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The spectrum of business intelligence (BI) users spans a group of professionals ranging from programmers, engineers, IT specialists, and scientists on the technical side to salespersons, marketers, accountants, economists, HR pros and operations types on the business side. Additionally, managers and executives are included, cutting across both. In some senses, the management and executive users are frequently removed from the "heat" of the BI battlefield, thus requiring special treatment due to the more generalized nature of their job descriptions.
Presenting business performance metrics to this user group is one of those cases where special treatment in often needed. Specifically, performance reporting techniques that are geared to more effective visual presentation. Stephen Few, in a White Paper prepared for the Cognos Corporation, discussed a number of interesting characteristics of effective visual displays. Graphs, he suggests, were invented to give meaning to quantitative data beyond that contained in a table of numbers.
He goes on to note that both serve a very different purpose and should be selected to present information very carefully. For example, tables are wonderful when the information to be presented requires the observer to choose values. Tables are also useful when precision in the values is required. Graphs, on the other hand, create relationships between values through the discerning of size, shape, or color. As such, there is no substitute for a properly designed graph when communication of trending, patterns, or exceptions is desired.