Introducing Lazysoft – An engineer’s playground, but a data analyst’s nightmare

I’ll begin by admitting that this new business intelligence vendor’s name isn’t really “Lazysoft”, but it’s close. I took the liberty of transposing two of the letters in the name “Lyzasoft” to create a name that describes a fundamental problem with its software—it’s the product of laziness. Some software engineers no doubt had lots of fun developing this product, but Lyzasoft approached the task in the typically lazy manner of many software companies—they didn’t bother engaging the services of designers who actually understand data visualization or data analysis. What does the software supposedly do? Here’s what the press release states:

On September 22, 2008 Lyzasoft will introduce Lyza, a powerful desktop analytics solution that enables analysts to synthesize, explore and visualize data, then to publish compelling presentations and dashboards – all without the reliance on lengthy IT development cycles.

I won’t comment on Lyza’s ability to synthesize data, because this can’t be judged without actually putting the product to the test. I will say, however, that it fails miserably in its ability to help people explore, visualize and then present data. It allows you to create individual charts from a small gallery of chart types that appear to possess only primitive functionality. No real platform for data exploration or analysis is provided. Once you think that you understand the data after looking independently at a few charts, you can then place them into a Lyza’s presentation format, which is designed to look and function a lot like PowerPoint. Unfortunately, it falls prey to the worst of PowerPoint with a host of silly and distracting visual themes. What Lyzasoft calls a dashboard is actually nothing more than a series of PowerPoint-like slides.

Rather than giving this new product any attention beyond this brief warning to stay away from it, I’ll end with two screenshots from Lyzasoft’s promotional demo, which illustrate how little these folks know about data analysis and visualization.

Here’s a table, which, as you can see, fails in one of the most rudimentary ways: the numbers are left justified. The only other example of a table that appeared in the demo was different, but no better, for its numbers were centered. At no point in the demo were the numbers right-justified so the values in a column can be easily compared.

Lyzasoft Table

Next, you can see an example of what it looks like when you create presentation slides in Lyza. Notice the eye-catching background pattern and the unreadable title—a fitting backdrop for a bad pie chart.

Lyzasoft PowerPoint Slide with Pie Chart

I guess the advantage Lyzasoft is featuring here is the ability to create really bad slide presentations in a single tool, thereby skipping the labor-intensive step of copying and pasting graphs from Excel to Powerpoint. No doubt you’ll find this feature alone enough to make you want to rush out and pay $899 for a copy of Lyza.

I hope that people who buy data analysis and presentation software have learned enough about what’s actually useful to recognize a product like Lyza for what it is—someone’s attempt to make big bucks exploiting people’s need for a way to make sense of data without taking the time to learn how to do it, let alone build a product that supports the process.

Take care,

Signature

21 Comments on “Introducing Lazysoft – An engineer’s playground, but a data analyst’s nightmare”


By Jason May. September 17th, 2008 at 8:38 am

This sounds like a competitor to Kirix Strata (http://www.kirix.com/, $249 per seat license).

Strata’s byline is “the data browser” and can apparently pull data from web sources as well as local databases; Lyza seems limited to local data only.

By Donald Farmer. September 17th, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Ouch. This strikes me as a rather mean-spirited article. Perhaps the pun was just irresistible? Even so, it is unmerited.

Did you speak with Lyzasoft about their design and development processes? I ask because, from what I know of them, they take the process of design with deep seriousness. They do something that is all too uncommon in software development and rare indeed in a new vendor shipping version one: they test usability. In fact, I know from my contact with them that they test usability and all aspects of their design very thoroughly and they act on the results. This is far from lazy – the insult is deeply undeserved and unnecessary.

Laziness, in my mind, would be reading your books and articles – insightful and genuinely useful as they are – and assuming that by doing so, one has learned enough to ship a product suitable for shipping to customers. The end result, ironically, might be more to your taste Stephen, but the approach would be far lazier than getting out there and engaging deeply with customers in the design process.

Lyza have done this deep engagement, so I would suggest that the really interesting questions are not “How can we poke fun at a new vendor?” or “How does this fail to meet my expectations?” but rather “Are we missing something here? Are they meeting a need that I have overlooked?”

I’m not writing to justify left-justification (an embarrassing lapse), nor the examples chosen for their demo. However, your comments do seem to be based on their promotional materials rather than on a review of their software. Did you not consider that rather than having lazy and incompetent engineers, it may be possible for a startup to have slipped from your standards in its advertising? They would hardly be the first startup to overlook such details in the push to launch their product, but it need not reflect their engineering. Software designers, however talented, are not necessarily good at delivering demos or media.

Do I carry a torch for Lyzasoft? Hardly. A new vendor shipping an analysis and presentation solution that ignores Excel and PowerPoint is hardly going to help my 401k at Microsoft. But they deserve recognition for their commitment to customer-centred design, however much the results diverge from what you think is best. In fact, especially because the results do diverge, I suggest you look again and review with Lyza directly. Talk to them about their processes – I am sure you will find them thoughtful and engaging.

I enjoy your blog immensely. This was a lapse.

By System Error. September 19th, 2008 at 9:19 am

I should have known better than to read this blog entry after eating…

I’ll need to find my pepto after looking at those pictures. This is psuedo BI.

By Stephen Few. September 23rd, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Donald,

Yes, I took advantage of a convenient play on words to frame my critique of Lyzasoft. I did so, however, because it seems to fit, based on everything this company has revealed about its product Lyza on its website and in its press release. What Lyzasoft’s website reveals is not a product that is the result of usability studies but a product that fundamentally fails to address the data analysis and presentation of the people to whom it is being marketed. This is both lazy and irresponsible. We don’t need another business intelligence pseudo-solution.

Actual customer-centered design and usability studies, as opposed to the focus groups, user surveys, and beta testing user feedback that vendors (including Microsoft) often rely on exclusively, don’t result in products that are this dysfunctional–products that repeat the same mistakes that are already featured and have been found wanting in other products, such as PowerPoint. Contrary to what you read into my comments, I have not claimed that LazaSoft’s engineers are lazy or incompetent. I have no means to assess the work ethics or skills of the engineers, but I can make judgments about the merits of the product and thus the overall efforts of Lazasoft as lacking in informed and competent design. Perhaps Lyzasoft has no designers on staff, or has a notion of design that is limited to a UI guy who gets to add a little polish to the surface without any authority or opportunity to influence the product fundamentally. This isn’t design.

My response to Lyzasoft is based on the little that they have chosen to reveal publicly, which alone is quite revealing. If, in fact, the product is actually quite different from and much better than what they have chosen to reveal so far, I will gladly revise my assessment of its merits.

You appear to have an intimate knowledge of Lyzasoft, which suggests some form of involvement with them. What is the nature of your (and Microsoft’s ) involvement and the source of your knowledge of their internal practices? Having no involvement with Lyzasoft myself, what I have written is without bias, except for the bias that I readily admit against anything that isn’t needed and doesn’t work. Do you have a connection with Lyzasoft that perhaps inclines you to think favorably of them?

By Seth Grimes. September 23rd, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Stephen, I read your review after posting my own take on Lyza, which was based on company materials and on a briefing. The company’s engineering seems competent, but the product is mis-positioned and mis-labeled. The company uses terms such as “business analytics” and “powerful on-demand visualizations,” but Lyza analytics and visualization are shallow. Despite claiming “spreadsheet-like formulas,” Lyza offers far fewer analytical and visualization functions than Excel: only 3 chart types; (I believe) a limitation to 2-variable cross-tabs and flat (non-hierarchical) dimensions; and not even a linear regression in a tool whose authors claim was developed for financial analysts among others. See my blog article at http://www.intelligententerprise.com/blog/archives/2008/09/lyzasofts_parad.html

Donald, that you don’t like Stephen’s tone doesn’t negate the validity of his opinions.

Seth

P.S. I discovered today that there’s actually software called LazySoft that’s in a roughly similar data-integration space as LyzaSoft.

By Stephen Few. September 23rd, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Seth,

Thanks for providing more substance and detail to complement my high-level, visualization-centric review. Something that our readers might not always appreciate is the fact that we see so many new business intelligence products, but so few that are worthwhile, which reduces our ability to patiently endure yet another misdirected and inadequate product. We don’t need more, we need better. More of the same adds to the confusion and waste from which so many business intelligence workers already suffer.

By Donald Farmer. September 28th, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Just to be clear on two points. Firstly, I have no business or personal interest in Lyza; I know Scott Davies, the CEO, and we have spoken at length about customer-oriented design. Secondly, I did not set out to defend the visualizations that Stephen commented on; rather, I responded to the conclusions drawn about Lyza’s processes.

However, I will strike one personal note. Having worked in start-ups myself, I guess the unfairness of the conclusions hit home. It is rare for a start-up to pay careful attention to customers in the way that Lyza have. Too many products hit the market making assumptions about user experience, relying on developers with a supposedly good eye for design, or just passively implementing “best practices” proposed by others. Thus, I felt it a shame to see a sedulous newcomer sarcastically written off.

Nevertheless, as I said previously, Stephen makes some reasonable points about the samples that Lyza show in their materials; and, as I would expect, Seth makes telling points in his blog about the analytical features of Lyza. (There are positive reviews out there too, of course, from Seth’s fellow columnist Mark Madsen http://tinyurl.com/4957sk and from William McKnight http://tinyurl.com/4kssxp and others. Overall Lyza will be pleased with their reception.)

Stephen’s comments raise an interesting issue for me. There are many users out there – the majority in my experience – who want to deliver exactly the kind of presentation we are discussing. Yes, spare me from them, but they are a key audience for analytic and visualization software. Ironically, Lyza would be disadvantaged commercially if it could NOT produce the very effects that are criticized. I am not convinced that the role of a BI start up is to be didactic about visualization.

As ever, the market will decide. I wish Lyza well, as with any start up, and in this case, I do expect they will find a niche. I am certain they will learn much from their customers and commentators, and that can only be a good thing.

Thinking of the didactic aspect I was reminded of one of Stephen’s observations that I have often quoted approvingly: “In our excitement to produce what we could only make before with great effort, many of us have lost sight of the real purpose of quantitative displays — to provide the reader with important, meaningful, and useful insight.” I now think this is an oversimplification. It is like saying that the “real purpose” of a car is to get us from A to B, or the “real purpose” of clothes is to keep us warm or modest. These purposes are important, but there is also an element of social display in all these choices. For many people, publishing a report for their superiors, or standing in front of an audience to deliver a presentation, is as important a social display as any in their life. In such cases, aesthetics or even a need to over-display, may well win out. Aesthetics are not so amenable to technical criticism as clarity. The “real purpose” of any quantitative display is more subtle than just conveying quantitative information. I have seen numerous presentations which were the visual equivalent of the boy racer who spends thousands on spoilers and skirts for his street car, only to drive around posing with his elbow resting on the open window sill – but the “real purpose” of the spoiler was never to be aerodynamic.

No doubt, this is a topic for another time. Meanwhile – thanks for the opportunity to engage in some substantive discussion.

By Stephen Few. September 30th, 2008 at 8:52 am

Donald,

You are correct when you say that I am not particularly interested in helping people support intentions when presenting quantitative information other than those that support the clear, accurate, meaningful, and compelling communication of that information to their audience. I’m not interested in helping the presenter impress the audience with his or her coolness or intelligence. I’m not in the business of marketing. You are not correct, however, when you suggest that I don’t take aesthetics into account. When directed by an interest in communication, aesthetics can play an important role in getting people to notice and appreciate the information you’re presenting. On the other hand, when aesthetic choices are made to mislead the audience, I oppose them. Also, when people make aesthetic choices that, in their ignorance, actually undermine their intentions, I oppose them. The ghastly background templates that are provided by both PowerPoint and Lyza for presentations are examples of aesthetics gone bad. Contrary to your claim, aesthetics, when applied to presentations of information, are amenable to criticism. If you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can test the outcome to determine if your application of aesthetics has supported or undermined the goal.

I also have worked for start-ups, both my own and those managed by others. Every business begins as a start-up. Not every business provides something useful to the world. Even when attempting to solve a real problem, not every business does so in a way that actually works. Therefore, not every business deserves our support. It’s a shame when people pour their hearts and souls into a business venture that isn’t worthwhile due to someone’s ignorance or errors in judgment, but we’re not doing them or the world in general a favor by supporting their misguided efforts. We harm the business intelligence industry and those who rely on it when we support bad products.

You mentioned two favorable reviews of Lyza. The one written by Stephen Swoyer was nothing but a repetition of content that appears in LyzaSoft’s marketing materials. I wrote to Swoyer and his editor to complain that a vendor’s marketing materials should not be passed off as news or an analyst’s review. Swoyer didn’t respond, but his editor said that they chose to cover the topic as news, even though they didn’t have a chance to evaluate the product. The other review was written by William McKnight, who admits right off that he personally knows and likes the folks at LyzaSoft. Despite his many talents, McKnight’s work does not focus on analytics, data presentation, or data visualization. An expert in these domains would not review Lyza favorably.

By Donald Farmer. September 30th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

I think you misunderstood me. I certainly don’t (or didn’t intend to) suggest that you leave aesthetics out of scope. You make excellent points throughout your work about the role of aesthetics in visualization. What I’m saying is a little different.

Even with the best of intentions, clarity and accuracy or meaning are not the only considerations that people apply to the presentations they give and the presentations they view. I completely agree with you when you say, “If you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can test the outcome to determine if your application of aesthetics has supported or undermined the goal.” What I’m saying is that the goal to be achieved is often not just about clarity and accuracy of meaning. It is reasonable that you choose to focus on those aspects as your subject area. It is reasonably too to regard them as superior attributes. However, to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

If the goal is to be compelling, then clarity and accuracy will be a means to that end, but not necessarily an end in themselves. You may be clear, accurate and meaningful but not achieve the end of compelling your audience if you don’t succeed in other areas. Perhaps in some cases that does indeed include appearing cool or intelligent - but I’m not suggesting that should be the subject of your next book. :-)

Is the inverse also possible? Could one make a presentation more compelling for the audience in question, without optimizing for clarity and accuracy of data presentation? I think that is very dependent on the social context of the presentation and just what the goal is. I see numerous cases where clear and elegant graphics are “improved” before presentation by the addition of embellishments. The scientific community, in my experience, is notable for this; but the business community is by no means immune from it. If the distracting photo background, or the oddly textured bars speak to another purpose beyond clarity and accuracy, and achieve that purpose, then that is a reflection of the social context in which they work, and the presentations no less compelling for that.

(Of course, I am not talking of scenarios where data is deliberately distorted or obscured - that’s another scenario altogether, though sadly common enough at election time.)

It’s a messy world out there, and I don’t want to be judgmental about the motives of my users.

I’ll blog about this soon, with examples from my own wanderings. It’s difficult to continue a conversation just through comments, but thanks for thoughtful responses.

Donald

BTW, although I have wandered somewhat off the original Lyza topic, one note on that. I linked Swoyer’s article, but it was Mark Madsen’s comments that I thought interesting, even if originally part of the Lyza material. Both Mark and William, to my mind, represent exactly the kind of people who might actually use Lyza in their work.

By Stephen Few. October 1st, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Donald,

I would be interested in seeing examples of “cases where clear and elegant graphics are ‘improved’ before presentation by the addition of embellishments.”

By Dan Flanery. October 2nd, 2008 at 9:48 am

from what I know of them, they take the process of design with deep seriousness

They may take it with “deep seriousness”, but that’s not translating to the product that they’re actually selling if that pie chart posted above is any example. I mean, you can’t even read the freaking title!

They want $900 for that? Seriously? I am in the wrong line of work . . .

By Colin White. October 21st, 2008 at 4:45 pm

I cannot resist my own comments on this series of blog entries. Like Donald Farmer I like Steve’s material. However, I am on Donald’s side on this one.

1. I think the blog entry is mean spirited. I believe you can critique a product without resorting this style of writing.

2. I am blown away that such a blog entry can be written based on marketing material. If you are going to review a product then review it. Don’t just read the marketing literature and then blast the product. The product has been available for some time for free download to evaluate and comment on. Steve did you do this? Did you feed back your concerns to the group and let them respond before you sounded off. Steve Davis of Lyzasoft is very open and willing to discuss his product in detail at any time. Just drop him an e-mail.

3. I also think it is also inappropriate and again mean spirited to hint that Donald Farmer had a hidden agenda in his blog comments. In fact Lyza is a competitor to a product Donald is working on for Microsoft. The reason he knows Steve Davis of Lyzasoft is the same reason as I do. We all attended the Northwest BI Summit together this summer. As did William McKnight.

4. Whereas I am the last person to claim experience in data visualization, I do understand the data visualization concerns made in these blog entries. However, the folks on this blog should first look at how the product works and understand that the product is intended for the casual user and not a BI specialist. It is trying to add too many bells and whistles to products that make them difficult to use. Simplicity is not a bad thing.

The bottom line for me is that I am really disappointed in the tone of this blog entry and the associated replies to comments from other folks. I recommend reviewing the product properly, talking to Scott Davis about your concerns and then write a proper review. Oh, and by the way don’t question people’s motives and belittle them just because they disagree with you. Regards. Colin White

By Stephen Few. October 22nd, 2008 at 5:43 am

Colin,

You are one of my dearest friends in the business intelligence industry. You know that I am not mean spirited. I alone am in a position to know my motives, and I assure you that meanness was not among them. I can understand, however, how negative opinions of a product that was developed by a company whose CEO you have met and like can carry a sting, but they are an accurate, honest, and objective assessment of what LyzaSoft has revealed about its product. What moves me is not meanness, but unbearable frustration with the deplorable and embarrassing state of most business intelligence software. My tone in this particular blog post is consistent with the tone that I always exhibit when writing about poorly designed and thus ineffective software that attempts to capture the minds and open the wallets of customers. Most established business intelligence products are already so horrible, the last thing we need is another bad product. LyzaSoft is merely one in a long list of new products that keep the bar set low.

Why would I spend my time performing a thorough evaluation of a product when the vendor has already demonstrated through its own promotional efforts that it doesn’t understand data analysis or presentation and offers nothing of value that isn’t already available? It is appropriate and professional to critique a product based on a thorough review of everything the vendor has said and shown in its promotional materials and on its website, as long as the review is restricted to those aspects of the product. As someone who has limited time, as we all do, I decide whether a product is worth further examination based on what the vendor reveals.

I understand that you, Donald Farmer, and William McKnight have met Scott Davis, LyzaSoft’s CEO, and like him—no doubt for good reason. Scott is probably a great guy, but his product, based on what I have seen, isn’t good and isn’t needed. I have critiqued only what I have seen. I am open to the possibility that Lyza has positive qualities that I haven’t seen. If it does, this doesn’t change the fact that Lyza fails in the ways that I have pointed out.

I have not criticized Lyza for being simple. As anyone who is familiar with my work knows, I am a champion of simplicity. I have criticized Lyza for being ineffective. It is not simple; it is simpleminded. Lyza takes simple data and renders it unnecessarily complex through sheer ignorance of effective data analysis and presentation practices. Anyone who works in the field of business intelligence ought to know better. Makers of software that supposedly supports data analysis and presentation definitely ought to know better. Casual users (Lyza’s primary audience and mine), as much as anyone, deserve tools that work.

In the discussion that followed my blog post, I did not accuse Donald Farmer of having ill motives; I questioned his objectivity. Based on conversations that Donald and I have had outside of this blog, I can assure you that we seem to be on good terms. I did not question William McKnight’s motives; I pointed out what he readily admitted in his own article—that he knows LyzaSoft’s CEO and likes him. I believe that this affects his objectivity, which has nothing to do with motives. I also pointed out the pertinent fact that William’s expertise is not in data analysis, data presentation, or data visualization. I have no doubt that William is excellent at what he does. I have reviewed everything that I said in the original blog post and in the discussion that followed. At no point did I question anyone’s motives or belittle their opinions. I have stated my opinion honestly, accurately, and yes, provocatively. When software vendors make inaccurate claims about the merits of their products, they invite and deserve a provocative response. Though provocative, what I’ve said is factual. As always, I invite discussion about the facts and responses to the substance of my opinions. If you or anyone else, including Scott Davis, feels that I have misjudged Lyza, please make the case. Nowhere will you find in any of my work that I am deaf to a reasonable argument supported by evidence.

By Mark Madsen. October 22nd, 2008 at 10:48 am

I guess it’s my turn to weigh in since I seem to be the only person who actually installed the software. Sorry Stephen, but I side with Donald and Colin. While we all write comments on product announcements based on briefings and PR, we usually limit it to the content in the announcement and critique concept, approach, etc. The mistake you made is writing some pretty scathing remarks without first researching your comments - they did not seek you out, probably because they know that what they offer isn’t in your domain. Neither you nor Seth looked at the product, spent the time to understand who it is aimed at or examined what problems the product is trying to solve.

A flaw in your analysis is that you assumed this is a BI or data visualization tool. It isn’t. It’s an analysis tool for collecting, integrating and manipulating data, with visualization limited to basic presentation. I agree with your critique of the aesthetics of the visual display and provided them with similar though less harsh feedback. I don’t agree with how you came to your conclusion. I think that was more of an “oh no another bad visualization tool” reaction based on terms they used, without any effort to dig deeper.

While I would like to see a UI similar Tableau or Spotfire on this product, that isn’t their goal. Their primary strength is the ability to bring data from a warehouse and other sources together, persist it without having to know SQL or schemas or manage files, refine and manipulate it in ways familiar to analysts, make visible that manipulation (unlike Excel and Access, the two most commonly used data manipulation tools), and examine the results.

The target user is someone struggling to use multiple tools to get at data, integrate, refine it, and work out answers to questions. People in that role, and I have been in that role, generally dump data into files, spreadsheets and Access databases where they can do successive refinement not possible with BI tools. That’s actually the hard part. Visualizing the data once you have it the way you want it is the last 20% of the work.

They say that this area is the least developed and that they first wanted to solve the hardest and most time-consuming problems people deal with, and address some of the traceability and visibility problems with sourcing and manipulating data that happen in conventional desktop tools like Excel. I’m hoping they improve the visualization features since they aid in analysis, however they are not trying to be a data visualization tool. I do think they misuse that term in their marketing.

Your comments to Colin about wasting your time makes me wonder how much business analysis you’ve seen in a corporate environment. e.g. “already demonstrated through its own promotional efforts that it doesn’t understand data analysis or presentation and offers nothing of value that isn’t already available”

Show me a product that does the heavy lifting to get data ready for analysis and that can be used by someone outside of IT. I don’t know of one and I track this part of the market. Everyone I’ve seen lives in the hell of BI exports to spreadsheets, Access, text files and Excel.

Nice visualization is what you use once you’ve assembled, narrowed and refined the data sets and want to explore or present them. Graphing / visualizing is their weak area. You assume their product is the same as the rest of the BI tools on the market: a veneer over pre-assembled data, and that this is their focal area. It isn’t.

I believe that they have a better understanding of what an analyst does than you realize. Based on my experience doing that type of work, I side with them.

By Mark Madsen. October 22nd, 2008 at 10:54 am

I missed this comment: “I wrote to Swoyer and his editor to complain that a vendor’s marketing materials should not be passed off as news or an analyst’s review.”

Isn’t this precisely what you did, and why people are taking you to task?

By Colin White. October 22nd, 2008 at 11:49 am

Steve,

No I don’t think as a person you are mean spirited, but the title of your blog is what caused this comment. I replied directly to your blog, rather than via a personal e-mail, because I wanted my comments to reflect my professional opinions. I think it is important to separate personal perspectives from business ones. For example, I may like Scott Davis, but this should not influence my attitude towards his product, and it doesn’t.

There are many people in this industry who will write or say anything if they are paid for doing it. I have little respect for those people. However, I have a lot of respect for the people involved in this discussion, i.e., yourself, Marc Madsen, Donald Farmer, William McKnight and Scott Davis. All of you approach your jobs professionally and have a tremendous amount of experience in the industry. When these folks disagree I sit up and listen because I feel there is something to learned from the differences of opinion.

As Mark Madsen points out Scott Davis has done some interesting research into the potential users of his product. The results are interesting because they confirm my viewpoint that we need to do some lateral thinking with respect to the discovery and analysis tools required by the 80% percent of business users who simply don’t have the skills to use today’s BI tools. Improving the visualization of these tools doesn’t solve this problem.

The problem lies in finding and understanding the data required to do analysis. I believe a new approach is required to solve this. This is the problem Scott Davis is trying to solve. This doesn’t negate in any way existing BI products or your efforts to improve them.

I also agree with Mark’s comments on Lyzasoft. The terminology used is rather unfortunate from a BI viewpoint. From a BI technology perspective this product is not a data visualization tool. In fact the UI elements are quite basic, and I have told Scott Davis this. However, Scott’s position is that the potential users of his product view these terms quite differently from the way BI folks do, and this is why he is using them.

The healthy aspect of this series of blogs is that it has created some good discussion. Leaving Lyzasoft aside, I think you would find a discussion about Scott’s research valuable, it may not change your perception of his product, but it could provide some insight into user requirements in this area. Colin.

By Stephen Few. October 22nd, 2008 at 4:20 pm

I have assumed nothing but what LyzaSoft has itself stated about its product. If Lyza is a data integration tool—nothing more—and LyzaSoft had made this claim in its press release, promotional materials, and in the examples that it shows on its website, then I would have never written a word about it, because it would fall outside my area of interest. In the press release, which is how I learned about the product, LyzaSoft stated:

On September 22, 2008 Lyzasoft will introduce Lyza, a powerful desktop analytics solution that enables analysts to synthesize, explore and visualize data, then to publish compelling presentations and dashboards – all without the reliance on lengthy IT development cycles.

I based my evaluation on these claims. We ought to evaluate products based on the claims that vendors make about them. Vendors are responsible for stating the truth and for describing their products clearly and accurately.

My work focuses primarily on the needs of typical people in the workplace (not business intelligence experts) who are responsible for making sense of data and then communicating what they find to others. I understand their needs very well and I have a good sense of what they would expect from a product that claims to do what LyzaSoft claims its product does. Lyza might be useful for data integration. If so, that’s great. I stated in the beginning of my initial blog post that I did not evaluate this aspect of the product, but focused on the other five claims, which all fall into my area of expertise. Contrary to the claims, Lyza does not support “powerful desktop analytics,” nor does it enable people to usefully “explore and visualize data, then…publish compelling presentations and dashboards.” I was able to determine that Lyza fails in these respects based on the examples that LyzaSoft shows on its website. Of the six things that the press release claims the product can do (powerful analysis, synthesize data, explore data, visualize data, present data compellingly, and create compelling dashboards), Lyza might do one of the six. I believe that this warrants a scathing review.

Mark — you claim that I have done what I accused Stephen Swoyer of doing. This is far from true. I bemoaned the fact that Swoyer regurgitated almost word-for-word the contents of LyzaSoft’s marketing materials, which he shouldn’t have done as a journalist. I, on the other hand, read LyzaSoft’s claims and then evaluated its ability to deliver based on a review of everything that could be found on its website. Taking the time to download the product and review it thoroughly would not alter any of the facts that I stated about its failings.

If Scott Davis characterized the product accurately when he demonstrated it at Microsoft’s recent business intelligence conference, I can understand why Colin, Mark, and Donald assessed it worth differently than I did. I based my judgments on a different set of official LyzaSoft sources. If these sources misrepresent the product, then this is a serious problem that Scott should fix. Scott’s claim that he used terms in his press release and in other marketing materials in a way that will not lead his customers to false expectations is a flight of fancy. Of this I am quite sure.

By Wayne. December 1st, 2008 at 1:14 pm

To Colin’s point: “I am blown away that such a blog entry can be written based on marketing material.”

I am only a bystander in this discussion, but I assume a company — especially a startup — would put its best foot forward in its marketing material. Especially with a product that is graphical in nature. While an in-depth review would include running the actual application, I’d say that a company that is marketing a VISUALIZATION tool would have powerful, meaningful visualization in its marketing material. Especially when they use words like “compelling presentations”.

This is not a product that does something non-graphical and they got some random screenshots and gave it to their friend Joey to throw into their page layout program to make a brochure. The graphical output IS their product. And generating nice-looking output from their own program is absolutely the least-expensive task they have on their promotional-material checklist.

By Niranjan Pedanekar. February 18th, 2009 at 8:29 am

I am a complete fan of the visualisation work that I have read of Stephen, and do try to practise it wherever I can. Despite that or because of that as the case may be :), the following questions seem to pop up in my meandering mind:

1. Is there a way for Lyzasoft to fix their visualisation problems?
2. Will fixing their problems increase their sales?
3. If they take away the ‘compelling visualisation’ claim, would it matter a great deal to their product?

In my opinion, if 3 is true, then the review stands. They need to heed the opinion of visualisation experts, irrespective of how good they are in the data-* (* stands for collection, warehousing, cleansing, …) capabilities.

If not 2, then the evangelists such as Stephen must continue their work! There will be a time when 2 would be true.

If 1, would be great if the experts suggest a way out.

By Niranjan Pedanekar. February 18th, 2009 at 8:30 am

“1. Is there a way for Lyzasoft to fix their visualisation problems?”

With this, I meant “a quick way”.

Apologies for the omission.

By Stephen Few. February 26th, 2009 at 12:59 am

Niranjan,

Regarding your questions:

1. “Is there a quick way for LyzaSoft to fix their visualization problems?” This is easy to answer. No, their data visualization problems are not superficial; they are fundamental, rooted in a lack of understanding. Fixing the problems would require a team that has expertise in data visualization and a commitment to effective design.

2. “Will fixing their problems increase their sales?” Again, I think the answer is easy. The ability to analyze data effectively is increasingly becoming a high priority for organizations. Any software that begins to support this need effectively will increase sales as a result, assuming that other aspects of the product don’t turn customers away.

3. “If they take away the ‘compelling visualization’ claim [and data analysis claim as well], would it matter a great deal to the product?” From a marketing perspective, yes, because the product would lose two of the claims that makes it potentially worthwhile. From the perspective customer satisfaction based on actual use, however, it would improve the product, because confusion about and frustratio with its data analysis and data visualization capabilities (or lack thereof) would be reduced.