Visualize This: Plenty Of Complicated Data, Made Easy To See BY BRIAN DEAGON
INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
Any way you look at it, it's not the most interesting word around. It might conjure up images of math formulas or words sort of sitting there, lifeless, on a computer screen or in a lab report.
But now, display the data as a bar graph or a line graph. Now add some colors. Add more graphics. And made the colorful graphs pulsate up or down, to easily show you if this particular group of data are rising or falling.
There, you're seeing a growing area of technology called data visualization.
This technology is behind a new, free stock-trading service by Ameritrade Corp. (AMTD) It's behind a hot area of service called digital dashboards. And it's the latest focus of SS&C Technologies Inc., (SSNC) which already was one of the hottest stocks around.
"The tools and the technology needed for data visualization have progressed dramatically," said Mike MacDonald, chief executive of a privately held company in this field, Visual Mining Inc.
Ameritrade agrees. The company, which does more online stock trades than anyone, is rolling out a data visualization technology called QuoteScope.
The service provides bands of data that pulse with activity to graphically show changing stock prices and buy and sell orders. The company says QuoteScope will help it attract and retain customers by helping them make wiser trades.
"We're making better something that has been in its current state for about 20 years," said Cassius Almeida, a senior product manager at Ameritrade. "There's nothing like it out there."
The use of data visualization technology like QuoteScope is gaining momentum after being slowed by the poor economy. One issue is that businesses are being deluged with data. They need help presenting information in simple ways.
One way to do this is to create so-called digital dashboards. Basically, it's what an employee at a company would view to see information easily displayed on computer screens.
Visual Mining's MacDonald says digital dashboards used to be very hard to create. No more. His small company boasts some big customers. They include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Ford, Toyota, IBM, Dell and Intel.
Total data visualization software sales last year were only about $200 million. But when you include related markets, such as 3-D modeling software, sales reach the billions, says MacDonald.
Visual Mining's rivals are mostly small, privately held firms. But some bigger business software makers, such as Cognos Inc. and Business Objects SA, are starting to build data visualization into their products.
Among the biggest markets for data visualization technology are government, life sciences, engineering and, now, financial services.
SS&C, a provider of financial management software, had only dabbled in data visualization until late-February, when it bought NeoVision Hypersystems Inc. for $1.6 million. NeoVision's software displays large amounts of financial information using color, sound, animation and patterns.
SS&C's stock traded under 8 a year ago, and now trades near 23. It sees NeoVision's products helping traders to avoid information overload. "NeoVision technology allows portfolio managers, traders and brokers to rapidly digest huge amounts of financial data and uses powerful visual cues to help them track, analyze and understand thousands of positions instantly," SS&C Chief Executive Bill Stone said in a statement.
SS&C declined to comment for this story because it recently filed for a secondary offering of 3 million shares of stock.
But it's the corporate use of digital dashboards that is driving data visualization software right now, says David Vandagriff, vice president of marketing at another privately help company in this field, Corda Technologies Inc. Its customers include oil companies, banks, government, health care, insurance, and education and technology firms. Siebel Systems Inc., (SEBL) a big maker of business software, integrates Corda's software into its products, Vandagriff says.
"The idea of making information more usable and accessible is what drives data visualization," he said. "Digital dashboards make it easy to identify trends and exceptions."
And the technology is nowhere near reaching its potential, says Terry Kades, chief executive of privately held Strategic Feasibilities Inc., another data visualization firm.
"The problem people have is that presenting financial information in a creative way is difficult," he said.
Kades has created an interactive wheel to colorfully display stock markets and groups. It can do much more, he says.
"This is something that should have been thought of long ago," he said. "That's why I feel lucky that I have a patent on the design