Data Envelopment Analysis for Professionals

Frontier Analyst®, breaking new ground

Frontier Analyst®, breaking new ground

Frontier Analyst® was first released back in 1995 with the purpose of making data envelopment analysis (DEA) available to the typical manager or researcher who wanted to apply DEA without having to master the mathematics. It is interesting to review the changes in the DEA world over that time, and which brings us to Frontier Analyst® version 4.

There are in essence two branches of software for DEA – one branch is focused on providing as many models as possible which can be applied to the data, and the other is focused on making DEA accessible. The primary purpose of the former seems to be to allow the DEA researcher to experiment with the ever-expanding range of models that someone studying DEA might want to play with. This is quite admirable, and I’m sure useful to those who need it, but there is typically no guidance as to which model should be chosen for a particular purpose, and very little in the way of interpretation of the data. Most often you are given either a long listing (perhaps nicely formatted) or a grid of values to interpret yourself. If there is a unit that can’t be solved, it meekly ignores the issue, and leaves it for you to find.

The alternative is to try to help people interpret the data. Frontier Analyst® was the first application to provide graphical overviews of the data. It is perhaps flattering that some of the software developed since includes a few of the graphs that we first provided all those years ago. Notice though that Frontier Analyst is the only software providing the Frontier Plot. Could this be because it requires custom programming that isn’t available in the likes of Excel? By using a generic host, you gain some apparent advantage, but in reality it becomes a bit of a hindrance. The results layout is not customisable, and it can’t be tuned to fit DEA precisely to create a useful efficiency analysis tool.

In developing version 4 of Frontier Analyst®, we wanted to expand the capability enormously, and in doing so we realised that there were some very sticky problems on presenting the data we wanted to show. Our focus, as always, is on helping people find the interesting data, and hiding some of the complexity that might occur. As part of this process we reviewed the other software on the market. I’ll not comment about their reliability, flexibility or anything (but please do make sure you try the demonstrations to compare against ours if you are thinking of buying one!) but we discovered that no other software is even attempting to achieve this goal. Take for example comparing the score results from two different analysis. We have worked on presenting the data in a manner that works well. Our scores display shows the various units with their results, and shows the min, max and difference between the two. With other software, you are presented with two disconnected listings, and you are left to work it out yourself. Likewise we went on to work out what would work well for users in each of the graphical displays we produce (including some new ones). Sometimes it makes sense to show the variables from each comparison against each other, sometimes it makes sense to show units from each comparison against each other.

When you are looking at a software package for DEA, make sure you are buying from someone who is developing good software, has the models you need (and advice on choosing the one for you) and that they are working to help you solve your problems. Don’t accept anything less.

Enjoy Frontier Analyst® 4. See also what is new.