The non-statistician sees statistical design and analysis as part of a larger task of product development, process control, or process management. Such a user expects the software to perform the statistical tasks properly and not to inhibit performance of the larger task. For this reason, it is important that the software should interface with commonly used database, spreadsheet, and word processing programs. Graphical display of results in presentation-quality output (both on screen and as hard copy) is also important. Beyond these, the user will be delighted by other features, such as the automatic creation of data entry forms or uncoded response surface plots that go the extra mile to aid the solution of the larger task. Strong prejudices regarding statistical software are apparent even among non-statistician users, but this is more than just bullheadedness. In an atmosphere of stiff business competition where time to market is vital to success, there is limited time available to learn new support tools. The industrial user will be pleased by new capabilities but desires upwardly compatible releases.

Other software requirements include availability of support (either locally or by the vendor), complete and readable documentation, and, in an age of increasingly global businesses, suitability for persons with limited English-language skills.

But the most crucial requirement for “industrial-grade” statistical software, beyond core capabilities, is ease of use for infrequent users! This overriding need is suggested by an internal company survey that showed that, with the exception of basic statistical summaries, plots, and charts, most statistical methods were used by an engineer or scientist on a once-per-month or once-per-quarter basis. From a human factors perspective, this suggests that most industrial users cannot be expected to remember a complex set of commands, protocols, or movements in order to use the statistical software. Appropriate software must rely on recognition (e.g., of icons or application-oriented menus) rather than recall (e.g., of commands or algorithm-oriented menus) to satisfy these users.

Of course, ease of use means more than just recognition aids for the infrequent user. Other important facets are:

  • well-planned display of information;

  • understandable and consistent terminology;

  • reasonable response time; and

  • helpful error handling and correction.

But the author wants to stress sensitivity to the needs of the infrequent user, which are so often overlooked. While a visually attractive package will sell some copies, only those that genuinely meet the requirements of the infrequent user will survive in the long run.



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