SPSS 12: Better Output is Just the Beginning
A data cleansing tool, redesigned presentation graphics, and improved inferences for complex sample data are among the highlights of this predictive analytics suite
It’s been a good month for SPSS Inc., which capped the celebration of its 35th anniversary with the release of an update to its flagship predictive analytics suite, SPSS version 12.0.
SPSS began business as a provider of statistical and predictive analytic tools for researchers, but has since developed into a force to be reckoned with in the mid-market. The company hopes to further expand its customer base with the release of SPSS 12.0, which officials say packs features and enhancements that should appeal to new and existing customers alike.
Dr. Kyle Weeks, a senior product manager with SPSS, says that his company concentrated on three major themes with SPSS 12.0: boosting reporting by adding a new presentation graphics system, enhancing the analysis of survey data, and improving data output management.
The first of these enhancements was driven largely by customer feedback, Weeks says. Because a survey showed that as many as two-thirds of customers felt that their presentation graphics weren’t up to snuff, SPSS completely redesigned this feature in SPSS 12.0. As a result, the new revision features enhanced reporting capabilities along with support for presentation-quality graphs. SPSS 12.0 also gives customers customizable chart templates and expanded control over chart layout at the time of creation.
“Out of the box, they’re going to get a better-looking chart and more control of what the chart looks like at edit time,” Weeks says.
Researchers should also be able to improve the analysis of their survey data, thanks to a new SPSS Complex Samples12.0 add-on module that allows them to incorporate complex sample designs into data analysis. Weeks says that this makes it possible for them to achieve more statistically accurate inferences for populations measured in complex sample data. “[Complex samples] are very popular not only in the public sector, in the government, but it’s also becoming more popular in the private sector, as well,” he comments.
SPSS has also improved data and output management in SPSS 12.0, introducing three new features that it says give customers greater custom control. The first of these, Visual Bander, is a data manipulation tool that allows users to easily specify cutpoints in an intelligent manner. The second, Identify Duplicate Cases, is a data cleansing tool that can help identify and filter duplicate records. The last, Output Management System (OMS), lets end users and application developers save data output to a range of file formats, from SPSS data files to XML, HTML, and text. “What OMS provides is actual command and control over SPSS’ output, so users can take the SPSS output and turn it into an XML file, for example,” explains Weeks.
He says that many of these custom control features could bring new customers into the SPSS fold: “Visual Bander and the identification tool will have a lot of appeal to new customers. Think about a transaction database where you have numbers of duplicates in there, companies can [use the Identify Duplicate Cases tool] get to their actual analysis stage faster, and this, I think, is something that will appeal to new users as well.”
Because this is SPSS, the new software boasts several modules designed to appeal to hard-core statisticians, including SPSS Advanced Models, which is used to analyze complex relationships; SPSS Categories, used for discovering unique relationships in categorical data; and SPSS Regress Models, used for predicting categorical outcome.
SPSS 12.0 underwent extensive beta testing at more than 100 customer sites, says Weeks. Testing included three different rounds of beta releases.
Statistical services provider WMB and Associates beta tested SPSS 12.0. Dr. William Bailey, its principal statistician and an SPSS user for almost two decades, says that new custom control features such as Visual Bander are welcome improvements. By far the biggest enhancement, says Dr. Bailey, is the revamped graphics presentation system. "That's been demanded by users and they've done a really good job with that. They are much more flexible," he relates, noting that it's easier to edit and save changes to graphs using the new system.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.