Data Warehousing and Data Science

2 December 2012

Tibco Spotfire

Filed under: Business Intelligence — Vincent Rainardi @ 12:49 am

Like QlikView, Spotfire provides capability to serve BI users with analytical reports, with which users can slice and dice the data, export to Excel/PDF, in various different types of visualisations including pivot tables and charts.

Unlike SSAS, Spotfire don’t require an OLAP cubes to be built first. We define a set of data tables which are then used by the visualisations.

Spotfire has a good back end capability. It’s called Information Designer. In there we can create columns and procedures, from which we then create Information Links which feed the data to the reports. Info Links accept parameters and filters, which make them flexible enough for retrieving only the data we need.

Most of Spotfire developers time is spent on 3 things:

  1. Create information links (20%)
  2. Create data tables (30%)
  3. Create visualisations (30%)

Once Info Links are setup, they usually repeat 2 & 3 with the users in a loop / iterative way. Occassionally, they also do some automation (using Automation Services) and administration (arranging library content/folders and administration users/access)

Spotfire also have a development kit, which is in to Visual Studio (using .NET language such as C#), where we can do programming to add customisation to the visualisation and data tables. Alternatively, we can also do the programming inside the Spotfire itself, i.e. as a code behind on a button in a text area, using Phyton as the scripting language. The scripting capability has variables, branching, looping as usual, and API access to all visualisation and data table objects within Spotfire.

As most BI tools, Spotfire is a rapid development tool. An analytic report is typically developed within a week. That’s from the point where we sit down with the business (or BA) detailing the requirements, until we present the first draft version back to the business. From then of course there are many iterations to fine tune it until we get the finish products. This fine tuning typically takes 2-3 weeks, depending on how wide the business community involved and how fast/slow their responses are. And of course it depends on how complex the report is. A 1 pager with 2 visualisation and 3 data tables is about 2 days development time. Four pages with 7 different visualisations and 15 data tables takes about a week.

Most of the issues in Spotfire development lies in the data tables. This is not a thing that is specific to Spotfire. It is a general phenomenon in BI. The data is a very difficult thing to get it right. The reports on the other hand, are easy. They just are reflecting the numbers in the data. If somebody can guarantee that the data in the database/data warehouse is 100% correct and accurate, then to make the report would be accurate. I would say that 90% of the BI effort goes to prepare a database that is accurate, and only 10% goes to the reporting.

Overall Spotfire is a good BI tools for presenting data to the users and let them analyse it. It has Web Player and it has Enterprise Player. Web Player (WP) runs on web browsers / thin client and EP is a thick client. Like other BI tools, the thick client has more features than the Web Client. Your slice and dice capability is more limited if you use Web Player, for example, you can’t change the axes.

Strengh of Spotfire? I would say it’s the backend, i.e. the Information Designer and Data Tables. Also in the calculated column, there are so many things we can do there, very rich functions. Also strengh is the API. Weakness? It’s the visualisations in my opinion. For example, when arranging visualisations on a page, it’s unbelievably difficult. Bar chart: we can’t put the numbers on each bar. Using filters to slice data is difficult. Tableau and Strategy Companion is a lot easier to use when it comes to slicing and dicing the data.

Would I recommend it as a BI tool? Absolutely. Along with QlikView, I think Spotfire is one of the best visualisation/reporting tool in the BI world.

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