Business Modeling: No Spreadsheets Required - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Business Modeling: No Spreadsheets Required

Lumina's Analytica rends the veil that has kept business managers from collaborating with analysts on complex business models

•Offers wide range of powerful statistical and probabilistic modeling functions
•Models many complex business situations far better than spreadsheets do
•Shows visualizations and options in context. Has live links to Microsoft Graph in Excel
•Connects to most major databases using ODBC
•Provides a good user guide and accessible user groups
•Lets you add new dimensions with drag and drop; sophisticated table and cube operations
•Can't extract data formally in OLAP formats
•No books available on how to use Analytica
•Needs more sample templates, solution components and how-to examples
•Some advanced operations require use of function calls instead of intuitive GUIs or wizards
Business models created in spreadsheets or using arcane code are intrinsically error prone. They require layers of translations between managers and coders and generally are organized by function rather than by intuitive, high-level concepts. Yet most corporate and government decisions are based on models built in spreadsheets.

Lumina Decision Systems' Analytica cuts through the spreadsheet obfuscation by giving you a better way to create testable, working business models and simulations, from the simple to the complex. The product uses a visual, concept-driven approach for corporate planning and strategy development that serves as an active whiteboard, allowing immediate testing and assumption variation. It also validates decisions, satisfying Sarbanes-Oxley mandates imposed on C-level executives.

"People are always making business decisions based on numbers without knowing where the numbers came from," says Gary Rushin, vice chair of the board of trustees of the University of Northern Virginia and partner in DecisionPoint. "[Analytica] lets management see what's going on."

Analyze This

To evaluate Analytica 3.0, I created several models and interviewed users who've deployed it in production applications. Mastering this product isn't easy, and the interface could be improved, but no other available product handles design, presentation and sophisticated and specialized modeling like Analytica does.

Analytica lets you manipulate objects by dragging and dropping icons onto a pallet. These objects start as qualitative descriptors of the analysis components. You use arrows to show how these components influence each other, then add quantitative information to transform the concept model into a well-documented, live model that can run your numbers and test scenario variations. Each node can be a formula (a function of other nodes, using current or past time frames, from a large library), data (a value, estimated distribution, table, cube or SQL call), a piece of code, a visualization or a set of subnodes.

The models you make can be sophisticated. Analytica is especially well suited to model situations affected by uncertainty. Several users described applications for strategic analysis at energy, electronics, automobile and pharmaceutical companies. The product also can be used for financial applications, such as corporate bankruptcies and business and derivatives valuations. Analytica supports random variables, random walks, Monte Carlo simulations, Markov processes, time series and difference-equation models, and network and process simulations.

Analytica doesn't replace data mining or statistical software packages, which are made for specialized, high-level computations. Rather, its role is to represent, analyze and communicate complex business situations, simulate outcomes and create forecasts.

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