17/01/2013 09:12 GMT | Updated 18/03/2013 05:12 GMT

The Power of the Hidden Data Gem

If there's one thing that working with data teaches you, it's to expect the unexpected. After all, it's easy to look at data sets and extrapolate the obvious conclusions that stand out from the most glaring statistics. But what if the real value of the data was to be found elsewhere? Just like one of those 'magic eye' autostereogram posters, popular in the 1990s, the true value of data can sometimes only be uncovered when you spend time closely examining and exploring it.

It's all too common when dealing with large data sets that are cumbersome and difficult, to take the easy way out and only pay attention to the figures that jump out at you. However, choosing to ignore the data that hides in the deepest nooks and crannies can sometimes result in missing vital information. These hidden 'data gems' can often deliver the greatest business or customer insights that can lead to the development of new products and services.

By using business intelligence (BI) tools, designed to help people see and understand data, large data sets held by organisations are easier to explore, analyse and process. This empowers all employees in the organisation, not just the data geeks, with a tool that delivers an even greater level of insight.

For instance, eBay, the world's largest online marketplace, uses BI analytics to drive its site. As its impossible to stand in an eBay store and watch customers walk around, the customer visibility and insight it has is from web logs coming off its site. Tableau Software has helped liberate this data, making it easier for the online retailer to explore it, and spot trends and patterns that would otherwise have remained hidden. This has lead to a clearer understanding of eBay's customer behaviour.

The truth is that data can show a thousand different facets to any given organisation. However, few businesses have the tools they need to be able to identify those that are most important to them. As a result, they can sometimes miss spotting something that they hadn't previously considered, which can have a profound impact on the way they operate.

Using BI tools to unearth these 'data gems' is not a trend limited to business performance. It can also play a significant role in product development. Tableau Software's gaming customers, including IsCool and Wild Tangent, use BI tools to highlight areas of their games where users are having difficulty. For example they analyse the data they get from gamers and work out if there's a particular level where people are struggling to complete or where they are losing a gamers interest. This information helps these companies to refine and improve future versions.

The potential benefits of BI tools stretch across the business, and can allow organisations to spot everything from errors in inventory or supply, to employee productivity, or even individual departmental spending. Whatever the use, one thing's for sure; almost every organisation has data gems worth uncovering. If these gems are to be identified, and made useful to the organisation, then the right tools must be implemented and made widely available so that everyone can benefit.