Best Data Visualization Tools & Software 2022

Image: Public domain/Mark Kaelin

Regardless of their industry, geographical location, or size, businesses operating in the modern world generate vast amounts of data about products, transactions and customers. To gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, businesses must find a way to transform that vast stream of data into reliable and actionable information their decision-makers can use. For many enterprises, that means harnessing the benefits of data visualization tools.

This general need for applications that can transform data into useable information has not gone unnoticed because the market is saturated with dozens of data visualization tools, applications and suites. The available software runs the gamut from general all-purpose data visualization tools to limited applications created for one specific data point. Deciding which tool(s) your business needs and which company offers software that best fits those needs, will require some thorough research.

What is data visualization?

Simply put, data visualization is the graphical representation of information and data. Visual elements like charts, graphs and maps, along with data visualization communication tools provide a people-friendly and accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data. These data visualization tools and technologies are often essential when analyzing massive amounts of information and making data-driven business decisions.

SEE: Research: BI and data analytics usage up; but companies lack skills needed to take full advantage of tools (TechRepublic Premium)

For all intents and purposes, the amount of sheer data generated by big data systems deployed by organizations worldwide is just too much to analyze without transforming that data into digestible and management bits of actionable information. The tools of data visualization, particularly when wielded by experts, can find hidden patterns and undiscovered information vital to achieving a competitive advantage.

Why use data visualization tools?

Besides the innate ability to find undiscovered patterns and vital hidden information inside data, data visualization is important because of the way the human brain process information. Charts, graphs, images and other elements help the human brain visualize large amounts of complex data. This process is often easier and more effective than poring over spreadsheets or reports.

Data visualization is a quick, easy way to convey concepts in a universal manner. And, with data visualization tools in place, your decision-makers can then experiment with different scenarios by making slight adjustments to the inputs. These, “what if” experiments can help reveal vital information and further inform decision-making.

SEE: Hiring kit: Data Scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

How to choose data visualization software

There are several criteria to consider when choosing your data visualization tools, but the most important element to pinpoint is exactly what you want your organization to get out of your data. Are you looking for patterns of customer behavior? Are you formulating maintenance schedules for manufacturing machinery based on usage? Are you tracking logistical information to increase efficiency? All these different activities will require different data visualization tools.

Before you can begin to narrow your data visualization tool choices you must first decide what your organization and your decision-makers need to pull from the available data. Until that is decided, making choices from the dozens of available software tools and third-party vendors is mostly an exercise in futility.

Another factor to consider before choosing your data visualization tools is the technical expertise of your personnel. The tools used by an experienced and trained data scientist will likely be much different than the tools used by novice product mangers tasked with generating departmental performance results. The expertise of the personnel using each of your data visualization tools will be a limiting factor that cannot, and should not, be ignored.

According to Dr. Kristen Sosulski at NYU’s Stern School of Business, when it comes to choosing data visualization tools for your business enterprise or organization, the criteria to consider includes:

  • Sharing: Can others view and edit your visualization and analysis? The ability to share your charts and graphs with others enables collaboration for data visualization tasks.
  • Output: Can you publish visualizations to the web, create PDF documents and embed them into other applications? The ultimate destination of your visualization will dictate tool choice. For example, if your audience is interpreting your graphs online, you may want to design them to be interactive to allow for exploration.
  • Interoperability: How easily can you connect to other data sources? For instance, does the software allow you to import diverse file types, such as XLS, CSV, TXT, or allow you to link to your databases?
  • Display types: What types of visualizations do you intend to build? Maps, networks and text-based visualizations are not available for every tool.
  • Data exploration: Do you need a tool to explore and present your data visually or to present a data visualization? Features such as visual querying are not standard for every tool.
  • Simplicity: Are you looking to create charts and graphs quickly? Some tools require a steep learning curve, even to build a simple bar chart.
  • Persistence: Do you think that you will have to go back and revise the visualizations you create? It would be important to choose a technology that you think will be around for a while.

The other obvious consideration in the decision-making process is cost. Some data visualization tools can be relatively expensive, while other effective and powerful tools may be used for free. Still others, like Excel and Google Sheets, may be available to your organization right now but be underutilized as a data visualization tool.

Best data visualization software

There are dozens of data visualization tools available on the market, with more being released each year. The most dominant tools in the following list are products of large, well-established software firms. Tableau, for instance, is produced by Salesforce, while Power BI is a product of Microsoft. Smaller software vendors often focus on more granular specialized tools that may only be appropriate for a small portion of businesses.

With so many choices, it is not possible to list them all, but here are 15, listed in alphabetical order, that fall into the top tier of the current data visualization tools marketplace.

Datawrapper

Datawrapper screenshot
Image: Datawrapper

Datawrapper takes your existing data, stored in a simple table, Excel worksheet, or Google Sheet and creates a sophisticated chart, map or table out of it. A data visualization created in this manner can then be exported as an image file, PDF, vector diagram or simply shared through the Datawrapper website. There is a free version available that is limited by a watermark.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Display only
  • Interoperability–No
  • Display types–Limited
  • Data exploration–No
  • Simplicity–Yes
  • Persistence–No
  • Cost–Limited free version; $599/month subscription

Domo

Domo screenshot
Image: Domo

Domo is a cloud-based data visualization tool that can access data from many different sources including AWS, Google, Snowflake and other on-premises sources. The company markets itself as a low-code digital transformation platform for reports, dashboards and data analysis. You can try it for free, but all other pricing information will require a conversation with company representatives.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–Yes
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Free trial available; no other pricing information

Microsoft Excel

Excel screenshot
Image: Microsoft

Excel is the spreadsheet application found in the Microsoft 365 suite of productivity apps. For many users, Excel is their first introduction to data visualization techniques and analysis. Despite its general availability and ease of use, Excel can be a powerful data visualization tool.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–Yes
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Free trial available; basic Microsoft 365 subscription $6/user/month

FusionCharts

fusion charts screenshot
Image: Fusion Charts

FusionCharts is a data visualization tool that specializes in creating interactive charts and maps for mobile and web-based reports and dashboards. The tool caters to developers tasked with creating interactive dashboards.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Free for non-commercial use; basic subscription $499/year

Google Charts

Google screenshot
Image: Google

Google Charts is another data visualization tool that specializes in creating mobile and web-based reports, dashboards and other visual assets. Google Charts relies heavily on JavaScript and is therefore primarily a tool designed for developers. The main benefit of this tool is that it is free.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Free

IBM Cognos Analytics

IBM screenshot
Image: IBM

IBM Cognos Analytics with Watson is a business intelligence tool that includes features for cleaning and connecting your data and creating data visualizations. The system relies on cutting-edge elements like artificial intelligence to differentiate itself from the competition. Cutting-edge technology can also mean higher costs and more complex interactions.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–30-day free trial; standard on-demand fee $10/user/month

Infogram

Infogram screenshot
Image: Infogram

Infogram is a cloud-based data visualization tool designed with team collaboration in mind. The tool includes features for creating charts, maps, dashboards and social media visuals. The basic version is free, and that toolset may be adequate for many small businesses.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–Yes
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Basic is free; pro version is $19/month

Looker

Looker screenshot
Image: Looker

Looker is a cloud-based business intelligence and data analysis service with a data visualization component. The service concentrates its efforts on discovering hidden patterns and information within big data streams. The website provides no pricing information.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Call to request a quote

Plotly

Plotly screenshot
Image: Plotly

Plotly provides tools to help Python developers create dashboards, data visualizations, and reports for a mobile and web-based audience. The system features technologies such as machine learning, non-linear programming and computer vision.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–Basic is open source and free; call to request a quote for enterprise support

Microsoft Power BI

Power BI screenshot
Image: Microsoft

Power BI is Microsoft’s full-service business intelligence suite of data visualization applications. The service can pull in data with many different sources and coordinate dashboards and visual reports across teams, departments and enterprises.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–Yes
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–A free version is available; the pro version is $9.99/user/month

Qlik

Qlik screenshot
Image: Qlik

Qlik is another cloud-based business intelligence platform designed to provide visual dashboards and reports using advanced AI and machine-learning technologies. The service stresses enterprise-level collaboration features. Numerous applications are available in the platform.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–A free trial is available; the business version is $30/user/month

SAP Analytics Cloud

SAP screenshot
Image: SAP

SAP Analytics Cloud is the business intelligence suite of SAP’s Business Technology Platform. This solution combines business intelligence, augmented and predictive analytics and planning capabilities into one cloud environment. Data visualization tools are just one piece of an extensive list of apps and features.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–A 30-day free trial is available; the business version is $36/user/month

Sisense

Sisense screenshot
Image: Sisense

Sisense is a low-code developer platform that allows users to create and imbed data visualizations into other applications and workflows. The service accomplishes this goal by relying on APIs and other development tools.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–A free trial is available; request a price quote

Tableau

Tableau screenshot
Image: Tableau

Along with Power BI, Tableau is one of the most popular and most-often used data visualization application suites on the market. A product of Salesforce, Tableau uses a multitude of analytical tools to create interactive dashboards and reports. The software also includes access to a large user community which can provide useful, if informal, support.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–Yes
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–A free version is available; the Creator version is $42/user/month

Zoho Analytics

Zoho screenshot
Image: Zoho

Zoho Analytics is a cloud-based data visualization platform that includes business intelligence, AI, and collaboration. The platform can access data from many different sources and outputs can be mobile, web-based or simple reports.

  • Sharing–Yes
  • Output–Yes
  • Interoperability–Yes
  • Display types–Yes
  • Data exploration–Yes
  • Simplicity–No
  • Persistence–Yes
  • Cost–A 15-day free trial is available; the basic version is $24/month for two users

Conclusion

Depending on the type and amount of data generated, for many business operations, a combination of data visualization platforms and tools may be necessary. Large enterprises may opt to partner with specific vendors that can provide complete business intelligence solutions. The combination of data visualization tools you choose will be unique and specific to your business.

Best data visualization tools and software 2022

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