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bpierce

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Reply with quote  #1 
In his September/October 2009 article, titled "Fundamental Differences in Analytical Tools: Exploratory, Custom, or Customizable," Stephen explained that there are three basic categories of analytical tools, each intended for a specific audience and suited for specific types of analytical tasks. Do you agree? Is there something you'd like to add?

-Bryan
jbliss

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Reply with quote  #2 

I had an opportunity to play around with Tableau a while back (demo).  It wasn't entirely intuitive. I think to become proficient with it would take me some time and effort.  This is ok for me, since my role is as an information analyst.  However, this would pose a significant problem for program managers in our human services organization.  One of the things I would like to see is some relatively simple, short-time-frame tutorial or interface (I'm just thinking out loud)--something that would bring folks from the spreadsheet paradigm into visual analysis. Along these lines, it seems rather easy to develop analytical tools for people accustom to doing analysis (statisticians and others who are good with numbers).  However, I think it is really challenging to develop these tools for individuals who need help with using the data they collect to make better quality decisions.

sfew

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Reply with quote  #3 
jbliss,

Nothing that is new and different is completely intuitive. Intuition is developed through experience. The fact that a tool requires instruction and practice to develop proficiency in its use is simply the way it is. If it is unfamiliar, it must be learned. What's important is that it is no harder to learn than the concepts and activities it supports, and that once learned, it works exceptionally well.

I think this is important to point out, because BI software vendors have been selling us a load of crap for years by claiming that their tools are completely intuitive--that they require no learning. Then they give us tools that are either exactly like every other tool we've ever seen, which of course is intuitive because its already familiar, or is completely incomprehensible, because it is in fact different, but designed incredibly poorly. Anything that is new and unfamiliar requires learning. Anyone who wishes to analyze data must develop the skills of data analysis. This requires time and commitment. Good tools put this goal within reach, but they don't make it happen instantly--there's no magic involved.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that software vendors ought to provide good training programs--not only for learning their software, but also for developing the basic skills that are required to use their software effectively, which in this case are data analysis skills. In Tableau's case, I believe you'll find that they provide several good training resources on their website, including free webcasts, a host of examples, good documentation, and a new book by Stephen McDaniel.

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Stephen Few
beeker85

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Reply with quote  #4 
I've had some success in creating a dashboard acquisition "roadmap", which is both exploratory and custom, using Adobe Flex combined with the ILOG Elixir module that functions like Microsoft Project. If you haven't evaluated Adobe Flex as an effective visualization framework, I recommend you do. It requires custom development, but the environment is quick to master, and one gets exactly what one wants, which is very useful when following the guidance of your Information Dashboard book!
Andrei

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Reply with quote  #5 

I actually very interested to know Stephen's opinion about how he compares from this angle 2 most advanced tools I know: Spotfire and Qlikview. I also expecting Microsoft PowerPivot (former Gemini) and another free Excel 2010 Add-in - Solver Foundation to interfere with competition between Qlikview and Spotfire.


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Andrei
sfew

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Reply with quote  #6 
Andrei,

I'll begin with Microsoft Power Pivot (formerly Project Gemini), an add-in for Excel 2010, developed by Microsoft. It's interesting, isn't it, that Microsoft is developing add-ins for one of its own products. Why not incorporate this into the base product? This wasn't developed by the team that's responsible for Excel. I suspect that the Power Pivot team is more in touch with analytics than the Excel team, but if so, not by much. Power Pivot is an attempt by Microsoft to add ways to interact with data that are more direct, seamless, and rapid than what's built into Excel--more along the lines of visual analysis products such as Spotfire and Tableau. Unfortunately, this is a late attempt by Microsoft to catch up by copying functionality in these more powerful products, but it is several years behind them in design and functionality. In other words, Power Pivot will not enable Microsoft to compete with these other products that were built for data analysis from the ground up.

Now, regarding QlikView and Spotfire. It wouldn't make sense for you to choose between these two products, because this is an apples and oranges comparison. Spotfire is a powerful visual analysis tool that can be used both for exploratory data analysis and for the development of custom analytical applications. In addition, its functionality extends into the realm of advanced visualization techniques, including advanced statistical functions (for example, clustering algorithms). QlikView is more of a developer's product (albeit one that doesn't require deep programming expertise) that can be used to build custom data visualization applications of various types, such as dashboards for monitoring information as well as custom applications for analyzing data. In my article, "Fundamental Differences in Analytical Tools", I mentioned QlikView as a product that fits into the category of tools that can be used to build custom applications, but not in the category of tools that can be easily used for exploratory data analysis, unless a developer has used it to build an application for exploring a particular set of data in particular rather than open-ended ways.

Both products are viable, but they aren't direct competitors. They would only face one another in competition in situations when the customer doesn't understand them and their significant differences. Unfortunately, this probably happens quite often. I write articles like "Fundamental Differences in Analytical Tools" to help organizations make more informed buying decisions.


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Stephen Few
Andrei

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Reply with quote  #7 
Stephen:

thank you very much for reply, I am glad that you confirmed my thoughts: most buyers have no time and knowledge to make an informed decision and vendors sometimes misleading them intentionally.
Also I am aware of many situations when very different products like Spotfire and Qlikview are competing.

One small note in regard of Microsoft's PowerPivot and Solver Foundation - yes Microsoft is way behind, but history can give us a lesson. Microsoft was way behind Borland in IDE (Integrated Development Environment) market, but because Microsoft had (and has) huge cash reserves, they was able to hire 30+ best developers from Borland, invest 10% into Borland to make it silent and end-up with best IDE on market, called Visual Studio.

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Andrei
sfew

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Reply with quote  #8 
Andrei,

Microsoft might not be able to do today what it has done in the past. Since Bill Gates stepped down a few years ago, the landscape has changed. Microsoft no longer enjoys the firm position of dominance that it once had. And even if Microsoft could catch up by buying the talent that it lacks, should we be rooting for a company that maintains dominance in this way rather than by being innovative and effective in its work? Without a culture of excellence, buying talent or buying the good work of others won't keep a company afloat for long.

I'd love to see Microsoft rise again, but only if it does so by being a good software company, not simply by taking advantage of its deep pockets.

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Stephen Few
guycuthbert

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Reply with quote  #9 
Stephen

I've just read the article in question (rather late to the table, I know!) and found it interesting - the differentiation between the 3 classes of application is important and, as other commentators have noted, poorly understood by many purchasers of BI tools.

One tool that I would add to the Exploratory camp, with definite crossover into the others (as you note is often the case with Tableau et al) is Visokio Omniscope - the breadth of visualisation models available through Omniscope (as well as its willingness to tackle a wide variety of data sources, and ability to output Flash applets) makes it very capable at handling many custom applications... although it doesn't offer the programmability of QlikView et al.

Thanks again for the article - I'm going to read back through the archives for other pieces...

sfew

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Reply with quote  #10 
Guy,

The timing of your comment about Omniscope from Visokio is perfect. Until a few days ago, I hadn't taken a look at Omniscope for awhile, but I have just finished a quick review. Omniscope is similar in design and functionality to other exploratory visual analysis tools such as Tableau and Spotfire. It offers a broad assortment of visualizations and even a couple unique functions that I haven't seen in other tools. While good in many respects, it's interface, the design of its visualizations, and the way some of its features work could be improved in several ways. I'd love to get my hands on it to make these adjustments. I would especially like to polish the product's visual appearance. 

For a product that has been created and maintained by a tiny company like Visokio, however, I'm amazed at the breadth of functionality that it offers. They are clearly a talented team of developers. With the right improvements, Omniscope could be a contender.

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Stephen Few
Eliza

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Reply with quote  #11 
I really enjoyed your article and appreciate the straight-forward approach to examining a few of the analytical software tools out there.  I've used Tableau, Advizor Analyst and of course, Excel and Harvard Graphics in the past.

I have to say that I took the time to learn some of the tricks of Tableau recently and have pretty much fallen in love with using it.  I have found it  much easier to learn and implement than other tools I've used in the past, in addition to the fact that I find the graphics to be simple and elegant, yet effective.  They are also easy to integrate into written reports or to simply print out dashboards in a series of PDF reports, complete with footnotes on the analytical approach.  While I do find some limitations and hope for future expansion and improvements, I think the company does a good job of listening to its customers and making notable upgrades over time.  I'd really like to have some drawing tools and the ability to overlay images or text.  Perhaps I just haven't figured that out yet!

I'm evaluating a new product called Rapid Insight from a small company in New England.  I participated in a product demo and thought it has some merits as well. 

Look forward to possibly attending one of your seminars in Boston later in June and reading some of your books.


Excelholics

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Reply with quote  #12 
I think that the world has missed the power of Excel to produce amazing visual analytics, primarily because no one took the trouble to explore the power of excel to carry out exploratory, custom or customisible data analysis. I have been using Excel to perform many great analystics for many companies and in the course of training people to use excel in the most creative manner all over the world, the partcipants have been able to make key transformation in their workplace to solve the most pressing business problems without the use of expensive anlaytical tools mentioned in the article. It is really unfortunate that all the excel book in the market talk about the use of excel functions but not how to use the various excel functions in combination and in a proper set up to achieve the most amazing results.  For an example of automated reporting go to:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzuEtMw6990


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KK Tang
sfew

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Reply with quote  #13 
KK,

Unfortunately, the automated reporting that you can do with Excel is not an example of exploratory visual analysis. In fact, Excel does not support exploratory visual analysis. At best, you can use Excel to create an application for a specific analytical task (not for flexible exploratory analysis), but even then you lack most of the functionality and many of the visualizations (chart types) that are required for anything but primitive data exploration and analysis. Excel is a fairly good spreadsheet tool, especially if your charting requirements are limited, but spreadsheets were not designed for exploratory data analysis.

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Stephen Few
pgali

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Reply with quote  #14 
Stephen,

I read this article recently and wanted to know what you think about Oracle Endeca Information Discovery - would you consider this as a decent Customizable Analytics Solution? Along the same lines as QlikView?

PG

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-pgali
sfew

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Reply with quote  #15 
pgali,

I've never encountered Oralce Endeca in the wild and I've never been briefed on the product. Unless I have a reason to believe that a product is good or I'm specifically asked by the vendor to look at it, I tend to ignore products. Today is the first time that I've heard the product's name since the original press release that introduced it years ago. Perhaps others have encountered the product (not counting Oracle employees) and have an opinion.

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Stephen Few
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