speed

By creating a series of four-panel, four cascading dashboards the load speed was improved dramatically and the understandability of the information presented was greatly enhanced. The top-level dashboard provided a summary view, but included filter actions in each of the visualizations that allowed the executive to see data for different regions, products, and sales teams.

IV. Remove All Non-Data-Ink

Remove any text, lines, or shading that doesn’t provide actionable information. Remove redundant facts. Eliminate anything that doesn’t help the audience understand the story contained in the data.

V. Create More Descriptive Titles for Each Data Pane

Adding more descriptive data object titles will make it easier for the audience to interpret the dashboard. For example:

  • Bullet Graph—Sales vs. Budget by Product
  • Sparkline—Sales Trend
  • Cross-tab—Summary by Product Type
  • Scatter Plot—Sales vs. Marketing Expense

VI. Ensure That Each Worksheet Object Fits Its Entire View

When possible, change the graphs fit from “Normal” to “Entire View” so that all data can be displayed at once.

VII. Adding Dynamic Title Content

There is an option to use dynamic content and titles within Tableau. Titles can be customized in a dynamic way so that when a filter option is selected, the title and content will change to reflect the selected value. A dynamic title expresses the current content. For example: if the dashboard title is “Sales 2013” and the user has selected year 2014 from the filter, the title will update to “Sales 2014”.

VIII. Trend Lines and Reference Lines

Visualizing granular data sometimes results in random-looking plots. Trend lines help users interpret data by fitting a straight or curved line that best represents the pattern contained within detailed data plots. Reference lines help to compare the actual plot against targets or to create statistical analyses of the deviation contained in the plot; or the range of values based on fixed or calculated numbers.

IX. Using Maps to Improve Insight

Seeing the data displayed on a map can provide new insights. If an internet connection is not available, Tableau allows a change to locally-rendered offline maps. If the data includes geographic information, we can very easily create a map visualization.

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This map represents sales by state. The red color represents negative numbers and the green color represents positive numbers.

X. Developing an Ad Hoc Analysis Environment

Tableau facilitates ad hoc analysis in three ways:

  1. Generating new data with forecasts
  2. Designing flexible views using parameters
  3. Changing or creating designs in Tableau Server

XI. Using Filters Wisely

Filters generally improve performance in Tableau. For example, when using a dimension filter to view only the West region, a query is passed to the underlying data source, resulting in information returned for only that region. We can see the sales performance of the particular region in the dashboard. By reducing the amount of data returned, performance improves.

Enhance Visualizations Using Colors, Labels etc.

I. Using colors:

Color is a vital way of understanding and categorizing what we see. We can use color to tell a story about the data, to categorize, to order and to display quantity. Color helps with distinguishing the dimensions. Bright colors pop at us, and light colors recede into the background. We can use color to focus attention on the most relevant parts of the data visualization. We choose color to highlight some elements over others, and use it to convey a message.

Red is used to denote smaller values, and blue or green is used to denote higher values. Red is often seen as a warning color to show the loss or any negative number whereas blue or green is seen as a positive result to show profit and other positive values.

Without colors:

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With colors:

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II. Using Labels:

Enable labels to call out marks of interest and to make the view more understandable. Data labels enable comprehension of exact data point values. In Tableau, we can turn on mark labels for marks, selected marks, highlighted marks, minimum and maximum values, or only the line ends.

Without labels:

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With labels:

14Using Tableau to enhance KPI values

The user-friendly interface allows non-technical users to quickly and easily create customized dashboards. Tableau can connect to nearly any data repository, from MS Excel to Hadoop clusters. As mentioned above, using colors and labels, we can enhance visualization and enhance KPI values. Here are some additional ways by which we can enhance the values especially with Tableau features.

I. Allow for Interactivity

Playing, exploring, and experimenting with the charts is what keeps users engaged. Interactive dashboards enable the audiences to perform basic analytical tasks such as filtering views, drilling down and examining underlying data – all with little training.

II. Custom Shapes to Show KPIs

Tableau shapes and controls can be found in the marks card to the right of the visualization window. There are plenty of options built into Tableau that can be found in the shape palette.

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Custom shapes are very powerful when telling a story with visualizations in dashboards and reports. We can create unlimited shape combinations to show mark points and create custom formatting. Below is an example that illustrates how we can represent the sales or profit values with a symbolic presentation.

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Here green arrows indicate good sales progress and red arrows indicate a fall in Year over Year Sales by Category

III. Creating Calculated Fields

Calculated fields can be used to create new dimensions such as segments, or new measures such as ratios. There are many reasons to create calculated fields in Tableau. Here are just a few:

  1. Segmentation of data in new ways on the fly
  2. Adding a new dimension or a new measure before making it a permanent field in the underlying data
  3. Filtering out unwanted results for better analyses
  4. Using the power of parameters, putting the choice in the hands of end users
  5. Calculating ratios across many different variables in Tableau, saving valuable database processing and storage resources

IV. Data-Driven Alerts

With version 10.3, Tableau has introduced a very useful feature: Data-Driven Alerts. We may want to use alerts to notify users or to remind that a certain filter is on and want to be alerted somehow if performance is ever higher or lower than expected. Adding alerts to dashboards can help elicit necessary action by the information consumer. This is an example of a data driven alert that we can set while displaying a dashboard or worksheet.

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In a Tableau Server dashboard, we can set up automatic mail notifications to a set of recipients when a certain value reaches a specific threshold.

Summary

For an enterprise, a dashboard is a visual tool to help track, monitor and analyze information about the organization. The aim is to enable better decision making.

A key feature of sales dashboards in Tableau is interactivity. Dashboards are not simply a set of reports on a page; they should tell a story about the business. In order to facilitate the decision-making process, interactivity is an important part of assisting the decision-maker to get to the heart of the analysis as quickly as possible.

Author Bio:

This article was contributed by Perceptive Analytics. Neeru Gupta, Chaitanya Sagar, Prudhvi Sai Ram and Saneesh Veetil contributed to this article.

Perceptive Analytics provides data analytics, data visualization, business intelligence and reporting services to e-commerce, retail, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Our client roster includes Fortune 500 and NYSE listed companies in the USA and India.

Add a “Filters in Use” Alert to Your Tableau Dashboard

In this video we will learn to add a “Filters in Use Alert” to a Tableau Dashboard. If you have a dashboard with multiple filters, apply this quick and easy tip to inform your users that filters are in play. This tip builds upon the dashboard that I showcased recently in a previous post: Add a Reset All Filters Button to Your Tableau Dashboard.

I learned this current tip from a presentation given by Tableau Zen Master Ryan Sleeper, so I have to give credit where credit is due.

If you’re interested in Business Intelligence & Tableau subscribe and check out my videos either here on this site or on my Youtube channel.

Add Totals to Stacked Bar Charts in Tableau

 

In this video I demonstrate a couple of methods that will display the total values of your stacked bar charts in Tableau. The first method deals with a dual axis approach while the second method involves individual cell reference lines. Both approaches accomplish the same objective. Hope you enjoy this tip!

If you’re interested in Business Intelligence & Tableau subscribe and check out my videos either here on this site or on my Youtube channel.

Tableau K-Means Clustering Analysis w/ NBA Data

Interact with this visualization on Tableau Public.

In this video we will explore the Tableau K-Means Clustering algorithm. K-Means Clustering is an effective way to segment your data points into groups when those data points have not explicitly been assigned to groups within your population. Analysts can use clustering to assign customers to different groups for marketing campaigns, or to group transaction items together in order to predict credit card fraud.

In this analysis, we’ll take a look at the NBA point guard and center positions. Our aim is to determine if Tableau’s clustering algorithm is smart enough to categorize these two distinct positions based upon a player’s number of assists and blocks per game.

Nicola Jokic is a Statistical Unicorn

If you also watch the following video you’ll understand why 6 ft. 11 center Nikola Jokic is mistakenly categorized as a point guard by the algorithm. This big man can drop some dimes!

If you’re interested in Business Intelligence & Tableau subscribe and check out my videos either here on this site or on my Youtube channel.

Ranking Banks by Number of Complaints

I recently downloaded a dataset from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) in order to construct a handy visualization. The CFPB maintains a database that houses a collection of complaints on a range of consumer financial products and services that are sent to companies for a response.

Per the CFPB, “the database also includes information about the actions taken by the company in response to the complaint, such as, whether the company’s response was timely and how the company responded.”

Although the database is updated daily, I chose to visualize information from the complete year of 2017. In fairness to the financial institutions, company level information should be considered in context of company size and/or market share.

Financial institutions analyze this information frequently as a way of understanding and continuously improving their customer service.

I highly recommend “The Big Book of Dashboards” by Jeffrey Shaffer, Andy Cotgreave and Steve Wexler. The book contains a number of visualization examples that provide guidance on dashboard creation for any number of business use cases. In this Tableau Public dashboard I relied heavily on the visual guidance for their Complaints Dashboard as you can observe.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 10.02.14 PM

Complaints Dashboard from “The Big Book of Dashboards”

Click on the picture link to view the dashboard on Tableau Public (not optimized for mobile).

Dashboard 1

If you’re interested in Business Intelligence & Tableau subscribe and check out my videos either here on this site or on my Youtube channel.