In spite of all the discussion in recent years about "big data," many companies have yet to figure out how to use data to their benefit and make smarter, more informed decisions. In fact, according to Peter Fahlman, CEO of data visualization company Telemetry, most companies are sitting on a mountain of raw data that they don't know how to find, extract and use. His company's offering is a visualization service that works in concert with either ETL tools (extract, translate and load) or by calling the Telemetry API directly, enabling an enterprise to beam data in real-time for display on TV monitors, mobile devices or websites. The end result: Easy-to-read charts and graphs that communicate at a glance virtually any metric you want to track.

For example, earlier this year organizers of the South by Southwest music, film and technology conference used Telemetry to monitor foot traffic and see in real time where bodies were aggregating and which venues were most popular. Another customer used the cloud platform to create data visualizations that track user behavior as a person navigates through a video game. Regardless of what you want to track--whether it's internal data sources, information from external service platforms such as Basecamp, Github and MailChimp, or the endless stream of data from the "Internet of Things"--visualizing data across the enterprise is going to be a large opportunity in the future, Fahlman says.

Here's his advice on how to make good use of the incredible volume of data your company is likely generating.

1. Identify your mission-critical metrics.

Telemetry was born out of financial services company Exact Transactions, which processes millions of dollars in transactions all day, every day, and needed a way for employees to see things like current transactions, transactions over time, dollar volume and service capacity so as to make faster, more informed decisions. "If you go one minute and you're not processing transactions properly, it's a big deal," Fahlman says. Once Exact Transactions was able to display that data on TV monitors throughout the company and to employee mobile phones, decision makers were able to detect patterns that hadn't been obvious before their ability to see it visualized over time.

2. Measure, segment and collect your data.

Wherever you're generating data--whether it's within internal databases or third-party cloud platforms--there are probably easy ways to organize it. "Many of the data tools used for collection will have available APIs and they will help you simplify the collection of this data simple [and make it] easy for you to manipulate," he says. To instill a culture around using data to drive decision making, train your IT function in data, or even hire data analysts, Fahlman suggests.

3. Visualize and monitor your data in real time.

Humans are good at pattern recognition, Fahlman says, so if you can present data in simple charts and graphs while it's happening employees are going to be better prepared to respond. "Real time visualizations create a hyper-reality in which the data can help you anticipate problems before they happen," he says. "If you see data persistently, it's visualized and it's in real time, you get a definite sense of how the day is going."

4. Distribute data to the key stakeholders in your organization.

Meetings are where companies typically distribute information with the aim of fostering agreement between stakeholders but when you automate the distribution of data--making sure the right people have constant access to it--alignment naturally occurs. "Even if it's information you're not really happy about, knowing is better than not knowing," Fahlman says. "It doesn't mean the organization can't maintain control over the data--obviously not all data gets shipped to all employees. If you have a good distribution system on how to manage and broadcast your data the company can control what employees see, what access to what information they have without compromising the integrity or safety of the business intelligence, which is also key."

5. Create a culture of feedback in which you allow data to influence your decisions.

Once you have your real-time visualizations distributed to the right people they can use data to drive decisions which are validated with even more data. "So this creates positive feedback where [a] stakeholder [is] now empowered to base his or her decisions on the data that they're seeing," he says. "So you start asking better questions about the data and getting better data expressed."

The Telemetry software as a service starts at $108 a year.