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Spotfire Finds that Customer Loyalty Grows In Step with Openness of Software Platform


Users of future versions of Spotfire’s DecisionSite software will have a number of new features at their disposal, including enhanced statistical capability, a Gene Ontology browser, and a bridge to Informatica’s Power Center and Power Mart data integration software, BioInform learned last week at the company’s annual user meeting in Philadelphia.

But judging by customer feedback, one of the more popular features of the company’s products is already available: an open application programming interface that allows users to write custom applications to take advantage of Spotfire’s well-known visualization capabilities.

Previous versions of Spotfire’s software offered some API access, but the recent 7.0 release of DecisionSite is accompanied by a developer’s version that “exposes more of the architecture of the product,” according to Lars Bauerle, group product manager at Spotfire. The updated offering gives developers web access to “API references” for Spotfire’s visualization tools as well as its business process and data extraction processes. The result, according to some, is a mix of off-the-shelf utility and flexibility that keeps both developers and end users happy.

To be sure, user meetings are not necessarily company pep rallies, and some customers came armed with plenty of suggestions. The primary requests were for improved statistical abilities and new clustering algorithms — news that this summer’s 7.1 release of DecisionSite would include error bars, principal components analysis, and self-organizing maps was greeted with applause, for example. But for the most part, users were happy to brag about ways they’ve taken advantage of the platform’s openness.

Mark Hartnett, a software support engineer in the life sciences group at Agilent Technologies, said he wrote an application using Visual Basic and Spotfire’s API to assess the quality of hybridizations to the company’s microarrays. Hartnett’s automated reporting tool plots the randomness of the differential expression and the background intensity of each array in order to give a quick view of its quality. If the background plot indicates a spike in one color, for example, users know that the quality of the array is sub-standard, Hartnett explained.

Bill Ladd, senior director of analytic applications at Spotfire, said that the developer option has so far appealed primarily to pharmaceutical customers and other large organizations that have the IT staff on hand to write custom applications on the fly. Ladd cited a novel high-throughput screening application and a sequence analysis quality assessment tool as examples of customer craftsmanship at such organizations. Smaller biotechs, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the web services support that is now available in DecisionSite. Andy Palmer, CIO at Infinity Pharmaceuticals, said that his company is building its IT infrastructure from scratch on Microsoft’s .NET architecture, and chose Spotfire as its standard analytic environment in part because of its web services capability. Ladd noted that Spotfire hopes to see DecisionSite gain broader acceptance as an enterprise development environment.

DecisionSite 7.1 will also include support for Windows XP, the bridge to Informatica’s data integration software, and analytic application administration capabilities for the developer’s release. The GO browser is currently available through Spotfire’s professional services group, but won’t be available through DecisionSite until at least the 7.2 release of the product, Ladd said.

— BT

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