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DePaul University Enhances Access to Data with SPSS SmartViewer Web Server

  Product Review published in DM Review Magazine
May 2002 Issue
  By Joseph W. Filkins and Liz Sanders and Gerald W. McLaughlin
SPSS, Inc.
Review of: Smart Viewer Web Server from SPSS, Inc.

CATEGORY: Analytic Applications

REVIEWERS: Joseph W. Filkins, senior research associate, Office of Institutional Planning and Research (OIPR); Liz Sanders, DePaul University Office of Enrollment and Marketing Research; and Gerald W. McLaughlin, director, OIPR.

BACKGROUND: DePaul University is the largest Catholic university in the United States, currently enrolling more than 21,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students across nine colleges and eight campuses in the Chicago metropolitan area.

PLATFORMS: SPSS SmartViewer Web Server (SVWS) requires a server running Windows NT or 2000; or Sun Solaris 2.6+, 1GB RAM, 500MHz processor and 10GB of hard disk space.

PROBLEM SOLVED: With DePaul's expansion -- both in enrollment and locations -- and an organizational structure that stresses data-driven decision making, we needed a system that would allow our users quick and easy access to the wealth of data available to the institution, including data on the application cycle, enrollment data and student survey data. For such a system, we had three requirements: we wanted to allow users with basic skills to interact with the data; the system had to be software independent; and the system needed to be able to accommodate data from multiple underlying sources and changing systems. SVWS allows us to address all three of these requirements.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SVWS is serving as a primary dissemination tool for enrollment and survey data to the university community. The administrators generate OLAP cubes in SPSS that are published to the Web interface for users to view and manipulate. Actually, any output file that can be created can be published to the SVWS. Because it is a password-protected site, we do maintain some degree of control over access. Furthermore, because users are viewing tables created by the administrators, we do not have any concerns over inconsistencies in reported numbers between users, nor are we worried that the data could be compromised in any way. Also, we have published to the system documents created in other applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel that provide the needed background information and context for the data tables.

STRENGTHS: SVWS allows quick, easy user access to a wide range of data for untrained users in a software-independent environment. It is very easy to publish output to the system and easy for users to learn to manipulate the published output. The interactivity of the system serves to actively engage the user in obtaining needed information. Because we are using SPSS to generate the data tables for publication, we can pull data from multiple sources very easily, and users can look at multiple comparisons on one screen. The ability to publish non-SPSS documents is also a plus, given that we produce separate analytical reports which accompany the various data tables. Also, users can save table views as CSV files and open them in Excel to take advantage of that application's charting function or prepare tables for distribution.

WEAKNESSES: The ability to produce dynamic and interactive charts to match the data in the tables does not exist. A default to "not available" does not exist when the N's upon which mean values are based are less than five. Also, users cannot run significance tests on the fly. The system does not function on older browsers, and we have seen a performance slowdown when a fair number of users try to interact with the system simultaneously.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We were looking for a system that would allow freer access to institutional data. Given that our researchers were all familiar with SPSS as a statistics application, we were already favorably inclined to using more of their products. Also, other OLAP systems tended to be much more cost-prohibitive than the SPSS system.

DELIVERABLES: SmartViewer provides us with a more efficient way of disseminating information to our users. Furthermore, with our users more actively engaged in the discovery process, they are more inclined to believe and retain the information they obtain and be more engaged in future research efforts. Currently, we have available program-level enrollment data and student survey data for the last five years.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Working with the people at SPSS has been a pleasure. Our relationship goes back many years, and they have been tremendously helpful and supportive of our work and our concerns. We plan to continue the relationships that have been cultivated in future products and joint enterprises.

DOCUMENTATION: Truth be told, I was not aware of documentation related to SPSS SmartViewer. The system was very easy to learn without a manual. For users, we created a DePaul-specific user manual, with descriptions of the different features and examples using our data.


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Joseph W. Filkins, senior research associate, Office of Institutional Planning and Research (OIPR).

Liz Sanders, DePaul University Office of Enrollment and Marketing Research.

Gerald W. McLaughlin, director, Office of Institutional Planning and Research (OIPR).

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