Presenting the un-presentable: how to display data for decision making
van der Heijden, Hans
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Acton, T., Golden, W. & van der Heijden, H. (2008). Presenting the un-presentable: how to display data for decision making, In Proceedings of the 1st Irish Social Science Platform Conference, Dublin City University, Dublin, September.
A concern with computer systems is how best to present onscreen data. This can be particularly problematic for large quantities of data and in contexts of organisational and managerial decision making. Another concern is how users can interact with, navigate and filter displayed data. These issues are encompassed by the usability of the user interface to information systems. With the ubiquity of computing resources in the 21st century, data are gathered by organisations in vast quantities, stored and queried for organisational ends. However there are questions regarding the usability of such data, and their value to managers faced with decisions at operational, tactical and strategic levels. Solutions to increase the usability of graphical user interfaces, to the display of information on computer screens, and to address the increased effort associated with the usage of large amounts of data need to be addressed. Where an information system uses and displays large amounts of data on computer screens, such as spreadsheet applications or database- or web-based searches, there can be compromises in ease of use, usefulness, and perceptions towards the friendliness of the data as workable and2 appropriate for certain tasks. Sometimes it can be better to display data in aggregate form, in tables or as charts, and with drill-down or exploratory opportunities for various purposes; on the other hand for some decision making scenarios it can be better to present and visualise data in their entirety, and can sometimes involve various kinds of visualisation aids and display formats. Indeed, in decision-making usage scenarios usability- or user performance shortcomings of various kinds of informational display formats may be influenced by the type and usage of such formats and display approaches, and compensated by software functionality that provides decision task support. If such shortcomings can be addressed and compensated, perhaps through support systems targeting improved efficacy or usability in terms of the usage of information systems for decision-making tasks, or through approaches to matching display formats with task, then the usefulness and user perceptions towards the suitability and usability of data for critical or important organisational and managerial function may be positively impacted. This paper discusses various approaches to data display and presentation on information systems, and presents a discussion on the suitability of presentation type for certain managerial decision-making tasks.
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