BACKGROUND: Artificial Intelligence Software S.P.A. (AIS), Milan, Italy, has developed and is enhancing VisualMine, a data mining environment mainly based on advanced visualization techniques. VisualMine is used in a wide range of fields including fraud detection, marketing, strategic decision support and financial analysis.

PLATFORMS: High-end personal computers running Windows NT workstations and Sun workstations running UNIX.

PROBLEM SOLVED: When AIS began developing its first data mining application, we needed to provide powerful visualization capabilities very quickly. Developing the types of capabilities that we needed from scratch would have required years, yet we wanted to deliver a prototype to a large potential customer within a few weeks to clinch an order.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: AVS/Express provides an extremely powerful toolbox of visualization techniques along with built-in graphical methods for interacting with the data. These tools make it possible to develop a prototype with the functionality that we envisioned in the required time frame. Development time was reduced because developers were able to construct the entire application as a hierarchy of graphical objects, create and modify data structures with drag-and-drop simplicity and lay out GUIs using direct manipulation of widgets. The flexible environment provided by AVS/Express can easily be upgraded with new capabilities. For example, recently it only took a few days to prepare the Tree Visualizer, a prototype of an entirely new visualization technique showing the output produced by a decision tree. The Tree Visualizer shows the tree and indicates its properties through the color of its nodes, their size and text labels. A more detailed analysis of the population at each node of the tree can be obtained simply by double clicking to drill down on the underlying data set.

STRENGTHS: One major strength of AVS/Express is that you can easily port applications to many different hardware platforms. While VisualMine's primary platform is personal computers running Windows NT, we can easily support customers that run various UNIX workstations. Another major strength of AVS/Express is that it makes it easy to encapsulate the application in an ActiveX component that can be plugged into an Internet browser. We plan to take advantage of this capability to develop Internet-based data mining applications in the near future.

WEAKNESSES: The fact that AVS/Express supports multiple operating systems limits the number of standard widgets and controls in its library used to develop the operator interface.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We identified several development tools that offered the powerful visualization capabilities that we needed such as the ability to depict two different dependent variables as a function of geographic region by varying the height and color of the region. Most of these programs, however, were designed strictly for use in a scientific environment so they did not support the most common databases used in the financial world. Use of one of these tools would have required purchasing and interfacing another layer of software to provide database access. What set AVS/Express apart was that it exceeded the visualization capabilities of the scientific-specific codes while providing built-in support for databases popular in finance such as Oracle, Sybase and Informix. AVS/Express also provides support for many other databases through ODBC.

DELIVERABLES: The 3-D viewing capabilities provided by AVS/Express allow the users of VisualMine to exploit the capabilities of the advanced visualization techniques in which large numbers of variables are simultaneously explored for anomaly detection, clustering and correlation. In particular, the scatter 3-D viewer allows tens of variables to be simultaneously analyzed. The 2-D viewers provided by AVS/Express are excellent for rapid profiling of multiple variable data sets.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Advanced Visual Systems has provided outstanding technical support throughout the four years that we have relied on their tools. They have been particularly helpful in giving us unlimited AVS demo licenses to allow our users to evaluate our product. Also, in the first two years that we used AVS/Express, we found their training courses and advanced consulting services from their technical support staff to be very useful.

DOCUMENTATION: The manuals provide easy-to-follow tutorials for beginning users as well as a complete technical reference for more experienced developers.

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