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Robust Basic Statistics for Excel

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Dr. Jack Yurkiewicz, Lubin School of Business, Pace University.

BACKGROUND: I teach quantitative methods to MBA candidates at the Lubin School of Business, Pace University, New York. I work with approximately 200 students a year in courses that cover business statistics, multivariate statistics, forecasting and operations research.

PLATFORMS: StatTools works on the Windows platform; there is no MacIntosh version as yet.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In the past, students used a dedicated, standalone professional statistical program for data analysis in the basic and multivariate statistics courses. Last year, with a revised MBA curriculum installed, we decided to standardize statistical instruction via Excel. The new course covered basic business statistics and some management science, and I adopted the Albright, et al text.1 The book is very good, and it came with an Excel add-in for statistics, StatPro. Recently, Palisade Software morphed and enhanced StatPro into a commercial product, StatTools. In the fall of 2004, the text will come with a special student version of this product, but I have used StatTools for the past year in my courses.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: StatTools' capabilities are typical for a good introductory course in statistics and more. It does descriptive statistics (including histograms and box plots), confidence intervals and hypothesis tests (one and two sample) for the mean and standard deviation, chi-square tests for independence, regression (including forward and backward stepwise regression and logistic regression), one and two-way ANOVA, forecasting (including Holt's and Winters' methods), quality control, some nonparametric analysis and discriminant analysis. There is a utility feature that permits easy data transformations.

STRENGTHS: StatTools has the valuable capacity to produce robust statistics in Microsoft Excel - and most analysts agree this is something Excel cannot accomplish on its own. It has been designed for the many users in business, academia and government who need reliable, basic statistics from their spreadsheet data. StatTools is intended to fill the often-lamented statistical deficiencies of Excel's Data Analysis add-in, and it accomplishes this with seamless integration that Excel users should appreciate. The program is very easy to learn and to use; students had no difficulty with it at all. It had no bugs that we could discern, and it gave accurate results. What StatTools does, it does well. I recommend StatTools to Excel users who want reliable, basic statistics but do not need the more sophisticated capabilities of a dedicated, standalone statistical analysis package.

WEAKNESSES: Although StatTools is not likely to satisfy the more sophisticated requirements of the professional statistician, that is not its purpose. In terms of meeting its goals, there are a few drawbacks. While the graphical capabilities are good, they are marred by an annoying "watermark" indicating that the user has the academic version (of course, the commercial product does not have this). The student version also "expires" after two years. Estimation for proportions is not available, prediction intervals in regression are limited to a default 95% only and analyzing subsets of the data requires prior special data handling. For some users, the price may be a drawback. The commercial product retails for $500, which can rival or even exceed the price of some standalone products that have far more capabilities and features. But for those who want to try before they buy, a 10-day trial version is available.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We needed a statistics program that would work within Excel and that was compatible with a good textbook. We did not evaluate comparable products. Our comparison was with our previous standalone software, StatPro.

DELIVERABLES: The statistics produced by StatTools are robust.

VENDOR SUPPORT: My single experience with Palisade's technical support was a short story that ended well. A knowledgeable, patient and friendly technician resolved my problem right away.

DOCUMENTATION: The program is well documented, including a softbound manual that is also available on the user's hard disk. It is clear and has many screenshots that enhance its user-friendliness. Except for the opening section about StatTools' Data Manager (which sets up the program by specifying where the data is located and other details), users can use most of the software without ever consulting the documentation.

1. Albright, Christian, Wayne Winston, and Christopher Zappe. Data Analysis for Managers with Microsoft Excel, Second Edition. Thomson-Brookes/Cole, 2004.

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