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Data visualization is a general term that describes any effort to help people understand the significance of data by placing it in a visual context. Patterns, trends and correlations that might go undetected in text-based data can be exposed and recognized easier with data visualization software.
Today's data visualization tools go beyond the standard charts and graphs used in Excel spreadsheets, displaying data in more sophisticated ways such as infographics, dials and gauges, geographic maps, sparklines, heat maps, and detailed bar, pie and fever charts. The images may include interactive capabilities, enabling users to manipulate them or drill into the data for querying and analysis. Indicators designed to alert users when data has been updated or predefined conditions occur can also be included.
Most business intelligence software vendors embed data visualization tools into their products, either developing the visualization technology themselves or sourcing it from companies that specialize in visualization.