Antarctica Systems Inc., a Vancouver-based visualization software company founded by XML pioneer Tim Bray, has announced a contract with a Canadian customer and its third partnership with another software vendor.

Emco Corp., a distributor of plumbing, heating and industrial products in London, Ont., will use Antarctica’s Visual Net software to help manage gross profit margins. The value of the deal was not disclosed, but initially about 15 Emco employees will use Visual Net.

Meanwhile Computer Information Specialist, Inc., also known as CISglobal, will incorporate Visual Net as a visualization module in its procurement management and asset-tracking product. Michele Dyson, founder and president of CISglobal in Silver Spring, Md., said the two companies plan joint development projects to further integrate their products and address emerging asset-tracking needs, such as the radio frequency identification (RFID) technology market.

Bill Schonbrun, Antarctica’s vice-president of business development, said Visual Net offers what business intelligence tools promise but rarely deliver – easy access to information.

According to Schonbrun, typical business intelligence tools let users create reports and multidimensional views, but most people don’t want to create reports and views, so business intelligence is effectively a tool for power users. Visual Net makes information easy to understand and anyone can use it, he claimed.

Schonbrun said users need 30 minutes to an hour of training to use Visual Net.

Ironically, the first Emco employees to use Visual Net will be power users, though Rick Fantham, president of Emco Distribution, said he could foresee hundreds of employees using it within three years. Emco has about 1,300 employees.

Visual Net uses a mapping metaphor in which position, size and colour of objects help convey information. For instance, sales regions might be represented as boxes whose size varies by sales volume, with regions whose sales are under quota coloured red and those that are over quota coloured green. By moving the cursor over a particular item users can see more detail about it, or they can drill down to more detailed views.

The software resides on a Web server and uses a browser as its user interface. Schonbrun said Visual Net extracts data from sources such as data warehouses, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and spreadsheets and produces browser-readable files in a proprietary binary format. These files reside in memory for the sake of speed, he added. Setting up the software involves defining how data will be extracted from the source files.

Fantham said Emco will use Visual Net first to improve gross profit margins, and has plans to use it in procurement later. He said the software will let his company identify quickly the biggest variances from targets.

Today Emco’s regional managers spend about 40 per cent of their time on analysis, Fantham said, and “”I would guess with Visual Net we’ll be able to take that number down to about 10 per cent.””

Fantham said he expects the system to be live in two to three weeks and estimated total development time at 60 to 90 days. He praised Antarctica’s responsiveness. “”They never seem to sleep,”” he said.

Antarctica sets pricing for each installation depending on the individual user’s needs and does not discuss specifics. Schonbrun would say only that the software is priced according to the number of users and very competitive with mainstream business intelligence packages.

The company has about 20 customers and partnerships with two other software firms besides CISglobal.


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