How to Pick the Right Statistical Software

Minitab Blog Editor 29 August, 2016

If you’re in the market for statistical software, there are many considerations and more than a few options for you to evaluate.

questions to ask

Check out these seven questions to ask yourself before choosing statistical software—your answers should help guide you towards the best solution for your needs!

1. Who uses statistical software in your organization?

Are they expert statisticians, novices, or a mix of both? Will they be analyzing data day-in, day-out, or will some be doing statistics on a less frequent basis? Is data analysis a core part of their jobs, or is it just one of many different hats some users have to wear? What's their relationship with technology—do they like computers, or just use them because they have to? 

Figuring out who needs to use the software will help you match the options to their needs, so you can avoid choosing a package that does too much or too little.

If your users span a range of cultures and nationalities, be sure to see if the package you're considering is available in multiple languages.

2. What types of statistical analysis will they be doing?

The specific types of analysis you need to do could play a big part in determining the right statistical software for your organization. The American Statistical Association's software page lists highly specialized programs for econometrics, spatial statistics, data mining, statistical genetics, risk modeling, and more. However, if your company has employees who specialize in the finer points of these kinds of analyses, chances are good they already identified and have access to the right software for their needs.

Most users will want a general statistical software package that offers the power and flexibility to do all of the most commonly used types of analysis, including regression, ANOVA, hypothesis testing, design of experiments, capability analysis, control charts, and more. If you're considering a general statistical software package, check its features list to make sure it does the kinds of analysis you need. Here is the complete feature list for Minitab Statistical Software. 

3. How easy is it to use the statistical software?

Data analysis is not simple or easy, and many statistical software packages don’t even try to make it any easier. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because "ease of use" is different for different users.

An expert statistician will know how to set up data correctly and will be comfortable entering statistical equations in a command-line interface—in fact, they may even feel slowed down by using a menu-based interface. On the other hand, a less experienced user may be intimidated or overwhelmed by a statistical software package designed primarily for use by experts. 

Since ease of use varies widely, look into what kinds of built-in guidance statistical software packages offer to see which would be easiest for the majority of your users.

4. What kind of support is offered?

If people in your organization will need help using statistical software to analyze their data, how will they get it? Does your company have expert statisticians who can provide assistance when it's needed, or is access to that kind of expertise limited? 

If you think people in your organization are going to contact the software's support team for assistance, it's smart to check around and see what kinds of assistance different software companies offer. Do they offer help with analysis problems, or only with installation and IT issues? Do they charge for it?

Look around in online user and customer forums to see what people say about the customer service they've received for different types of statistical software. Some software packages offer free technical support from experts in statistics and IT; others provide more limited, fee-based customer support; and some packages provide no support at all.

5. Where will the software be used?

Will you be doing data analysis in your office? At home? On the road? All of the above? Will people in your organization be using the software at different locations across the country, or even the world?  What are the license requirements for software packages in that situation? Does each machine need a separate copy of the software, or are shared licenses available?

Check on the options available for the packages you're considering. A good software provider will seek to understand your organization's unique needs and work with you to find the most cost-effective solution.

6. Are there special considerations for your industry?

Some professions have specialized data analysis needs due to regulations, industry requirements, or the unique nature of their business. For example, the pharmaceutical and medical device industry needs to meet FDA recommendations for testing, which may involve statistical techniques such as Design of Experiments.

Depending on the needs of your business, one or more of these highly specialized software packages may be appropriate. However, general statistical software packages with a full range of tools may provide the functionality your industry requires, so be sure to investigate and compare these packages with the more specialized, and often more expensive, programs used in some industries.

7. What do statistical software packages cost?

Last but not least, you will need to consider the cost of the software package, which can range from $0 for some open-source programs to many thousands of dollars per license for more specialized offerings.

It’s important to compare not just the unit-copy price of a software package (i.e., what it costs to install a single copy of the software on a single machine), but to find out what licensing options for statistical software are available for your situation. 

Have more questions?

If you have questions about data analysis software, please contact Minitab to discuss your unique situation in detail. We are happy to help you identify the needs of your organization and find a solution that will best fit them!