Too Much Data, Not Enough Info?

To facilitate analysis, consider real-time, easy-access database tools with visualization capabilities.

Texas Instruments' Joe Lebowitz describes the decision-making challenge at the company's Kilby Center in Dallas: "We have the propensity to collect data in the semiconductor industry that is absolutely unparalleled. We've got databases that are probably still housed in vacuum tubes somewhere all the way up to the latest, greatest, Oracle databases." Lebowitz, director of yield engineering, described those circumstances at a user group conference of Spotfire Inc., Somerville, Mass. He had just gotten the go-ahead for more licenses of Spotfire's DecisionSite software as the enabling part of a data analysis system. The task: tying different tools and different databases together to give TI engineers an easy data visualization capability. "We collect extensive data on the processing flow, especially the defects placed on the wafer. Our yield engineers wanted a tool that would make it easier to correlate those defects to the actual yields or tie commonalities among multiple lots that have different types of defects back to a specific piece of equipment in the process line. "In the past they would have to do that manually, and it would take them a long, long time -- if it could be done at all." Lebowitz says tasks that once took weeks can now be accomplished in minutes or hours. The obvious alternative -- combining all the data into a single data warehouse -- was not seen as a viable approach. "We decided a long time ago that we really had to use the existing internal data stores as sources. We just can't afford to go and recompile all of this data into one giant data warehouse. Our solution really functions as a flow controller. It handles data back and forth between various data analysis tools and provides the visualization engine that makes all this tie together." He singles out ease of use as the single biggest advantage. "Within any company, there are a few real power users that typically are deep into the programming language itself -- often you go to these people when you need the really detailed data analysis done." In contrast, Lebowitz sees the Spotfire solution empowering all users equally. Spotfire's Christopher Ahlberg, CEO and founder, says the core value of DecisionSite is its ability to use databases to drive decisions in real time. "It can be a key to enterprise integration and collaboration through concepts like product lifecycle management." Spotfire's user list heavily involves drug-makers -- including biotech -- as well as energy companies, manufacturing and the chemical processing industry. The CIA is also a believer with agreements to apply Spotfire's data analysis to terror threats. Also, In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm, has an equity stake.

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