Data visualization: Software turns masses of data into story

Seth Nenstiel is a data analyst.

But he is also a storyteller.

At Shipley Energy, Nenstiel works with data visualization software to help the company glean insights into its customer and product databases.

“Data visualization helps us summarize data visually, and it allows us to tell stories that create insights,” Nenstiel said.

Data visualization is an umbrella term that explains any effort to help people understand the importance of data by placing it in a visual context.

Patterns, trends and correlations that might go unnoticed in text-based data can be uncovered and understood more easily with data visualization software. Visual elements include charts, graphs and maps.

The technology, Nenstiel said, has allowed the company to both look at its customers and experience its data in different ways.

And the information gathered from the data has helped Shipley make decisions with greater speed and bring its products to the correct markets.

The use of visual perception also helps the company spot sales trends, although it declined to share specifics.

Over time, the tools have provided departments besides IT the ability to easily access and create clear, sharable reports, Nenstiel said.

The York-based energy company has been utilizing data visualization technology for the past two years, something for which Nenstiel and his colleagues pushed.

Management, Nenstiel said, thought it was a great idea and backed the technology in hopes of gaining a competitive edge.

It worked, the company said.

“We’ve quickly seen how these tools have impacted our bottom line and retention,” Nenstiel said.

The company declined to say exactly what technology it uses but did note that it relies on a variety of leading business intelligence and analytics software.

Tableau, FusionCharts and Sisense are some of the most popular data visualization platforms available. They differ from Microsoft Excel, which also translates data into graphs and charts.

The designs and spreadsheets available in data visualization software give Shipley the ability to gain deep insight into everything from its residential, commercial and wholesale products to its marketing efforts.

“It goes into different charts, and it just allows us to bring the information differently together in a way that can be easily digested and tell a story,” Nenstiel said, adding: “We can look back over years and join things just with speed and in ways that Excel cannot.”

Nenstiel describes visualizing data as an art form: “It requires an analytic brain, but it also requires some attunement to visualization and to art to make it understandable quickly and clearly.”

In the future, Nenstiel said, he sees the software being integrated across all of Shipley’s departments.

Doing so, he added, will allow Shipley to streamline its operations.

Shelby White
Shelby White covers banking and finance, law and Lancaster County for the Central Penn Business Journal. For tips, email her at swhite@cpbj.com.

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