Tomorrow's business leaders and decision makers will no longer be confronted by graphs and spreadsheets of figures thanks to a Deakin University and SAS research collaboration which will harness the power of big data and visualisation technology.
The SAS Visual Analytics Collaboratory which will be housed at the University's Elgar Road Campus in the Faculty of Business and Law, was opened officially today (Thursday, March 6) by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander.
Deakin University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander, said the digital age had changed forever the way we did business, thought about education and communicated.
"Five years ago, we had only just begun to hear about apps, we had never twittered, Google was just another search engine and graphs and charts were at heart just two dimensional," Professor den Hollander said.
"Visual analytics not only has the potential to make complex data understandable to everyone, it makes it eminently interesting and engaging and absolutely relevant to individual business needs.
"It is an outstanding example of innovative and creative researchers working with our industry partners to create the jobs of the future and push the digital envelope to create something which benefits both parties as well as our students."
SAS Australia and New Zealand managing director David Bowie said SAS was delighted to be able to collaborate with Deakin University in this innovative way.
"Without projects of this type and vision, there will not be enough skilled people to manage the exponential growth in Big Data that is now under way," he said.
He added that SAS was firmly committed to helping ensure communities would have the skills to take advantage of the values embedded in Big Data, for both business productivity and the common good.
Deakin University offers a Master of Business Analytics program to develop business analytics professionals and bridge the big data skills gap.
"SAS is a key contributor to this program, supplying both analytical tools to be used by students during the course as well as adjunct lecturers, sharing SAS' industry leading best practice and insights," Mr Bowie said.
Lead researcher in the new centre, Associate Professor Jacob Cybulski from the University's School of Information and Business Analytics showed attendees how SAS could enable data to be visualised in a walkthrough, immersive 3D environment.
"People have so much data at their disposal nowadays which is more complex than can be captured easily on a spreadsheet and shown in graphs," he said.
Associate Professor Cybulski said that by using gaming, motion capture and 3D visualisation technology, as well as, the analytics software donated by SAS, the researchers were experimenting with different metaphorical environments where people would be able to 'enter' and easily work with the data.
"This approach is used in engineering and architecture, but not so much in the business world mainly because there hasn't been a standard and uniform approach to representing the data," he said.
Associate Professor Cybulski said 20 years ago first users of Excel questioned whether charts and graphs were needed.
"In 20 years' time as gamers and people familiar with gaming technology become decision makers, their confidence will be with this technology rather than spreadsheets and pie charts," he said.
Associate Professor Cybulski said the researchers had been experimenting with a range of environments including one (see animation here) where the participant was able to move across the data which is represented in the form of terrain, with peaks and troughs in the form of hills and valleys.
"As you walk across or around the data, you can place markers, plot paths and construct tours, the locations of interest in the 'data terrain' which you would want to explore more fully," he said.
"Ultimately we want to put people in the data, have them moving around and use motion tracking technology such as Kinect. Instead of using a mouse and keyboard, they will use their hand gestures to control what is happening in the data terrain."
Associate Professor Cybulski said the researchers would not be sequestered away in a laboratory hidden from view.
"In the centre of the faculty building, the massive TV screen will show students, staff and visitors, the researchers at work," he said.
"We will be inviting students and casual people walking in to interact with the software and the experimental environments we create and to collect their feedback on our research.
"We are aiming our work at people who are not experts in stats and computer science."
Video: Watch the technology in action at the launch