Diving Into Friendly Waters

Many of us, if not all, have been part of the creation of a computer application that turned out to be less than user-friendly.

In a recent test, I was witness to a rather remarkable occurrence. Our IT department was charged with finding a solution that combined several sales analysis systems that had been created over the past ten years. In addition, management wanted the ability to produce ad-hoc sales reports without making a formal request to IT.

After sitting through many sales presentations from myriad software vendors, we settled upon the DI-Diver product from Dimensional Insight Inc. (DI) in Burlington, Mass. This software tool, which provides multidimensional analysis and reporting ability, proved to be one of the most user-friendly software products that I've encountered in the past three decades.

Confronted with limited in-house training facilities and being short staffed, our user department head suggested that, "If this product is so user-friendly, lets test the vendor's claim." Now here's the amazing part. After creating a multidimensional sales analysis "cube," we provided less than 10 minutes of training to eight members of the Purchasing department, with the instructions, "Try this and let us know what you think." Virtually all eight individuals were proficient in all of the software features in less than seven days. Now that's user friendly!

I recently contacted Dave Hatch, the marketing director at DI who gave me some background on the company. DI employs 60 people, ten of whom are developers, mostly MIT graduates. They also have offices in Green Bay and Philadelphia. One of the company's latest wins is that DI is the first software vendor to enter into a remarketing agreement with IBM where both IBM reps and IBM business partners can sell DI products. IBM also remarkets DI products in Canada and Puerto Rico.

"DI has begun to focus on three major markets: healthcare, wholesale/distribution, and publishing. We have had a lot of success working with IBM in these markets in the past, so it was a natural move by both companies to make it official," says Hatch. "Our client list includes Johns Hopkins, Merck, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, as well as a majority of the top wine and spirit distributors in the U.S. who represent over half of all wine and spirits distributed nationally."

Its latest offering is DI-ReportDiver, a new e-commerce oriented tool that allows companies to use their public Web site as a repository for customized reports. Reports are set up once and automatically refreshed as the data is updated. Applications allow members of your supply chain to have instant access to your firm's most current data. Customers can check the status of their orders, see their historical buying trends, and check on inventory balances around the clock. Suppliers can compare the effectiveness of promotions and product mixes, review demand forecasts and have real-time access to records concerning their best selling products.

DI-ReportDiver is a Java applet that uses a tightly packed binary stream to speed the requested report from the Web to a user's PC. Reports are generated real-time and once generated using DI's server-based product, DI-Atlantis, they are immediately available on the Internet. DI-ReportDiver is supported on IBM's AS/400, Unix and Windows NT platforms. It has the ability to display tab, cross-tab, and multi-tab tables, line, bar, scatter, and pie plots, as well as dozens of reports, calculations and time-series comparisons.

As with the existing product line, Dave stated that DI-ReportDiver was created for the non-technical user, and if it follows the design architecture I encountered with their other products, they should have a winner on their hands.

If you want to provide ad-hoc reporting and analysis without SQL or a complex report writer, visit them at www.dimensionalinsight.com where you can request a free trial download, or a demonstration of their other products. The judges here gave them a 10 on their diving form.