Antarctica Systems, Inc., one of the leading developers of visualization technology, has just announced version 4.0 of its Visual Net (VN) software, which provides a map interface to information of all kinds. The upgrades to Visual Net were aimed at maximizing the screen real estate to put as much information at a user's fingertips as possible, while maintaining visual clarity and usability. The company redesigned the entire user interface, upgraded the underlying technology, and built in additional interactivity. The changes made by Antarctica position the product to handle the key business issues and data complexities of large enterprises—a market it is now heavily targeting.
According to Antarctica, most enterprise software tools focus on aggregating and slicing/dicing data, but not on presenting information in a usable manner. Antarctica's founding principle is that most people respond better to visual presentations than to text. Tim Bray, founder and CTO of Antarctica, describes it this way. "The business problems that people address on a daily basis are complex and multidimensional. Other tools fail to meet this challenge. Sometimes key problems and opportunities are missed, even though all of the required information exists."
The company claims that the VN screens contain 60 percent to 80 percent relevant content compared to less than 25 percent for most other enterprise tools. Bray says that with less effort, users can gain greater insight as "key issues rise to the map's surface." He indicated that most large organizations already have business intelligence or business analytic programs and other tools, but they are not manageable by ordinary users within an enterprise. Business users want to be able to get to specific, needed data without calling someone to construct complex queries or generate reports.
Visual Net 4.0 can visualize three types of information: numeric, textual, and geographic—either individually or in combination. The VN maps can display multiple dimensions of both macro and micro data. With the added interactivity in VN 4.0, users can easily manipulate and filter data to customize the maps. One example given by the company is a user might view the 10 most profitable product SKUs based on dollars, and then with a mouse click choose to view the 10 least profitable based on percentage.
Bray said that most of the company's revenues at this point are coming out of providing "old-fashioned business intelligence," that is, getting information out of big databases, like those built using IBM, Oracle, or SQL software. VN serves as the interface for some enterprise resource planning (ERP) installations and inventory systems. The product is also applicable to a number of search and retrieval environments, for example, libraries, government, online information vendors, and search engines. The company has some federal and state government agency clients. Antarctica works with solutions providers and systems integrators to reach its markets. The focus now, according to Bray, will be finding additional partners.
Antarctica had targeted libraries as a key market and introduced its Visual Net for Libraries in 2001. Bray admitted that the library market has been very slow to adopt visualization software, despite the successful implementation of Antarctica at Belmont Abbey College Library. The difficult economy and budget reductions have meant very little investing in new technologies. "However, we haven't given up yet on the library market." He said that Antarctica has done some pilot projects with OCLC, including a collection management tool for libraries. While the projects have been very promising, he said there is nothing to announce yet.
Bray is optimistic for the company's future, despite the continuing depressed economy. He said that the company's last four financial quarters have all been better than any previous quarter. "This year we will be profitable," he promised.
Privately held Antarctica Systems Inc. is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has offices in Seattle and Chicago. Antarctica was founded in 1999 by Bray, a search engine pioneer and XML co-creator. For more information on Antarctica, visit http://antarctica.net, and see the interview with Bray in the May 2003 issue of Information Today (http://www.infotoday.com/it/may03/hane2.shtml).