Tibco recently introduced Spotfire 4.0, the most recent version of its interactive discovery and business intelligence (BI) tool. Spotfire comes at BI through visualization. It uses in-memory processing and good user interface design to develop highly interactive displays of data. Version 4.0 attempts to enhance Spotfire’s dashboard capabilities and offers integration with enterprise collaboration tools. The former capabilities are necessary to broaden Spotfire’s appeal and applicability for more BI projects, but the latter capabilities are more interesting since they represent a fundamental shift in the way enterprises use business intelligence.
I’ve written about the trend toward consumerization of collaborative BI that is part of new benchmark research in 2012. Spotfire 4.0 supports integration with Microsoft SharePoint and Tibco’s own collaboration tool tibbr. SharePoint integration will earn Tibco points with IT organizations, but tibbr integration is more likely to resonate with end users. SharePoint represents the “old school” model of portal-based collaboration, while tibbr represent the newer message-based form of collaboration. If you are not familiar with tibbr, it is similar to Twitter and Salesforce.com Chatter, but it is designed exclusively for use in an enterprise environment. For example, Spotfire’s analytics are nicely integrated with tibbr. While viewing a Spotfire 4.0 analysis you can send a message with the analysis embedded in it. Within tibbr the reader of the message can interact with the analysis and delve deeper or explore other aspects of the data. Spotfire 4.0 dashboards can include tibbr chat streams bringing together the notion of analyzing data and capturing the discussion about the information.
It remains to be seen if tibbr will grow sufficiently in popularity to help fuel the revolution in BI that we identified earlier this year. Critical mass of collaborators is a key ingredient to success in collaborative BI. If Spotfire or tibbr supported bridges to other social media tools, such as Twitter and Chatter, it could broaden the appeal of the new capabilities. IBM and SAP have taken a similar approach with their collaboration platforms, but some vendors without their own collaboration platform have no choice but to support third-party platforms. As I indicated in a recent post, one such vendor, QlikTech, is working to integrate its QlikView with Chatter.
In regard to new dashboard capabilities, Spotfire 4.0 introduces display objects and provides more finely grained control over existing objects. New objects include sparklines, which are small line graphs that can fit in a row of data, and conditional icons that are often used to give a visual indication of the value relative to its target as well as whether the value is trending up or down. These types of icons are common to performance management applications. Users now can control the display of dashboard objects more precisely. Because of Spotfire’s interactivity, in previous versions the dashboards sometimes appeared cluttered with various controls for altering the data selections. With the new capabilities, the dashboards can have a cleaner look that makes it easier for casual users to focus on the relevant data. It also is easier to embed Spotfire components in other portals and dashboards.
It is disappointing that version 4.0 does not enhance mobile capabilities in any significant way. While Spotfire supports the Apple iPad with a native application, that is really just a wrapper around its browser-based capabilities. When I worked with the application I found the user interface awkward relative to native offerings from competitors. For example, you could not pinch, zoom or pan with gestures. I expect we’ll see more investment in mobile capabilities going forward, especially since mobile and collaborative technologies are closely intertwined.
The bottom line is that Spotfire 4.0 incorporates key collaborative capabilities that can help organizations transform their business intelligence processes. It also includes incremental improvements in its dashboards that should make the product easier to use. If you are already using Spotfire or tibbr, you’ll likely appreciate what version 4.0 adds. Others who are looking to expand their collaborative BI capabilities should consider the combined offering.