Data visualization: from data to insights. Meet the Ordina expert.

Joris Klerkx

Our brain thinks in images. A video sticks longer in our minds than a typed interview. We get faster insights from an infographic than from a summary of the figures. And bar, line, pie, and bubble charts help us interpret data and numbers, speeding up the decision-making process. As Joris Klerkx, practice manager at VisionWorks, sums up: “seeing is understanding.” Through data visualization, he helps customers solve complex BI issues.

If you type ‘Joris Klerkx’ in a search engine, that’s what you’ll get: Joris is no stranger to the world of data visualization. He studied the subject at KU Leuven for 13 years, first as a PhD student – in addition to his studies in computer sciences – and then as a research manager and research expert. He has supervised many students working on their dissertations and until recently was giving guest lectures on the value of data visualization.

Visualization in learning environments

“During my academic career I did a lot of research into the power of visualization in learning environments. The value of visualization is not limited to education, however,” Joris adds. “Those who have to make decisions in companies can’t rely on their gut feeling anymore. They have to dissect data and extract links and trends. Data visualization is at least as important there.” When he was a researcher, Joris collaborated with, among other institutions, VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to identify the visualization needs of companies. In fact, this is what triggered his switch to the business world: he wanted to apply his academic knowledge to real-life situations, respond to needs quicker and really be in the front line, i.e. have contacts with customers. Out of his many suitors, Joris chose Ordina. “Because of the many large customers in different sectors and the open, human corporate culture,” he explains.

Those who have to make decisions in companies can’t rely on their gut feeling anymore. They have to dissect data and extract links and trends.

From information to insights

In 2017 Joris swapped academia for VisionWorks, our BI and analytics business unit, where he worked as a data visualization consultant and solution expert. He is now a practice manager since January 2019: in addition to overseeing customer projects, he also develops a vision and objectives for his team, looks for prospects, shares his knowledge and even recruits new colleagues.

Over the past two years, did he notice an evolution in the questions asked by customers? “Absolutely. Data visualization is nothing new, of course. Business Intelligence (BI) solutions have been visualizing KPIs in dashboards for decades, but it’s not because data is presented in a dashboard that it also provides insight. For years this caused resentment between IT and business people: while the IT team was proud of the dashboards they provided, the users often couldn’t understand them. By cleverly visualizing information and combining different data into one whole or a pattern, you show the correlation between data. This is how you ensure that the information is also understood,” says Joris. “Companies are starting to realise that. More and more, big data projects also include data visualization.”

By combining different data into one whole or a pattern, you ensure that the information is also understood.

Design thinking and co-creation

The team’s customer portfolio is growing rapidly. In the past months they produced a whole battery of successful visualization projects for various companies: from Nike and grid operator Elia to banking and insurance companies.

According to Joris, they owe their success to their methodology. VisionWorks invariably proposes a short pilot project to demonstrate the benefits of data visualization. Design thinking is their method of choice: “We intentionally work in very short design sprints, over a couple of weeks mainly,” he explains. “Co-creation is extremely important in this process. Instead of asking the customer ‘what do you need’, we bring together IT and future users and try to understand how they work and which specific challenge they face. Based on these insights, we develop a prototype that we present in a ‘hallway test’: we ask two individuals what they see and which patterns they recognise. This sometimes leads to surprising feedback, which we immediately incorporate into the model. It’s the best way to quickly achieve a tangible result. Better still, actively involving the users in the design sprint makes sure we get plenty of ambassadors from the get-go.”

By actively involving users in the design sprint, you get plenty of ambassadors from the get-go.

Tools in line with the needs

The customer’s needs are also a determining factor in selecting the tools to visualize data. Joris: “Data visualization always starts with a sketch on paper. We use a wide range of tools to translate that sketch into a prototype. It used to be Java in 2D but now the team can choose from many software packages: from Tableau, PowerBI and QlikView to D3.js for more complex models. However, the tools are but a means to convey the message. For each project we choose the solution that best fits the customer’s needs.”

Affordable, yet great results

Joris has been a fervent supporter of data visualization for 15 years. Together with a growing number of colleagues, he can now translate his knowledge into practice. “Whether a huge multinational or the chipper around the corner, every business will benefit from being able to also visualize the data it collects and to discover patterns. And there is nothing stopping them: a visualization project is very affordable. The initial outlay is small and the results are immediately noticeable,” Joris concludes. “Our customers have understood that. When I started here in 2017, our team consisted of five experts. Today we are 20. And counting!”

Whether a huge multinational or the chipper around the corner, every business will benefit from visualization. And there is nothing stopping them: a visualization project is very affordable.


Wondering how Ordina can help you? Feel free to contact Joris