Can an Excel add-in really be a serious alternative to far more expensive 'enterprise data mining' tools? Indeed it can.
Incline Village, Nevada (PRWEB) July 17, 2014
Frontline Systems is shipping XLMiner Platform, a new product that is available by itself, and integrated into a new release of Frontline’s flagship product, Analytic Solver Platform. In doing so, Frontline has brought an add-in for Excel, used for years by MBA students and analysts in industry to learn about data mining and predictive analytics, to an "industrial strength" level that Frontline says is a serious alternative to far more expensive data mining tools from SAS, IBM and others.
Ten Years of Use in Teaching and Learning Analytics
XLMiner was originally developed more than ten years ago by statistics experts, to bring data mining to a broad audience. The software inspired a very popular textbook Data Mining for Business Intelligence, by Professor Galit Shmueli (an early XLMiner user), Nitin Patel of Cytel Software (original XLMiner developers) and Peter Bruce of Statistics.com (original XLMiner marketers), published by John Wiley, and now in its second edition.
In August 2011, Frontline Systems acquired rights to XLMiner and took over development, marketing and support of the software. In September 2012, Frontline released a much-improved XLMiner version that featured a Ribbon-based user interface, new data visualization features, and integration with Microsoft’s Power Pivot add-in for Excel. In January 2013, Frontline released Analytic Solver Platform, a deep integration of XLMiner with its very popular Risk Solver Platform software, yielding a comprehensive toolkit for advanced analytics.
Analytic Solver Platform for Education, a special version with problem size limits suitable for teaching, has become the most popular software used to teach analytics in MBA education. Frontline estimates that between one-third and one-half of all enrolled MBA students used this software in 2013 alone.
Completely Rewritten Algorithms
Given XLMiner’s growth, Frontline decided in early 2013 to invest in a major technology upgrade of the underlying software. Over the last 18 months, Frontline’s engineers have redesigned all of the algorithms and rewritten hundreds of thousands of lines of code to produce XLMiner Platform, and a new subset product XLMiner Pro.
XLMiner’s data mining algorithms, written in C++, are based on studies of the latest published papers, doctoral theses and conference proceedings in data mining and machine learning, and take maximum advantage of multi-core processors and modern vector instruction sets. The result is a dramatic improvement in performance (often 100 times faster or more) and capacity to handle large, complex datasets.
Frontline’s engineers have benchmarked performance of the new XLMiner against the best-known statistical software packages, to ensure that XLMiner could handle datasets just as large, with similar or better performance. For example, on a dataset measuring Twitter "tweet popularity" with 580,000 rows and 77 columns, an XLMiner multiple linear regression with variable selection, ANOVA and diagnostics took just 3.4 seconds for computation and 11 seconds to create Excel worksheet reports, on a Dell XPS 8700 PC.
XLMiner Use with Excel 2013, Power Pivot and Power Query
But can an Excel add-in really be a serious alternative to far more expensive data mining tools from SAS, IBM and others, for larger data mining applications? The ability to access and work with large amounts of data, from a variety of sources, is crucial for these applications.
Frontline is leveraging Microsoft’s recent large investment in data access and "self-service business intelligence,” which has made Excel much more than a spreadsheet. With Power Pivot – an Excel add-in based on SQL Server Analysis Services’ xVelocity database engine – Excel has a modern in-memory multidimensional database, easily capable of holding 100 million rows of data. The Power Query add-in, based on SQL Server Integration Services, provides an exceptionally powerful and easy to use ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) capability for this in-memory database. It can draw data from a huge range of sources, from enterprise databases on-premises to cloud-based public data stores on Windows Azure Data Marketplace.
Excel users can easily summarize and "slice and dice" data from this in-memory database into Pivot Tables on the spreadsheet, but XLMiner can draw representative samples of the data directly from Power Pivot. As taught for many years by SAS with its SEMMA methodology and SPSS with its CRISP methodology, a data mining model can, and usually should be "trained" by using a representative sample of a larger dataset, then "validated" against a different sample from the larger dataset. This methodology is built-in and easy to use in XLMiner.
Predictive Analytics Plus Powerful Prescriptive Analytics
The world of predictive analytics is beginning to move beyond classification and prediction, towards what industry analysts are calling "advanced analytics" -- making better decisions based on data and models. This is where Frontline’s 20 years of development of advanced analytics software, using the latest methods for mathematical optimization, Monte Carlo simulation and risk analysis, and stochastic optimization, pays off heavily for Excel users.
XLMiner is deeply integrated into Analytic Solver Platform, which combines all of Frontline’s industrial-strength tools for advanced analytics. For example, users can quickly apply k-means clustering to Monte Carlo simulation trial data, or use a time series forecasting model created in XLMiner to automatically generate forecast ‘sample paths’ in Monte Carlo simulation.
And this software handles the largest and most challenging decision problems. Analytic Solver Platform and its predecessors have featured multi-core parallel algorithms for optimization and simulation since 2009, robust optimization since 2007, and algebraic model analysis of Excel formulas since 2005 – capabilities that some vendors are just now beginning to offer in 2014. Frontline believes that with Analytic Solver Platform, users can build, train, simulate or solve virtually any data mining, simulation or optimization model that they could create using ‘enterprise’ software tools costing 10 to 20 times more, and do it faster and more easily in Excel.
Frontline Systems Inc.(http://www.solver.com) is the leader in spreadsheet-based analytics software, helping managers gain insights and make better decisions for an uncertain future. Its products integrate forecasting and data mining for "predictive analytics," Monte Carlo simulation and risk analysis, and conventional and stochastic optimization for "prescriptive analytics." Frontline developed the solvers/optimizers in Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro, distributed to more than 1 billion spreadsheet users. Founded in 1987, Frontline is based in Incline Village, Nevada (775-831-0300).