BACKGROUND: Cactus Strategies, LLC, is a consultancy with a focus on the creation of heuristic predictive business tools and models as well as business development and e-business solutions and applications. Business decisions can be more precise and daily operations more profitable when a tool is available for capturing, analyzing, trending and predicting multiple interacting parameters. One of the key features of business tools offered by Cactus Strategies is the ability to accurately select the most likely customer from the general population and deliver contact information and a customer profile to the sales force.

PLATFORMS: Cactus Strategies runs PolyAnalyst PRO on Windows NT 4.0 (Service Pack 4).

PROBLEM SOLVED: The client, a national communication services provider, was introducing new services. The client was seeking a cutting-edge solution that could benefit from the input of marketing, sales and engineering activities, predict geographical areas of high demand and identify the best individual target customers. The client needed the tool to determine the best metropolitan statistical areas to offer their services and the number of customers likely to select various services within each market. The same tool needed to be capable of driving, tracking and learning from the marketing effort and changing the national strategy if necessary. Since there was no available history on a new product, a population with demonstrated pent-up demand was identified and then modeled with the help of PolyAnalyst to generate the first customer profile. PolyAnalyst is currently being incorporated into the main database to handle the tasks of periodically remodeling the data and scoring records. It will be the heart of the tool's heuristic abilities.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: PolyAnalyst is a multi-strategy data mining solution providing capabilities for data import, manipulation, machine learning from data, and results application and reporting. It works with numeric, categorical and yes/no variables. PolyAnalyst data exploration and modeling algorithms predict values of continuous variables, solve classification and clustering tasks, determine the most influential independent variables and explicitly model complex phenomena.

STRENGTHS: PolyAnalyst PRO is well suited to the usual projects undertaken by Cactus Strategies. It is usable as a standalone PC application, but it can also be adapted to run native to databases such as Oracle or Microsoft Access. This allows us to use the same tool from the exploratory and proof-of-concept stages of a project to its full implementation. Another strength is the wide variety of methods and the flexibility of use that allow the researcher to creatively explore the data. The presentation of discovered rules in standard notation, suitable to programming on another platform, adds substantially to the usefulness of the product.

WEAKNESSES: The printing capabilities could be made more convenient and flexible. It would be very helpful to be able to cut and paste from PolyAnalyst Text Reports to other applications. Also, an enhanced data editing and cleansing functionality is desirable.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Cactus Strategies chose PolyAnalyst because it offered broad analytic functionality and ease of use beyond any other product tested. We required a single product that allowed data import from a wide variety of platforms (including Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel and larger databases) simultaneously providing analytic power and flexibility. PolyAnalyst was able to meet these requirements and deliver rules in understandable and exportable format.

DELIVERABLES: Models delivered by PolyAnalyst are both useful and easy to test and apply. PolyAnalyst discovers complex and surprising relationships in the data that would never have been revealed by the usual statistical analysis. In a carefully designed series of tests, the rule generated was capable of selecting the population of interest for the client from the control population with an accuracy of more than 70 percent. We are in the process of embedding the power of PolyAnalyst into a Microsoft Access environment.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Customer support is available by telephone and over the Internet. On-site coaching can also be arranged to help clients develop specific applications. The dedicated support of the Megaputer team, who were available at all times to facilitate our learning and use of the product, was invaluable and unsurpassed in our experience.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation provided was clear and easy to understand. It offered step-by-step tutorials that allowed our staff to begin production almost immediately.

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