The Separate Benefits of Real-Time and Historical Data Visualization

It’s safe to say that everyone has some sort of concept of data visualization. We live in a very visual world, replete with pie charts, trend graphs, heat maps, and infographics. The use of graphics to display data for easy consumption and analysis is very common. In fact, it has been happening since ancient times. What is less common is the graphic display of real-time data – data that is continuously updated as new data is generated by connected devices or people. Real-time data visualization - when done correctly – can transform decision-making and lead to a completely new understanding of the people, places, and things with which we interact.

While most of us have encountered real-time data visualization at one time or another (think of the digital signage at the airport keeping you apprised of flight schedules or the sign at your local bank displaying the current temperature), most haven’t considered how this concept differs from the standard type of data visualization we encounter in reports and presentations.

This distinction between real-time data visualization and historical data visualization is key, as they serve two very different purposes and should not be – as they often are – treated in the same way.

Real-time data visualization does not used past data to plan future activities (though historical data can and should be used to plan the creation of the real-time visualization). Real-time visualization is used to provide an instantaneous look at the current conditions of a person, place or thing.

Real-time data is not used to make plans; it is used to make decisions. This distinction requires that we approach real-time data visualization with a different philosophical and practical tact than that used to approach historical visualization.

Excerpted from the whitepaper "Real-Time Data Visualization Essentials", downloaded at