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Seeing the Future


by Barbara Ruland, Communications Specialist

The Power of Visualization in the Era of Big Data

A heavy concentration of members in the eastern half of the US is the first thing that becomes clear when looking at heat maps of SIOP’s 9000+ members. On further inspection, additional visual insights about the geographic concentrations for different membership types start taking shape.

The maps—2015 here and 2016 here—were created by Evan Sinar, chief scientist and vice president at DDI, who leads their Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research. He is also SIOP’s Conferences and Programs portfolio officer, and one of the organizers of this year’s SIOP Leading Edge Consortium on the topic of talent analytics, scheduled for October 21-22 in Atlanta.

As Sinar pointed out, the largest concentrations of members are in major metropolitan areas, locations where corporate headquarters are clustered. Associate members tend to be even more geographically clustered in these areas, where there are many practice opportunities for those with master’s degrees. Internationally, Singapore, Eastern Australia, London, and Belgium have the heaviest concentrations of SIOP members.

The student member map bears a lot of similarities to the professional member map and also shows heavy concentrations around I-O psychology schools in Arizona, Colorado, and Florida. The greatest concentration of SIOP Fellows, meanwhile, is in the DC area.

Heat maps don’t have to just be about population-related topics, Sinar explained. Some of their other uses are to visualize survey data, employee skill gaps, and product revenue sources. Maps using color-based visual cuing are one way to represent the relationship between two variables; in this case, the number of members and geographic location.

“We’re in a world that’s increasingly multinational, and for any organization that’s operating internationally, a map is an effective way to highlight geographic concentrations for further investigation and action,” Sinar said.

Sinar recently wrote the chapter on data visualization for Big Data at Work, the newest publication in SIOP’s Organizational Frontiers Series. In his chapter, Sinar explains that one of data visualization’s basic uses is to facilitate sound data-driven business decisions. Exploration of data sets is the other, and it also relies on the strength of visualizations in making relationships between variables easier to grasp.

In Big Data at Work, Sinar categorizes visualizations by their primary functions, which include comparing categories, assessing hierarchies and part-to-whole relationships, showing changes over time, plotting connections and relationships, and mapping geospatial data. There are several different styles in each category, and the visualizations can be animated or interactive as well as static. To be effective, the type of visualization used must be based on knowledge of the intended audience and message, and must reflect graphical design principles for clarity, color and annotation.

There is no turning back from the era of big data, Sinar said, with its emphasis on business decisions driven by analysis and interpretation of massive amounts of information. Those organizations that acquire and use data effectively will thrive. Those that don’t, won’t. But, it’s just not possible for the human brain to quickly assimilate large amounts of data in its raw form. That’s what makes data visualization more valuable now than ever and is why data visualization was one of the most common answers to the question “Now that you have returned home, what new developments or areas of research/practice are you most excited/energized by?” asked of attendees following the SIOP annual conference in April.

As Sinar said in the introduction to his book chapter, “Data visualization brings accessibility and interpretability to big data.”

The topic of communicating analytics results is one of the tracks at the upcoming Leading Edge Consortium, with several presentations on topics including dashboards, visualization, and storytelling. The Leading Edge Consortium is a 2-day immersion into a vitally important and timely HR topic, talent analytics. Twenty thought leaders will present information on all facets of big data in relation to organizations. Continuing education credits will be available for those in attendance. The event will be held October 21 and 22 at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta. Consortium registration is now open with the early registration discount ending August 29.

Exploring Data Visualization Resources

This short list of free online visualization resources was provided by Evan Sinar (@Evansinar):