Every year, Microsoft Research shows off its best stuff to the rest of the company, to see what might be commercialized. Dr Bongshin Lee's demo of SketchInsight looks to be a good bet, because it's the kind of thing that every COO would want, and it could also be widely adopted in the education market.
SketchInsight is, essentially, an intelligent whiteboard that responds to drawn commands. For example, if you want a pie chart, you draw a circle, and if you want to change it to a bar chart, you draw a bar. Drawing an L shape will create a graph with X and Y axes, while handwriting "ye" or "pop" will label the axes by finding "years" and "population" in the data, as Lee's demo shows. In effect, it looks like a graphical version of Autocomplete.
Microsoft said: "Creating personalized, expressive data charts becomes quick and easy. The presenter simply sketches an example, and SketchInsight automatically completes the chart by synthesizing from example sketches."
Of course, it would be possible to produce the same sort of illustrations using PowerPoint. However, SketchInsight enables presenters to create illustrations as and when required, and change them with a single touch. For example, in a presentation about regional sales, the presented can eliminate areas by touching them on a map or create new illustrations in response to questions.
Although the big-screen demo shows SketchInsight being used for a presentation, the same ideas could presumably be used to explore and analyse datasets on a tablet PC such as Microsoft Surface Pro. I'm sure anyone who has struggled with Excel charts (eg, me) would welcome something that is actually easy to use. However, the demonstration video doesn't specify a particular system, nor does it explain how datasets are prepared and loaded.
The video can be viewed at or downloaded from the Microsoft Research page: Telling Stories with Data via Freeform Sketching. It's also available on YouTube.