SUMMARY BOX


PROS: Easy-to-use visualizations; ability to combine data from multiple sources; supports offline analysis; intuitive filtering capability; smart annotation features
CONS: Client machine does all the work; can't pull data from Microsoft Analysis Services; limited to a single dataset per DXP file
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
PRICE: Starts at $3,000 for a 3-year renewable license; volume pricing is available
RECOMMENDATION: If your users are tired of plain old reports, DXP Professional can help you quickly convert your data into information by using a rich set of visualizations.
Contact: Spotfire
800-245-4211
http://www.spotfire.com

Spotfire DXP Professional 1.1 is a business intelligence tool with a set of rich visualizations for quickly finding the information you need to make decisions. It is part of a suite of products that includes Spotfire DXP Enterprise Player and Spotfire Analytics Server.

DXP Professional can pull data from many sources: for example, relational databases, text files, Excel files, and even SAS data files. You can even copy data from an Excel spreadsheet or text file and paste it into the application as a new dataset. It doesn't get much easier than cut-and-paste. However, DXP Professional can't pull data from Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS). The entire dataset is downloaded to the client machine and cached in memory. All aggregations and calculations are performed locally as well. This can put some strain on the local machine’s resources, so you need to make sure you limit the data you pull to only those columns that are absolutely necessary for your analysis. I recommend running DXP Professional on a machine with at least 1GB of RAM installed.

You can choose among ten different visualizations in DXP Professional that make analyzing your data a breeze. The Cross Table visualization contains a feature called Continuous Color, which sets the fill color of each cell according to its relative position within the range of values. This setup makes it easier to spot the high and low values in the data. In the Bar Chart, you can choose to “auto-bin” numeric values placed on the X-axis. Doing so creates bins or buckets to group the data, allowing you to compare the groups. You can adjust the number of bins dynamically by using a slider bar. I used this feature with the Baseball dataset that's included in the DXP Professional samples to discover that those players paid between 13 and 17 million dollars in 2005 had fewer hits than all other salary groups but had the third highest number of home runs, as Figure 1 shows. Scatter Plot lets you quickly and easily set the color, shape, and size of the data points by dragging a column to the appropriate section in the legend. This feature helps you to spot outliers and clusters within the data. You can select a data point or group of data points in any visualization and the application automatically highlights the same data in all the other visualizations. The DETAILS-ON-DEMAND pane in Figure 1 displays the records that represent the marked data points.

After you've created a set of views, you save them in a DXP file, which is organized into pages. Each page can contain any number of visualizations and annotations, making it easy to create a dashboard-style interface. A cover page is included automatically to enable the author to provide a description of the analysis contained in the file, instructions for how to use the file, or any other pertinent information. The pages can be represented as tabs or as a series of numbered hyperlinks with Back and Next links for creating a guided workflow, also called guided analysis. When saving the file, you can choose to link or embed the data. Linking the data allows the information to be refreshed, or requeried, when the file is opened. Embedding the data lets the user perform analysis offline, such as while on an airplane, for example. Annotations can also be added to the pages and can contain formatted text, images, or links. Links can point to an external Web page or some feature or area within DXP Professional such as Printing or Exporting to PowerPoint, or they can switch the user to a different page.

DXP Professional makes it easy to filter data. Filters are automatically created for each column in your data set. The application bases its determination of the type of filter on the data type of each column and the number of distinct values. Each filter can be configured as a slider bar, radio buttons, check boxes, or a text box. You can hide columns that you don’t want the users to change or that don’t make sense to filter on. You can place the filters in groups and arrange them in hierarchies to provide logical aggregations of the data. It can be a bit tedious to configure everything just right if you have a lot of columns. However, if you are using the Spotfire Analytics Server, you can save the settings in what is called an Information Link so that they can be reused.

If your company is using SSAS and you're in the market for a good business intelligence tool, you might want to look elsewhere. However, if you want a tool that can generate quick insight into the data you have sitting in a relational database or Excel spreadsheet, you should consider DXP Professional.