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Creative visualization

Creative visualization

Dozens of information sources. Hundreds of thousands of data points. All of them critical to the future success of your company. But trying to analyze such massive amounts of information might even spin the number-happy head of A Beautiful Mind's John Nash.

Dozens of information sources. Hundreds of thousands of data points. All of them critical to the future success of your company. But trying to analyze such massive amounts of information might even spin the number-happy head of A Beautiful Mind's John Nash. That's where Spotfire steps in. The Somerville, Mass.-based company builds analytical tools designed to let corporations create on-the-fly visual representations of complex data sets, helping mere mortals pluck drops of gold from oceans of lead.

Spotfire's DecisionSite combines a user interface called the Spotfire Experience with an analytic platform and data library. Customers attach back-end data sources and configure the analytics. Then simple controls cause multicolored data points to shift hue, fade out or blink into existence as analysts sift the numbers looking for subtle signs of the next big oil strike or cancer drug.

But beyond simply being able to provide researchers with a clearer picture of their data, DecisionSite has something else a Web services focus, says Andrew Palmer, CIO at drug researcher Infinity Pharmaceuticals in Boston.

"The thing that was most compelling was when we started to combine distributed heterogenous data sources very easily," Palmer says. "It looked to the scientists like plug-and-play."

That flexibility allows Infinity to quickly integrate data sources both internal and external without long-term programming efforts. "We were looking for tremendous flexibility," Palmer recalls. "For us, Web services was a no-brainer."

At least one analyst notes that Spotfire has chosen a solid and potentially very lucrative niche for itself too.

"The life sciences industry is hurting in terms of appropriate tools to manage the data they've got," says Dan Vesset, a research manager at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC (a sister company to CIO's publisher, CXO Media). "There's an issue that a product like Spotfire can expedite the process and make it more efficient."

Spotfire CEO Christopher Ahlberg admits that the low-hanging fruit for the company currently lies in the life sciences, natural resource exploration and chemical manufacturing. But he says he hopes that the company can expand into other areas, including business analytics. He points to current customers in the semiconductor field including Advanced Micro Devices and Texas Instruments as examples of Spotfire's value for manufacturing analysis. And he notes that other customers are already using Spotfire products for such things as portfolio and sales-office analysis. "You could do these things in reporting software," he says, "but the dynamics of being able to explore have never been there. That's what we're able to bring to the table."

Ahlberg also proposes that Spotfire tools can be used as a quick way to identify problems with data before it gets loaded into a data warehouse, as the visual tools would let analysts quickly identify anomalous data. He says that the National Transportation Safety Board discovered this use when it began analyzing huge volumes of flight-safety data using DecisionSite.

Even current and happy customers can find some room for improvement in Spotfire's products, however. "I think that the more they can deliver the same functionality that they do now in a very thin client, the better off they'll be," Palmer says. "It's so much easier when you can deliver everything over a browser."

Even with that quibble, however, Palmer is still a Spotfire convert. "It really is the best-of-breed visualization tool," he says.

watching... SPOTFIRE

Headquarters Somerville, Mass. Founded 1996 Employees 180 Product Spotfire DecisionSite Reason to Watch Innovative visualization tools and Web services focus Hurdles May find some difficulty breaking out of science niche Website www.spotfire.com

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