1 2 3 Previous Next 34 Replies Latest reply on Oct 16, 2015 11:56 AM by Joe Oppelt Branched from an earlier discussion.

    Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics

    Simon Runc

      Following a discussion with Rody Zakovich regarding the constant requests from Clients to provide Cross-Tabs for all visualizations, we started to discuss the 'reasons' people want this, and what have been the most effective strategies to combat it...


      Many clients have been embedded in Excel (or other similar text table) data analysis for years, and the cross-tab provides a 'security blanket'...I believe there is some sort of misplaced assumption (or lack of trust) where seeing the number in figures makes it feel 'more-real'/'more accurate', as well as a misunderstanding of the roles of 'Reporting' and 'Analytics' (which serve 2 different functions)....generally visualization is looking at trend, not perfectly audit-able exact numbers (i.e. you can't submit a bar-chart to your auditors). What people don't seem to grasp is any number (even an audit-able one) is always an approximation to something, which reminds me of one of my fave quotes


      'An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem.'


      To try and get people to distinguish between 'audit-able accounts' and 'analytics' (during any Data Viz/Training I do) I always start with the same...


      I get people to look at the attached document, and get them to look at it for 5-10 mins and ask them to tell me something interesting...usually get blank looks...then I show them this


      Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes - The Joy of Stats - BBC Four - YouTube


      btw the attached .csv is one I created as Hans has all the data he uses availiable on his gapminder site. I did try and recreate what  he did in Tableau (using the page by)...however it soon transpired he did a lot more data cleansing for his TV show!! one day I'll get down to cleaning it all up a recreating fully in Tableau.


      ..and ask 'did not having the exact values in a table, inhibit your understanding of the data?', 'or 'did approximating the values as symbols [size, position, colour] help your brain to see the real pattern?'


      ...btw this is no guarantee...but I do what I can!!

        • 1. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
          Rody Zakovich

          I always like the "Idea" of that video, i.e. tell a story, with data, graphically. This allows people to see things much differently than simply look at it in an Excel sheet, or reading it in a textbook.

          Though an individual can point out things like inflation, advances in medicine/science, etc. I think this really goes back to the point.....

          'An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem.'


          Always enjoy our discussions!



          1 of 1 people found this helpful
          • 2. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
            Simon Runc

            ...Yes although that would entail all countries moving from 4th to 1st at the same rate relative to one another...He's a slightly different take on the data...it looks at how counties rank among each other, and how this rank has moved over time (the spider web structure implied it's not a level playing field!, but the general shape shows things moving in the right direction)...Initially I found this chart quite confusing, but like all good Viz the more you look at it the more you see.


            The Vizioneer: The Effect of War and Genocide


            If you haven't already seen it I'd also take a look at this Hans talk on population


            DON'T PANIC — Hans Rosling showing the facts about population on Vimeo


            ...right I'll 'shut up' now as I feel I've gone off topic slightly ...and hijacked Christiana's question!!...or I'll exercise my Ambassadorial powers! and branch this off to a new discussion!!

            2 of 2 people found this helpful
            • 3. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
              Rody Zakovich

              Please branch this off to VizTalk. I think we have a good discussion here!


              If you do, please ping me on it.


              Sorry Christina!




              • 4. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                Simon Runc

                ...discussion branched!


                I also found this very interesting article related to the discussion



                1 of 1 people found this helpful
                • 5. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                  Rody Zakovich

                  Gonna ping in a couple people.


                  Jonathan Drummey Shawn Wallwork Matt Lutton Pooja Gandhi Mark Jackson Mark Fraser Bill Lyons


                  I'm sure there are plenty more that can offer great input on the subject, so please ping in whoever I'm forgetting!


                  One of the ways I have influenced people with Tableau (Data Visualizations) is very similar to your approach.


                  I'll present them with an Excel sheet with 1 Million + rows (I might aggregate some things to make it a little easier), and ask them to tell me something about the data. It doesn't matter what it is, just something interesting. Usually this takes about ~15 -20 minutes before they come up with something (if anything).


                  Then I show them that same data graphically. And ask the same question. Assuming I have done my design properly, I usually get an answer in less than 30 seconds. I always love the look in people faces the first time they experience this!


                  Still, there are always those that resist. And despite my best efforts, they still believe Straight numbers are more valuable that visualizations.....


                  So I would love to know, from people who have been doing this far longer than me, how do you influence them? What techniques or steps do you take in this "hostile Excel landscape"?


                  As always, best regards,


                  2 of 2 people found this helpful
                  • 6. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                    Joe Oppelt

                    We have a legendary excel spreadsheet report in our company.  People live and die by it.  (Figuratively.)  It's what they know.  It's their comfort zone.  "We've always used this..."  It is pages and pages (PRINTED pages) of mind-boggling numers on legal-sized printout, with month-by-month and month-over-month and year-over year data with all sorts of categorizations by all sorts of dimensions...  It gets re-created each month.


                    My job was to put it into a T workbook.


                    Front dashboard is month-by-month bar charts that either gives a fiscal monthly, rolling-12 monthly, or a FYTD running view (selected by a parameter, displayed by sheet swapping), and I give them a pull-down container that holds all the filters for all the dimensions.  Now they can yank up any cut of the data at their fingertips on an iPad.  If they select multiple years, those bars are side-by-side by month for easy visual comparison.



                    Next to the bar charts is a minimal crosstab that gives them the specific numbers for whichever fiscal month they choose.  (Via parameter).


                    I still give them a raw data crosstab dashboard as well, and they can get to that through a menu action off the viz.  This makes them use the VIZ first, and more and more we are seeing people eschew the raw data dashboard because they're getting comfortable with the VIZ and what it can do for them.


                    We then did the same for various profit-and-loss charts, with bullet marks for comparison measures (such as forecast, budget, etc.).  Again, we start with the bar viz, so they have to go through that to get to their raw spreadsheet data if they need to.  this format is now being adopted by group after group once they see some colleague using the vizzes.

                    Tableau will pay for itself just in printed paper savings. 

                    1 of 1 people found this helpful
                    • 7. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                      Harley Ellenberger

                      Of course it's going to be tremendously difficult to discover real insights in a 1 million row spreadsheet.  Visualizing those 1M rows is always going to draw out insights that the audience would never find in scanning those rows in a table format.


                      I take my approach to crosstab reporting a step further by keeping the sample small.  Even in a more condensed form, the simple crosstabs that so many people are used to, are not beneficial to discovering quick insights.  Instead I take a simple crosstab report and very simply change it to a highlight table.  This seems to serve the purpose of slowly transitioning users who are used to spreadsheets and tables to a more visual/insightful approach to actually "seeing" the data.


                      Attached are a couple slides from a presentation that I've given a couple times when I talk about transitioning from legacy-style data products to a more Tableau-like approach.

                      1 of 1 people found this helpful
                      • 8. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                        Matt Lutton

                        I certainly find that crosstabs have a place, and that people love to see them.  Regardless of their reasons, I've had to create many of them and don't find it that difficult in Tableau -- with the right data, a user can produce anything their heart desires.  I also agree that they should be fairly "small" in size, and using filters to limit a crosstab can be useful for getting at what the user is really interesting in "seeing".  I try to provide alternative views whenever possible, but if the user requests the crosstab, I oblige in many cases.


                        I love Hans Rosling -- one of the many great benefits of being a ZM last year was getting to meet him!

                        Matt and Hans Rosling.jpg



                        • 9. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                          Simon Runc

                          Thanks Joe, Very interesting!...at my old place of work we had a monthly pack that you'd need a sack-truck to move  round the office (...I exaggerate slightly!!) called 'The Bible'...even it's name gave it a gravitas it didn't deserve!!


                          I think I can learn a lot from you approach of moving people gently, letting them find visualisation for themselves...with the aim of gradually removing/simplifying the cross-tab sections of the reports.

                          • 10. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                            Simon Runc

                            Great picture Matt!...He is one of my major inspirations too....not sure if I'm more jealous of Bill's Borg Re: Introduce yourselves! or your Hans 'meet and greet'!!


                            Yes that is a very good point. There's no point being a Viz-Purist (...some of my clients might say Viz-Fascist...fondly of course!!) if no-one is going to use your Viz' and just circumvent your model and go back their old ways.


                            I like the idea of going on a journey with your Clients, and understanding their needs (of which reporting of numbers may well be one). Stephen Few (in Show me the numbers) has a great chapters on Table Design, and when they are the best option (such as Look-up or comparing 2 values, say Quarter on Quarter, where a human can comfortably store 2 numbers in their head for comparison).

                            1 of 1 people found this helpful
                            • 11. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                              Joe Oppelt

                              Some day the VIZ will be "the way we always do it...."


                              And then some new BI methodology will arise, and I'll join the "always-did-it-that-way" resistance.


                              And that's when it will be time to retire to self-sustaining survivalist mode in the Montana back country.

                              • 12. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                                Simon Runc

                                hi Harley,


                                Thanks for posting...That's a great & simple example...Although wouldn't give me time for my morning coffee while my students grapple with the 120k row .csv for the first 10 mins!! (...and probably wondering what they had signed up for!!!)


                                I'll definitely be adding that to our 'Viz pack'....with your permission of course!

                                • 13. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics

                                  Thanks for the ping, Rody Zakovich


                                  I agree with a lot of you on this. I feel like Excel is home to many folks who have not gotten their hands on any BI tools. During all my work as a consultant and now full-time, I feel like the 'excel' need resides mostly in the finance and HR departments. Although, the need is not exclusive to only these departments, I feel like that's where all the huge spreadsheets lie with formulas that make your eyes bleed.


                                  I like to keep cross-tabs minimal in a way that I use it effectively and still not defy the use of a BI tool. I tend to do what Matt said, wherein if I do create a dashboard with a cross-tab in it, I apply action filters to limit what they see on the cross-tab when they click on a metric (it does both, makes them feel at home while giving them a taste of the interactivity that BI tools offer). Something like this:




                                  Clicking on a specific tile, filters the cross-tab underneath it to display records/users that have last logged on in that month. This gives them a good idea of the user base indicating that while it may seem like many users are creating accounts, who have actually logged on in the past month? Which org? Which region? etc.


                                  Once they understand that while cross-tabs pretend to give them what they need, other types of visualizations give them what they didn't think they needed in the first place to make better decisions (could be strategic or development), trends!


                                  Just recently, most people in my org started to see the value that Tableau is providing and most of them now request for reports showing data patterns versus data numbers.Again, like Matt said, I do give them the cross-tab view when they need it but I do so with a twist.


                                  Btw, great pic Matt!

                                  1 of 1 people found this helpful
                                  • 14. Re: Cross Tab Reporting vs Visual Analytics
                                    Harley Ellenberger

                                    Permission granted.  I really think it's a good way of taking a simple table that everyone is used to seeing and just adding that simple visual enhancement to help draw out the insights.

                                    1 2 3 Previous Next