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Keith Hopkins, Associate Partner, IBM Global Business Services

Keith Hopkins, Associate Partner, IBM Global Business Services

By Keith Hopkins

Houston, we have a problem. Our world has evolved from a time of relatively very few and simple decisions to a time when we’re not only trying to solve existing problems, but predict those that could arise in the future. The influx of new technology and data in today’s world brings new challenges. How can we analyze this data and then use the information to help our businesses succeed? In today’s age of operational excellence, many companies are using analytics to do just that.

By leveraging data and analytics, companies are gaining ground on better decision making, such as where to spend their money on marketing and what works best for consumers.

More and more businesses are using analytics to address specific problems, opportunities or questions, and data visualization is an important asset in today’s arsenal of techniques to support business analysis. While traditional analytics helps technical experts target questions and challenges within businesses, data visualization goes a step further in helping average business users across all fields develop the “next best question.”

The “next best question” is really about a new way of approaching business analysis. It breaks away from traditional analytics in several ways. While many analytics tools require vast technical skills, data visualization requires humility and humbleness above all. We need to accept that we don’t have the answers, nor do we even have a clear picture of what we are looking for. We need to enter the data visualization process with a clear and open mind.  We must approach with a “beginner’s mind” or Shoshin, a Zen Buddhist concept that means “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject.”

Shunryu Suzuki, the Zen master who wrote the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, summed up the philosophy well by saying, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

If we are willing to allow ourselves to be in a state of vulnerability and are open to seeing data and data relationships in a new way, the “next best question” will make itself available to us. After you develop a new set of questions and hypotheses about data, applying analytics to prove and, more importantly, disprove these hypotheses will help evolve an even deeper sense of learning and understanding about the business problem or opportunity.

Real insights don’t come from seeing new things. They’re revealed when we look at things we believed to be true with new eyes. In an effort to do just that, IBM is unveiling new visual software that enables business users to apply analytics tools no matter of their skill set or expertise. This means that people will be able to gain deep, meaningful insights, without having superior technical skills.

In an era where technology is rapidly growing and creating overwhelming amounts of data, it’s crucial to have tools to insure the information that comes from it is accessible to everyone. We’re all facing new and tougher business decisions on a daily basis, and we should all have the means to deal with them.

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