One of the keys to getting the most out of spreadsheets, and data analysis in general, is to take a logical, prudent approach. Starting out from a point of trying to wring more insights out of information and queries than end users are comfortable doing can halt a project in its tracks. It doesn't have to be an expressly linear process, but all involved in a data analysis project should ensure that one foundational layer is firmly understood and entrenched before more are added on.
The old "keep it simple, stupid" mantra is applicable to many data-driven projects in today's business environment. One of the reasons that simplicity is such an asset today is that the data sets and information most organizations and end users work with are more complex than ever. Creating easy-to-use, uncomplicated spreadsheet applications is one way that developers can help propel end users toward data mastery.
In order to build up a mastery of spreadsheets and make productive data-driven insights, it's worth noting that the devil, as usual, is in the details. One of the best ways to help end users who are not previously schooled in data analysis is to build simpler tools that use intuitive operations, built-in shortcuts and sensible corrective features to facilitate data evaluation.
Spreadsheets: Starting simple and building insights
A simpler spreadsheet or data visualization can help develop an end user's ability to understand how information interacts. Rather than just simply querying different pieces of information for a result and not really comprehending the steps of the process, users can see patterns and enhance their ability to make connections. Programmers can help foster this growth through the utilization of intuitive touchscreen features and interface frameworks that invite the user to contribute to data analysis processes. In a recent interview with Data Informed, data visualization expert Bill Davenhall stated that another benefit of simple visualizations is that it helps users develop an understanding of what "works" and what does not.
"When you visualize this information, people can tell you what's wrong with it. It sounds negative, but it's positive because what you've done is you've got them thinking," Davenhall told the source. "Where did this data come from? What is the quality of this data? Once you start down that road, I think you are on the way to what I would call this enhanced understanding with what the visualization is doing."
Starting with small reserves of information and purposely limiting the scope - but not the effectiveness - of possible insights, data visualization applications can help users understand how information fits together. That way, when larger and more complex data variables are introduced, users will be better at spotting patterns and understanding how the integration of a certain data set can lead to another plane of insight.
The benefits of mastery
Ultimately, spreadsheets and other data visualization programs should help users along to ad hoc reporting and self-sufficiency. That is the objective of data analysis in the highly competitive digital age, wrote The Moscow Times contributor Dominic Barton. Proprietary or open source, structured or unstructured, data pours in from any number of sources and promises productivity, organization-wide improvements and business growth. In order to make sense of this data, companies need to have employees who have mastered the art of data comparison and analysis. They also need to be able to communicate this information effectively to other stakeholders.
Spreadsheet and data visualization programmers can do their part by infusing their software creations with advanced controls and component suites that simplify the initial user process by focusing on the minutiae of data. Then, these features can expand as users become more confident and fluid in their operations, becoming able tools in the master's hand.