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TIBCO Spotfire Joins Simplified Analytics Bandwagon

TIBCO eases analysis with a Spotfire Cloud Recommendations feature that suggests best-fit visualizations. Can it leapfrog IBM, SAS, and Tableau?

TIBCO introduced a Recommendations feature on the TIBCO Spotfire Cloud this week that promises to simplify data analysis for data analysis neophytes.

Once you load data into TIBCO Spotfire Cloud, the Recommendations feature automatically suggests a ranked order of data visualizations that will best fit that information and the dimensions of data selected for analysis.

This style of auto-recommendation capability isn't entirely new. SAS introduced an Auto Charting feature in 2012 in its SAS Visual Analytics product. IBM followed suit in 2013 and 2014 with its Cognos Project Neo and cloud-based IBM Watson Analytics, respectively.

"We've used artificial-intelligence-like features before, and we think this Recommendation engine is way beyond what has been on the market so far," Brian Gentile, senior vice president and general manager of TIBCO Analytics, said in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

[Want more on easier analytics and BI? Read Analytics Showdown: Should Apps Be Simpler, Or Smarter?"]

It's all part of a movement to simplify business intelligence and analytics products that have a reputation for complexity. TIBCO is most interested in one-upping Spotfire's biggest rival, Tableau Software, which has won plenty of mind share and market share on the strength of product ease of use. Gentile said the Recommendations ranking and preview capabilities give newbies better guidance than Tableau's Show Me feature.

"The Tableau Show Me feature is a simple example of providing templates, whereas we're providing a live environment," Gentile said. "You're not just looking at static templates. You're looking at your data live in a ranked-order set of recommendations."

Once you find visualizations you like, you can drag and drop them into a dashboard builder to create a collection of views. Recommendations is available only through TIBCO Spotfire Cloud for now, but there are plans to add the feature to the on-premises software (though there's no target date). There are also plans to build behavioral analysis into Recommendations, so it learns from user data-access and visualization patterns over time.

"Today the recommendations are based on understanding data structure and metadata, but tomorrow it will based on that, plus a lot of human-interaction characteristics," Gentile said.

TIBCO stepped up its commitment to BI and analytics in 2014 with the April acquisition of Jaspersoft. Formerly CEO of Jasper, Gentile now leads the Tibco Analytics unit, which oversees Jaspersoft; Spotfire, an R engine for statistical analysis with the open source R language; and TERR, a mapping and geospatial analytics product.

On the larger corporate front, TIBCO experienced a few weak quarters last year -- tied in part to shortfalls in Spotfire sales -- that precipitated a change in ownership. The venture capital firm Vista Equity Partners acquired TIBCO in December. Vista named Murray Rode, who previously served as COO and, before that, CFO, as TIBCO's CEO. Rode succeeded Vivek Ranadivé, who remains on the company's board.

Gentile said last year's Spotfire sales execution "hiccups" are in the rear view mirror. He predicts that Spotfire Cloud, which was introduced last year, and features such as Recommendations will help the data-exploration and visualization product to win a broader base of customers beyond the deep data analysts who have been using it for years.

Just 30% of respondents to our new Big Data and Analytics Survey say their companies are very or extremely effective at identifying critical data and analyzing it to make decisions, down from 42% in 2013. What gives? Get The Trouble With Big Data issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today (free registration required).