Available Data-Mining Software

By Meta S. Brown

A data miner is a businessperson who has a feel for numbers, not a programmer, database manager, or statistician. Data mining enables businesspeople to rapidly discover useful patterns in data, build models, and put them into action in everyday business. To do data mining, you need tools to fit the job, tools designed for users like you.

This is not to say that data miners who also happen to be familiar with programming or statistics should not take advantage of those skills. But data-mining tools should be designed primarily for business users.

When you take on real projects in your workplace, you’ll have your own needs and priorities. Technical support will be a necessity. Specific capabilities for data import or analysis methods may be important to you. Your employer may have requirements for software purchasing that affect your choices.

Even if you have no immediate need and no money to spend, it’s a good idea to start getting familiar with what’s available, because you may not have a lot of time for reflection when your situation changes.

Tools best suited for data mining will offer the following:

  • A graphical user interface that does not require programming

  • Visual programming capability for speed and clarity

  • A broad selection of exploratory graphs and modeling methods

Visual programming interfaces are key for turning businesspeople into data miners, making the data-mining process understandable and rapid. Because they are available in only a few products, be sure to explore those products first.

Only a handful of products are available that meet all three criteria recommended: a graphical user interface, visual programming, and a generous selection of graphs and modeling methods. Even those may not suit every real-life application that you encounter.

You may not find a single ideal tool to suit your needs. Or you may have a favorite tool that suits you well, but that same tool might not be satisfactory for others on your team who have different priorities and skills. You may love a particular tool, but find that the cost is too high or the support does not meet your needs. So it’s valuable to be aware of a variety of tools and vendors.

Software vendors are not so strict in their use of the term data mining. So you may encounter a wide variety of vendors that mention data mining in their promotional materials. Hundreds of products now offer some type of data analysis capability, and many new ones enter the market each year. Most of them are very useful tools for some purpose, but few are strong matches for data mining.

Although not all software suppliers offer free products, almost all will allow you to try products free for a limited time (typically 30 days). Use these trials to expand your knowledge and to get a sense of whether paid products are worth the money that you would spend.