I just returned from one of the most interesting and innovative business events I've ever attended. The City of Charlotte sponsored a "Business Analysis Olympiad" to promote the business value of visual data analysis software as well as to create a community of visual analysts within the city’s key businesses. When employees use data and information more effectively, they make better business decisions and thus serve the citizens of Charlotte better.

The contest was created by the Business Systems Support group in the IT department and attracted teams from across the city’s 14 departments to learn about the new ways that they could visualize and analyze data. In other words, IT functioned as a pro-active consultant to business units to improve their present practices.

The data set for the contest involved the sinking of the Titanic, the origin of the passengers and their fares. 12 teams of 2 persons each used Tableau to analyze this data set and present their findings. These teams included the Department of Transportation, Charlotte Area Transit System, Charlotte Fire Department (they had fans that came to support them), Economic Development Office, Engineering & Property Management, Planning, and Solid Waste Services.

After working with Tableau and the Titanic data for about 1 week, each team had exactly 5 minutes to present their findings. All teams did a great job and many of the teams had impressive presentations given the limited time they had with the product and data set. We saw sheet linking, business dashboards, scatter charts, stacked bars, pyramids, various time series, integrated mapping, imported moving visuals across the ocean, summary tables, pie charts, tabular, annotations, good use of color, data labels, trend lines, bar in a bar, Gantt charts and table calculations. The city is a huge user of GIS and many of the teams took to our mapping capabilities in a NY minute.

Professor Robert Kosara of the UNC at Charlotte, Julie Burch, Assistant City Manager, and I were the judges. Choosing the winners was a challenge but after a detailed discussion we made the following choices:

  • First Place -- "Trash Talkers" from Solid Waste Services. The analysts were Kimberly Jenkins and James Gray with Michelle Moore as their sponsor.
  • Second Place -- "Research Methods" from Planning. The analysts were Ruchi Agarwai and Evan Lowry with Steve Patterson as their sponsor.
  • Third Place -- "Quality CATS" from Charlotte Area Transit System. Analysts were Celia Gray and Shelly McKee with Cilia Gray as their sponsor.

The first place team, Trash Talkers, did an excellent job of using Tableau to tell stories with the data. They showed that there was significant empty space in some of the lifeboats. They also used an overlapping bar chart to clearly show that it was better to be a first or second class female than a third class male. Below is one of their visualizations. Also, you can download their packaged workbook (which can be viewed with either Tableau Desktop or free Tableau Reader).

Second place went to Research Methods. Here is one of their dashboards. Also, you can download their packaged workbook part A or part B (both of which can be viewed with either Tableau Desktop or free Tableau Reader).

Third place went to Quality CATS. Here is one of their dashboards. Also, you can download their packaged workbook (which can be viewed with either Tableau Desktop or free Tableau Reader).

Congratulations not only to the winners and the participants but also to Jim Raper and his Business Systems Support group for putting on such a creative, fun and educational data visualization event. With this kind of thoughtfulness, creativity and innovation, it's no wonder that City of Charlotte has been named a best place to live numerous times.

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