PLATFORMS: Server: Windows NT, Novell, UNIX. Client: Windows 95, Windows NT.

BACKGROUND: Meridian Resource Corporation is a diversified health care consulting firm and managed care company that provides health care cost containment products and services.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Meridian supports a broad range of health care clients by collecting and analyzing client-specific health care data. There are three key challenges that occur with this data: 1) insuring the integrity of the data; 2) determining whether relationships exist in the data; and 3) determining whether these relationships are meaningful.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SPSS is functioning as our primary data cleaning, data mining and statistical analysis tool. SPSS for Windows is used to check and clean data and to identify and repair missing values in the data. For data access, the ODBC connectivity that SPSS for Windows provides to our Oracle and MS Access databases is invaluable. Multiple users handle many ad hoc queries in this way. Data is also taken from multiple platforms, sites and sources. Survey data is often used to enhance the source data. SPSS for Windows is used to merge this different data together in a common data set to be analyzed. For the analysis functions, SPSS for Windows offers a wide range of capability, from the basic frequency distributions to correlations, regression and the more advanced econometric modeling. These tools are used to find the relationships and assess the trends in the data.

STRENGTHS: The breadth of data handling and statistical options available in SPSS for Windows is unparalleled. From a data standpoint, SPSS for Windows provides variable and value labeling, which gives clarity while doing analysis and producing reports. SPSS for Windows missing values also excels--from identifying these values, to providing tools to repair such values and by identifying various options for how these values have been used in the analysis. From a statistical standpoint, the way in which the tools are configured is beneficial. Standard statistical tools offer a quick look at the data, while convenient options allow analysts to customize analyses based on particular client's needs.

WEAKNESSES: There are two "environments" for the user to keep track of during any SPSS session. The "SPSS Data Editor" is essentially a spreadsheet view of the data being analyzed; the "SPSS Output Navigator" is the repository for all output, graphical or otherwise. It is often difficult to know what end users have actually saved when they elect to save their work. Though the two have different extensions, it is quite easy to confuse saving output with saving data.

SELECTION CRITERIA: SPSS is a member of the small group of statistical software packages available in the marketplace. The product's broad spectrum of statistical tools, 32-bit architecture and simple, graphical interface made SPSS the clear choice.

DELIVERABLES: Several kinds of output are taken directly from SPSS and given to our clients without further "packaging." Charts and graphs are easy to customize and manipulate. Perhaps the greatest output is the functional "File Info" (i.e., data dictionary) that is invaluable when preparing analyses.

VENDOR SUPPORT: SPSS has been very responsive to our technical needs. Their Web site also has served as a solution to some of our quick questions on product compatibility.

DOCUMENTATION: For the statistically inclined, the manuals serve as a general refresher and guide; for the novice, the manuals outshine even the best statistics textbook by discussing the statistical technique, demonstrating how to use the product and explaining how to interpret the results.

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