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Gartner analyst backs company's BI tool

A Gartner exec says BI has come a long way, but its future requires software that allows users to efficiently interpret and visualize data. He singles out a Massachusetts-based company and says its new BI tool is "visionary."

Lake Buena Vista, FLA. - Without advanced business intelligence tools, finding meaning in a sea of data can mirror the way Columbus discovered the Americas -- by accident.

At the annual Gartner Symposium IT Expo on Monday, Gartner vice president and research director Howard Dresner compared the "crude and wildly inaccurate" methods of 15th century cartography with the high-tech capabilities of modern geographical information technology. Business intelligence (BI) has advanced that much since it was first talked about in 1989, Dresner said.

The future of business intelligence is based upon collaboration, interpretation and visualization of data, he said.

"There's a need for more collaboration capabilities [within products]as the need to know becomes more pressing," Dresner said. With the volume and complexity of data increasing, users need tools that not only show data, but show "what it means to you," he said.

Dresner singled out BI vendor Spotfire, a Somerville, Mass.-based company, which recently announced DecisionSite Posters, a collaborative data analysis tool, as a company he considered to be a visionary leader in Gartner's "magic quadrant," a plot that rates companies in terms of innovation and execution. PeopleSoft and Microsoft were leaders in Dresner's execution ranking. Spotfire, on the other hand, was a leader in innovation.

Dresner spoke about Spotfire during the company's press conference announcing its new product.

Billed as the first BI platform to offer shared decision analysis capability, DecisionSite Posters is essentially a graphical user interface for databases. It allows users to perform data analyses and see results plotted in ways that are easily adjusted on the screen. These results can be saved as an interactive "poster," the product's centerpiece. The poster is saved to a company's server and shared with authorized users, who are free to manipulate the data and sort it based on factors such as salary or location, and add their own comments.

The product has an enthusiastic fan in Andy Palmer, CIO of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, based in Cambridge, Mass. The company works in conjunction with researchers at Harvard University to build new libraries of chemical compounds for future drug development. Infinity has been using DecisionSite Posters for the past several months and has seen a "night and day" difference in the way work gets done.

"The pharmaceutical industry is drowning in data," Palmer explained, naming knowledge management and information technology as core business functions.

Palmer said he has seen rapid improvements in his laboratory. Scientists and analysts running assays need to determine which plates to retest, Palmer said. Instead of having a meeting to distribute the data, then having another meeting to discuss the data, the information is now available in one place. Scientists can share their opinions with each other, and with research partners outside of Infinity, recording them all on the Spotfire Poster.

The straightforward user interface makes the product simple to use, he said. Infinity scientists, most of whom have no formal IT training, have no problem creating and deploying Posters. With so many people enabled to share information, though, Palmer is worried about security. Right now the company bases user access on its LDAP directory, and people either have complete access or none. Still, Palmer plans to add granularity to the system, defining access rights for different data types.

For Infinity, the advantages are clear.

"It supercharged our productivity," Palmer said. "Infinity scientists create dozens of posters a day and they make faster decisions about which compounds to make, and this productivity gain has an impact the company's bottom line."

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