Statistics Software<@VM>Some Applications target specific tasks
If you want to make your agency's numbers count, these packages add up to sucess
By Larry Stevens
Special to GCN
You don't have to be a statistician at the Census Department or a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to need statistical or data analysis software. Once used primarily for scientific research, the functions offered in these packages have now permeated the business and government arenas, providing what is called business intelligence.
So while it will always be used for things such as tracking epidemics and mapping demographics, data analysis software is also applied to such tasks as controlling inventory, keeping track of purchase orders, estimating labor costs and anticipating user demands.
The oldest statistical packages come from SPSS Inc. and SAS Institute Inc. Both companies' early products ran on mainframes and were used primarily at universities and governmental research organizations. Their products, such as SPSS for Windows and SAS' StatView, are still the mainstays of professional statisticians. these products have a relatively steep learning curve and are fairly expensive, but they can be used in a very wide range of applications such as survey research, process improvement and process analysis.
Casual users probably won't find the standard SPSS or StatView products inviting. But both companies have recently released features aimed at nonstatistician; so the required level of sophistication for users is dropping.
For example, version 3.0 of SAS' Enterprise Miner provides a graphical user interface for the front end of its SEMMA'sample, explore, modify, model, assess'process. Users access all the statistical and data preparations tools, such as clustering, decision trees, variable transformations and random sampling, through point-and-click actions.
And the recently released Version 10 of SPSS for Windows adds a direct Microsoft Excel interface and a new table-to-graph feature that automatically converts tabular data into visual graphs for easier analysis.
Although some nonstatisticians can be taught to use statistical analysis packages, most organizations that need large-scale business intelligence capability turn to online analytical processing products. The applications aim to provide users a means of creating views of multiple relationships in large quantities of summarized data. The multidimensional analysis, along with the easy reporting tools, are the two defining features of OLAP, which otherwise is a somewhat vague category that includes many different types of applications.
With OLAP applications, users can examine performance data and do comparison and trend analyses. The applications can be used for such things as analyzing the effectiveness of a consumer information program, financial reporting, quality tracking and manpower needs assessments.
For example, you can track actual expenses against a budget or track income over time. You can view departments that are spending beyond their total annual budgets ranked by net differences, or view a list of the top five departments whose spending rates are below budget.
Originally, all OLAP programs had proprietary client software. Now, virtually all of them also have an Excel add-in as a client; if you're already spreadsheet-literate, you probably won't need much additional training.
Ironically, Microsoft has dropped the ball on the Excel interface in its SQL Server 7.0, according to Nigel Pendse, editor of The OLAP Report. 'It has produced possibly the weakest OLAP extension to Excel in the whole market, despite having a very good server,' Pendse said.
OLAP@Work, from OLAP@Work Inc., a third-party Excel add-in maker, fills that gap (see story, Page 23
Excel add-ins make OLAP easier for end users, but the server products are relatively expensive and difficult to set up, and almost always require information technology involvement. If your data analysis require are modest, you may be able to use a relatively inexpensive desktop PC product.
In fact, you may not have to buy anything. For light duty data analysis, Excel itself might fit the bill. Its new PivotTable views wizard helps you analyze your numbers from different perspectives. And to get different views of your data, you just drag and drop dimension headings from axis to axis.
A step up in functionality from Excel is QlikView from QlikTech Inc. This is more complex to set up than PivotTable, so it's a good thing agency applications typically are set up by the members of the IT department or by other sophisticated users. But once the application is set up, the learning curve for end users is close to Excel's.
A typical query using a desktop PC consists of small windows that display values stored in database tables. For example, in a budgetary application you might list department names in one window, regions in a second window and expenditures'such as office expenses, personnel and capital'in a third. If you want to know expenditures for personnel in a particular region for the previous six months, you just highlight the appropriate items in the windows.
Excel, QlikView and other similar products are relatively easy to use, but they do require some sophistication to set up because they can do so much. If you have specific statistical analysis requirements, you may be able to find products aimed directly at your needs.
One of them, CB Predictor from Decisioneering Inc., is aimed at prediction. It uses wizards to guide you through the analytical steps required to solve time series analysis and regression.
Time series analysis predicts the next element of a series that is arranged as a time sequence.
''it can be used to analyze and predict traffic flows and growth. Regression is used to estimate the value of one variable when other related variables are known. For example, it might show changes in productivity given different personnel levels.
Another type of specialty analysis product focuses on human resources. PeopleSoft Inc. provides a work force analysis product that works with its human resource management application, PeopleSoft HRMS.
PeopleSoft Enterprise Performance Management, Workforce Analytics Version 8.0 extracts data from HRMS to provide analysis of such things as compensation, retention rates and headcount. It also allows users to analyze performance indicators and benchmarks to help agencies evaluate, for example, how compensation or a specific benefits program affects retention.Extract or not?
If your database does not have a data extractor option, or if you want to extract data from a system to use in a data analysis package such as Excel, you might consider Monarch Data Pump from Datawatch Corp.
|Keep in mind|
- Products from SPSS and SAS are generally for professional statisticians or for sophisticated nonstatisticians. Don't get in over your head.
- Online analytical processing programs are fairly expensive and setup probably will require help from someone from the information technology department.
- Most OLAP systems have Microsoft Excel add-ins as clients.
- Casual users may find sufficient statistical power in Excel or other small-scale statistical packages.
- Some products are aimed at specific applications, such as analyzing human resource data, so you might find a product tailored to your needs.
Traditionally, organizations provide users data in the form of ASCII reports that are issued weekly, monthly or quarterly. Data Pump lets users extract data for analysis from these routinely generated reports. It allows you to identify the fields, apply filters to rid reports of unnecessary data, create derived fields that have been calculated based on filtration, and create summary fields made up of calculations applied to other fields.
Disparaging jokes about bean counters not withstanding, controlling and improving operations requires data and statistical analysis.
For professionals, powerful packets that used to require mainframe strength can now be used on systems running Microsoft Windows.
And for nonmathematicians, there are many products that skillfully hide the analytic operations behind easy-to-use drag-and-drop buttons, menus and toolbars.Larry Stevens of Monson, Mass., is a free-lance writer and reviewer of information technology products.
|Company||Product||Platform||RAM required||Disk space required||Description||Price|
|Adaytum Software, Inc.|
|e.Planning||Win9x, NT, Win2000||64M||64M||Increases budget and forecast accuracy by enabling more frequent updates from greater numbers of contributors||$50,000|
|Angoss Software Corp.|
|knowledgeSTUDIO 3.0||Win9x, NT, Solaris||60M||50M||Provides data mining workbench||$7,500 up|
|KnowledgeSEEKER4.4||Unix (most versions), Win9x, NT||4M||3M||Analytical tool enables exploration, analysis and modeling of data in a variety of decision-support environments and contexts||$4,700 up|
|Application Consulting Group Inc.|
|The Active OLAP Suite v. 2.6.5||NT||512M||Varies||Provides a single point of entry to structured and unstructured corporate data and supporting application services||$600 up|
|ApplixiTM1 v.7.1.||Win98, NT, Solaris, HP-UX||128M||50M||Internet-based multidimensional OLAP platform for planning, budgeting and forecasting||$5,000 up|
|Cartesis Carat v 1.7||Win9x, NT, Unix (all versions that support Oracle or Sybase)||128M||34M||Multisource consolidation and reporting system for large organizations provides ad hoc and report-based analysis and performance measurement||$175,000 up for 8 licenses|
|PowerPlay 6.6||Win9x, Win 2000, NT 4.0, HP-UX, IBM AIX, Solaris||16M||74M||OLAP program includes a managed Web reporting feature||$60,000 up|
|Monarch Data Pump, Personal Edition||Win9x, NT||32M||20M||Allows users to easily automate complex and repetitive data conversions and extractions||$2,495|
|Monarch Data Pump, Server Edition||NT 4.0||48M||25M||Same||$19,995|
|Crystal Ball 5.0||Microsoft Excel||16M||5M||Uses Monte Carlo simulation models to analyze the risks and uncertainties associated with spreadsheet data||$685 up|
|CB Predictor 1.1||Excel||16M||1M||Solves time-series analysis and regression problems||$559|
|Dimensional Insight Inc.|
|Dl-Atlantis v.4||NT, Unix (most varieties)||256M||Varies with data size||Suite of tools transforms data into a data model that has pre-indexed all potential questions and reports that can be generated||$35,000 to $53,000|
|Dl-Diver C/S v.4.0.||Win9x, NT, Win2000||64M||Varies with data size||Data analysis and reporting client interface enables users to automate access to key metrics to manage and track processes||$500 to $750|
|ProClarity Analytical Platform V.2||Win9x, NT||32M||50M||Provides extensible, ActiveX platform for developing custom analytical applications for Microsoft SQL Server 7.0||$395 up|
|MicroStrategy Suite includes Agent v.6, Web v.||Win9x, NT, Win 2000||256k||Varies||Provides for analysis of multiple-terabyte databases and deployment to millions of users||Varies widely depending on products selected|
|OLAP@Work for Excel||Excel||64M||40M||Excel add-in OLAP client for SQL Server 7.0||$199|
|OLAP@Work for Office||Microsoft Office||64M||40M||Office add-in OLAP client for SQL Server 7.0||$399|
|OLAP@Work for Web Reporting||Java browser||none||none||Web reporting tools for Excel and Office products||$199|
|PeopleSoft Enterprise Performance Management, Workforce Analytics v 8.0||Internet Explorer or Netscape Browser||None||None||Allows analysis of the performance of recruiting and retention policies by measuring and analyzing key performance indicators such as employee turnover||$75,000 up|
|QlikView 4.03||Win9x, NT, Win 2000||32M||20M||Data analysis product allows you to query data by simple clicks on data values||$895 up|
|SAS Institute Inc.|
|StatView v.5||Win9x, NT, Win 2000, Mac OS7.1||8M||18M||Allows researchers and analysts to make use of collection data through the presentation of results||$695|
|JMP Statistical Discovery Software v.4||Win9x, NT, Win 2000, Mac OS 7.5||16M||40M||Integrates statistical thinking into data analysis||$895|
|Enterprise Miner v. 2.01||Win9x, NT||63M||512M||Provides a graphical user interface front end to the SEMMA process||$84,900 up|
|Seagate Software Inc.|
Scotts Valley, Calif.
|Seagate Crystal Reports v.8||Win9x, NT, Win 2000||32M||30M||Provides Web and Windows Reporting||$149 up|
|Seagate Info v.7||Win9x, NT, Win 2000||32M||235M||Integrates business intelligance-ad hoc query, reporting and multidimensional OLAP||Free for first 50 licenses; $295 for each additional user|
|Seagate Holos||NT, Unix, Solaris||Varies||Varies||Provides application design environment for the development of OLAP-driven analytical applications and business models||$75,000|
|Silicon Graphics Inc.|
Mountain View, Calif.
|MineSet 3.0 Enterprise Edition||NT 4.0||64M||Varies with data size||Provides connectivity with ODBC-compatible databases used for risk analysis, fraud management and bioinformatics||$35,000 up up|
|SPSS 10.0 for Windows||Win9x, NT||32M||68M||Statistical software package features a range of statistical analysis functions||$995 up|
|SYSTAT 8.0||Win9x, NT||16M||25M||Desktop PC statistics package features flexible command language that speeds analyses by automating repetitive, complex tasks||$995 up|
|WhiteLight Systems Inc.|
Palo Alto, Calif.
|WhiteLight Analytic Suite v.2.5||NT, Solaris||64M||20M||Combines the financial modeling of spreadsheets with the data analysis capability of conventional business intelligence tools||$200,000 for 10 users|