PHONE COMPANIES ARE SITting on gold mines of information. Details about who calls whom, how long they're on the phone, and whether a line is used for fax as well as voice can be invaluable in targeting sales of services and equipment to specific customers. But these tidbits are buried under masses of unintelligible numbers.
AT&T's equipment spin-off, Lucent Technologies Inc., is using "data visualization" to bring information to life. Instead of people trying to extract meaning from columns of endless digits, a computer converts the numbers into graphics that can unmask previously hidden patterns. For example, each line in the illustration above is a call between dots, or phones. Note the island at the center. This marks a cluster of heavy callers who talked to one another a lot. Yet they made few outside calls.
The software can peel away low-volume callers, find the people who account for most calls, or display only calls that lasted more than an hour. Many marketing programs could be fine-tuned with the use of such information, says Daniel E. Fyock, technical manager in Lucent's data-visualization products group.