Advizor Announces Office-Ready Data Viz Tool

Advizor officials says Analyst Office isn’t a preemptive strike against Microsoft in the Office BI segment.

Who’s afraid of the big bad Software Giant? Not data visualization specialist Advizor Solutions Inc., which last week announced a new Microsoft Office-friendly version of its flagship analysis tool, Advizor Analyst.

Advizor’s move comes ahead of Microsoft Corp.’s own 2007 Office System push, which promises a significantly revamped Excel experience. More to the point, Advizor and other data visualization specialists could soon find themselves increasingly under the gun as Microsoft incorporates and disseminates the visualization capabilities it inherited from the former ProClarity Corp. (http://www.tdwi.org/news/display.aspx?id=7910)

All the same, says Advizor president and CEO Doug Cogswell, his company’s newest deliverable—which it dubs Advizor Analyst Office—isn’t a preemptive strike against Microsoft in the Office BI segment.

“Office 12 does not have the ProClarity [visualization technology] in it. And the ProClarity visualization is somewhat limited, in the first place,” Cogswell argues, citing Advizor’s technology pedigree (it’s one of several successful spin-offs from Bell Labs) and best-of-breed focus. Besides, he continues, “I’d hate to have it said we compete with Excel, because Excel is so pervasive. I’d say we enhance Excel, because you have much more dimensionality” with Advizor.

Nevertheless, Analyst Office is something of a departure for Chicago-based Advizor, which—until now, anyway—had mostly targeted enterprise customers for enterprise-wide, IT-initiated deployments. With Analyst Office, it’s now coming at things from the opposite direction, targeting individual business analysts. All too often, Cogswell maintains, such users are ill-served by the tools they have at their disposal. In many cases, he says, MBAs, business analysts, and other power users are forced to make do entirely with Excel.

“The product had been positioned up until now for enterprise customers. You buy 10-20 seats, they’re $100 seats, you deploy out to a server, and you’re going to solve some business problem with it. A single power user would be unlikely to buy [the Enterprise version], because the price points were high and it was basically aimed at pulling data from an enterprise server,” Cogswell explains. “With the Office version … we now have a price point that’s affordable [for business analysts]. It has been simplified so that a standard MBA, a business analyst, can do analysis, do regression stuff, and then share their findings.”

In other words, he argues, Analyst Office is the kind of product that sells itself—at least, in so much as any product does that.

“What these analysts are using today is pivot tables. It’s been pivot tables for a long time now. Pivot tables are good—if you only need to pivot two dimensions. We can pivot six, eight, sixteen dimensions,” Cogswell avers. “To do [what Analyst Office does] in a pivot table is impossible. You could probably [do it] with database queries, but how many MBAs really know how to do that? We can bring in multiple tables, multiple spreadsheets. I don’t think there’s a technical limit.”

There is a technical limit, of course—at least for Advizor Analyst Office. It supports only Excel spreadsheets and text files. Advizor has promised to deliver application-specific connectivity wizards in future iterations of Analyst Office, but in the interim, users who want to be able to connect to relational or multidimensional data sources will have to convince their IT departments to pony up the cash for Analyst Enterprise. The latter offering supports SQL Server, SQL Server Analysis Services, Oracle, Teradata, Business Objects, Pervasive, and includes an ODBC connector that can access any ODBC-compliant data store (such as DB2, for which Advizor does not have a dedicated connector).

“We’re going to create application packages around it, so you can buy it with connectors to specific databases, and it will come with templates to solve specific problems. This gives us a footprint [on top of] which we can then add dashboard templates,” Cogswell indicates.

In the meantime, he stresses, Advizor isn’t sweating the increasingly competitive data visualization space, in which it vies with data viz stalwarts (including Tableau Software Inc. and Spotfire Inc.) as well as with ambitious newcomers, such as Microsoft. “We’re strong in display. Our charts are rich and so forth, but also this whole visual discovery process, the ability to splice through the dimensions … is so obvious that we don’t have to convince our customers. We make it easy to grab the charts and dissect them. Our customers tell us that we’re like a pivot table on steroids.”

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About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.