What is most valuable?
Ability to connect to multiple databases. This is important because our company uses many different database solutions across the functional and geographic areas of the organization. Spotfire can map to all of them.
In-memory interactive capability to work with the data. The tool is relatively easy to use without any training, but has many features to slice and dice data in sophisticated ways.
No row/column limitations. Many of our datasets of interest have tens of millions of rows and hundreds to thousands of columns. Spotfire handles these situations with relative ease.
How has it helped my organization?
Many users have developed dashboards for management review that are now automatically generated, as opposed to something that requires many hours per week or month.
Some people are using Spotfire to provide analysis updates in meetings as opposed to using static PowerPoint slide decks. This allows for more interaction with the data, as ad-hoc questions can be answered by manipulating Spotfire to display data as requested.
Expert users can deploy analytic platforms for data that are periodically generated, which less-experienced analysts can then use to make good decisions. For example, yield review of batches of material received in manufacturing.
For how long have I used the solution?
The original version of the system was called DecisionSite, which we installed in 2004. We have maintained continuous capability since that time as the tool has changed over the years.
What was my experience with deployment of the solution?
No specific deployment, stability or scalability issues. We have a dedicated admin who maintains the servers, installs patches, and updates Spotfire to major new revisions as they become available. We have encountered issues and have got them corrected as necessary, but overall the platform is very stable. We have facilities across the world that are using it, so it is generally available 24-7. The Web Player version is heavily utilized, which has required hardware upgrades over the years to keep performance up.
How are customer service and technical support?
Technical support is acceptable, but not superior. Sometime after TIBCO purchased Spotfire (the company), they outsourced support to Perkin-Elmer. For minor problems, P-E is capable of finding solutions, but problems that require more detailed knowledge of the tool often take very long to resolve. P-E has to go back to TIBCO for assistance in these cases.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
We had a number of different tools, some off-the-shelf and some home-grown, before we chose Spotfire. When we decided to look into other options, we evaluated several tools in addition to Spotfire. We eventually chose Spotfire based upon a detailed comparison of its capabilities against the other contenders, including the features mentioned elsewhere in this review.
How was the initial setup?
The installation itself was fairly straightforward, but building up the database connection infrastructure has been an ongoing process. Although it is not problematic in the sense of having issues or bugs, it requires someone with good relational database skills to optimize the Information Model.
There are many tool configuration options that can be set during installation. Most of the default options appear to work well, although we have found a few that required modification in order to optimize the platform to our specific IT infrastructure and user preferences.
What about the implementation team?
We installed Spotfire in two distinct phases: initially, when it was DecisionSite, using an on-site Spotfire team for the heavy lifting, and then a second round when the current version of Spotfire was released. The second round was mostly performed by our in-house admin, with support from Spotfire. This all happened before Spotfire was purchased by TIBCO.
One claim to fame made by Spotfire is that doing sophisticated analyses does not require a team of IT professionals. This spreads the burden of report generation and ad-hoc analyses to the experts in the data itself, which we have definitely seen to be a benefit. We can use the tool without having to write detailed requirements, learning and experimenting as we go before setting up validated dashboards and other reports.
Find first-adopters and enthusiasts in your organization. If you have data, these folks exist. Let them play around with the tool, and then leverage their acquired skills to evangelize.
What was our ROI?
On a per-user basis, we are saving several hours per week of analysis time. This has been especially impactful for analysts who had been spending as much as 20% to 50% of their time managing and summarizing data each week, and who now have time to generate more detailed analyses in less time. This leads to better insights into the data, and has resulted in more targeted actions to address improvement opportunities.
For ad-hoc analyses, Spotfire allows us to manage much larger datasets than we had ever been able to look at before. This has led to many breakthroughs in productivity, customer focus, supplier management, issue resolution, etc. It is difficult to quantify these situations, but in many cases, we believe we reach solutions faster with Spotfire than we would have done otherwise. In one specific case during our initial evaluation, a large team had been working on a manufacturing yield issue for a month without nailing down the root cause. We decided to apply Spotfire (then DecisionSite) to the data, and literally within 15 minutes we had narrowed the problem down to a specific piece of equipment at a supplier facility. What made this possible was the ease with which we could aggregate the data in ways we had not been able to do without Spotfire.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
For licensing, try to obtain as broad a user base as possible. TIBCO offers a variety of licensing schemes, including less-costly individual licenses for the view-only version called Web Player. In order for that tool to be useful, you will need a number of people who are experts in Spotfire Professional to deploy analytic solutions.
What other advice do I have?
There are many options available that are built upon the Spotfire platform (S+, Operations Analytics, Lead Discovery, Cloud, etc.); make sure you review the capabilities of each before deciding which to include.
Determine how organized your internal data sources are, and then put together a strategy for how to build the Spotfire Information Model that will best utilize these resources. Unless you are very confident in your ability to execute, do not attempt to consolidate all of your data sources into one large warehouse. Spotfire works very well with many individual databases, so you may find that a better solution is to construct specific analytical tools within Spotfire that aggregate the data on-demand.
We have a small cadre of individuals who host a weekly online training session. Users can call in with specific questions about analyses they are currently performing. We have found this extremely beneficial in improving the level of Spotfire skill across the corporation. It only takes a handful of people to make this work, and the time investment is minimal, so it’s well worth the effort.