The ability to quickly receive a graph from a colleague and then manipulate it directly from a Web browser is a great decision-making aid.
Spotfire Inc.s Spotfire DecisionSite Posters 7.1.1 does just that, providing a Web portal and slim Web-based client for the companys DecisionSite data analysis and charting server.
In eWEEK Labs tests using DecisionSite Posters 7.1.1, we could click on a link sent to us in an e-mail message and then view a particular chart that we had sent to ourselves from a different PC. We could then explore chart data and add our comments to a discussion panel. The product also has a Web-based chart repository for browsing or searching for particular charts protected by user and group security controls.
The Spotfire package, which was released last month, is a new product despite the version number. It requires a preinstalled copy of DecisionSite (the DecisionSite Windows client to design charts and the DecisionSite server to generate them).
The complete system is expensive, with entry-level deployments ranging from $50,000 to $150,000.
The DecisionSite server requires a copy of Oracle Corp.s Oracle8i Database Version 8.1.6 or 8.1.7 (Oracle9i Database is not yet supported) and a Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 or Solaris 8 server with 1GB of RAM. The Web client, called Posters, requires Microsoft Corp.s IE (Internet Explorer) 5.0 or later Web browser.
Views From the Top
As a whole, DecisionSite is a top-of-market data visualization tool and differentiates itself by the ways it can present several dimensions of data in a single view, its support for very large scientific data sets and through a series of vertical extensions that tailor the product for specific industries.
In particular, DecisionSite has extension modules for chemical and drug testing data analysis, genomic research, process manufacturing analysis, and oil reservoir testing. These extensions include integration with specialized third-party chemical structure, drug and genome databases.
Organizations in these industry sectors should investigate the capabilities that DecisionSite can offer, particularly with the new collaboration features that Posters provides.
DecisionSite also has general-purpose extensions for geographic data analysis (including support for map data from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.) and for general statistical and data mining analysis. (The data mining tools provide clustering and decision tree algorithms.)
Statistical and data mining features are becoming much more common in lower-end data analysis tools: SAS Institute Inc., Cognos Inc. and Business Objects S.A., for example, all offer data analysis tools that cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and these tools can perform similar functions to what DecisionSite provides in this area.
Publishing a chart to posters from the native Windows DecisionSite client was a simple matter of formatting the chart and filtering data as desired, then clicking on a link to publish the chart. When we had multiple charts open showing different views of our test data, the resulting Web publication (or poster) included all our open charts in minimized form.
Unfortunately, the Web client offers far less functionality than the Windows client. The Web client supports only two-dimensional scatter charts, histograms (with automatic binning) and bar charts. Line, pie and heat map charts; all three-dimensional charts; and numeric tables arent supported. This is a shame because 3-D scatter charts are particularly useful for complex data analysis.
Posters uses an ActiveX-based chart viewer on the client side that provides some level of interactivity—albeit at the cost of browser interoperability. We could refilter data by dragging intuitive sliders to select a range of values and view selected data points by clicking and dragging on the graphs surface. The client displayed the numeric values of data points we selected, but we couldnt export this data for local processing.
There wasnt a print option, other than using the browsers own print facilities, which generated lousy printouts with awkward page breaks. Options for comma-delimited and Adobe Systems Inc. PDF exports would be good additions.
As mentioned, we could add comments to a message board associated with the chart. Each message is time-stamped and has the authors user name, but there is no ability to reply to a particular comment and so create a threaded discussion.
The native Windows DecisionSite client has considerably more features. Particularly impressive is the Windows clients ability to modify data points by color, shape, size, rotation or connecting lines to display more than two or three data dimensions on a 2-D or 3-D chart.
West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.