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2 GE Infographics Offer Hints About The Future Of Data-Driven Management

A pair of remarkable projects created by Ben Fry and Fathom may seem like simple marketing. But one day soon could enterprise software look like this?

GE has been riding the infographics train for all its worth, creating a slew of remarkable charts illustrating everything from health ailments and how their linked to how good different countries are at innovating. But they’ve rarely turned the lens onto the company’s own data, which makes these two experiments, by Ben Fry’s company Fathom, so interesting. Both look deep into the welter of data that GE’s products create everyday, and in so doing, offer a little glimpse into what could be possible when infographics make their way from Internet fad to management tool.

The first one shows data gleaned from 713 power turbines, gathered in the course of two weeks. This data was then plugged into this nifty, navigable 3-D chart that shows how each and every turbine is performing over the course of a day:

The second shows data from 123,000 medical scans, performed on the company’s CT and MRI machines:

The charts are eye-popping, but the real star here is the data. The fact that it’s even being gathered—and the possibility that soon, it could be gathered in real time—augurs changes in the way that businesses might be run. From GE’s perspective, you can easily imagine charts like these being used to figure out whether a turbine or an MRI machine is about to break down. And if you can preempt an expensive repair, then you could potentially reduce downtime and net billions in efficiency gains. (This scenario isn’t fantasy—in fact, one GE employee recently told me that they’re working on that very idea.) In the meantime, you have companies such as Roambi, a startup backed by millions from Sequoia, which specializes in creating interactive charts that interface with a company’s databases, allowing, say, a sales manager to zoom around the performance figures of each of his sales reps.

The point is, as the data we produce continues to grow—a trend many people call Big Data—there will be more and more value gained by simply making sense of data that already exists. Reams of raw figures like the ones hinted at above don’t help if they’re too big to be captured by human intuition. And that, ultimately, is the great hope of infographics: To help us add intelligence and insight to the digital noise buzzing around us every day.

Top image: A GE turbine factory in Greenville, South Carolina.

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  • use_professional_stat_tools

    I am writing this comment waiting for my bash/awk script to go through about a hundred million of DNA sequence reads. Looking from a practical point of view those plots are awful - there is not a single value which is easy to extract from them. Their point is to demonstrate the vast amount of data and this is probably the only thing which you can get from them by looking. And the purpose of the plot is extracting, deriving data - either numerical values or noticing trends, etc. Can you easily tell what's for example the ratio of CT scans to MRI in Brazil versus the rest of the world? Can you do it looking on the realtime data? I do not think so, you need to know what you are looking for and write a query. There is a fundamental flaw in thinking that just by assembling the data together one can mine it efficiently. In what I can observe in my field, it is more the people who intimately know the subject of the research and decide what question to ask.

  • chris

    What did you expect? This is a commercial for GE; it's not meant to be a useful data extraction tool.