FreeSight Software Inc. has launched a new release of its data analytics, aiming to make the process of data crunching easy for casual users and pros alike.

Based in Toronto, FreeSight has actually been around for almost 10 years, albeit under the name Drinking Bird Software. Norm Rosner, FreeSight’s president and CEO, worked on a prototype for years before finally sending his tool to potential customers, and the company then spent another two years drumming up business in customer development.

But in December 2013, FreeSight came out of beta, and the result has been version three of a tool that tries to help users make the most of their spreadsheets, while getting business insights from all of their data. For users who aren’t as data-savvy, the task can be a daunting one, says David Lefkowich, vice-president of sales and marketing.

“When it comes down to the people actually crunching the numbers and creating reports, a huge percentage of these companies and these people are still using Excel and other end user tools to do the reporting that theoretically should have been delivered out of the big data or business intelligence tool,” Lefkowich says.

He adds that’s a problem for people who need to submit requests to the IT department, as it makes the whole process a lot slower and more cumbersome. The goal of FreeSight is to provide self-service – but while self-service data analytics tools are not particularly new, what’s different about FreeSight is that it tries to do everything spreadsheets can’t.

Screenshot of charts and visualizations
(Image: FreeSight).

For example, FreeSight allows users to connect data from different kinds of files and datasets, all within the tool. It doesn’t matter if the file types are disparate – FreeSight can still put them together and make them compatible simply by getting a user to drag and drop their data into the tool. The software will even automatically clean the data.

Those aren’t the only places where FreeSight allows for automation. Data summarizations can be automated, but users can manually change them with their own columns, fields, and formulas. If they so choose, they can also create data visualizations while they’re working with the tool.

And if users need to ensure they can return to their original source data, FreeSight allows them to hang onto it by highlighting any of the changes they’ve made. Users can always go back to the original data, and they’re also able to track any changes they’ve made as part of an audit trail feature.

The idea behind FreeSight was to make Excel as simple and as painless as possible for less technical people, while still giving developers and system architects a tool that’ll be useful to them for scripting, business process development, and so on. That’s all through automation, Rosner says.

“An analogy I would draw is that everyone knows how to use Excel, but we all know there are Excel users and there are Excel users … different people are able to accomplish different things with Excel,” he says. “FreeSight is much the same. The difference is that if you can do a little bit in Excel, you’re going to be able to do a lot in FreeSight.”

Data visualization using FreeSight
(Image: FreeSight).

That functionality has been a huge time saver for some of FreeSight’s customers. For example, the Investment Planning Counsel has about 1,000 investment advisors across Canada, and it had to get its staff to generate reports to analyze each advisor’s book of business.

That task could take as long as three to four hours, but employees have since been able to cut it down to a matter of minutes by using FreeSight. The company helped develop a process for retrieving and integrating all of the necessary data, like advisor codes, product information, and so on, then pulling all of that data into a report template with its own tables and graphs.

“I think what we’re really seeing is that the big data revolution has given us some things, but for some reason, we still have all these people wrestling with manual or semi-manual tools like spreadsheets,” Rosner says. “There is an awareness that there’s a gap that needs to be bridged there.”

Pricing for the FreeSight tool is set at $295 per computer per year, with that fee including product updates, maintenance, and tech support.

Correction: A previous version of this post indicated FreeSight came out of beta in December 2014. The post has been updated to reflect the correct date of December 2013. We regret the error.

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