STEM newsletter

STEM 7.2 development shortlist

30 July 2007

Now that STEM 7.1 is out on general release, we have turned our minds to the next round of STEM development. We polled a random selection of users to get their top-ten most annoying features of STEM as a good way to focus our attention on ways that we can improve the STEM experience for everyone. Not surprisingly, the almost universal priority is to make the software easier to learn and hand over to colleagues, and to that end we are planning a STEM 7.2 release for April 2008 which will address many of the most common complaints.

The headline features of STEM 7.2 will include free text in views in the Editor, a new wizard for exporting results to Excel, and automatic selection of column/bar format for charts of aggregate measures such as revenue, traffic volume and cost (leaving end-of-period measures as line charts). Numerous enhancements will include refined toolbar and drag-and-drop interfaces, an average subscribers demand basis for services, direct access to notes from icons, simpler formatting for exported model inputs, and a stem.tips email list.

At the same time, behind the scenes we are also looking into more fundamental enhancements which will pave the way for an altogether more powerful and modern-looking STEM 8.0, nominally scheduled for release in April 2009. The aim in both cases is to demonstrate and gain feedback on early prototype functionality at the STEM User Group Meeting in the September, and to have initial beta-release software available by the following Christmas.

Free text in views in the Editor

One clear requirement is to make it easier to explain to colleagues how a STEM model works. Of course, if you are already familiar with STEM, then the icon names and automatic links make a model almost self-documenting. But if you are not, then a few concise notes in the relevant areas of a view, or attached to the icons, will make it much easier for someone to follow your ideas, and more immediately apparent than the existing notes on the embedded data.

Adding free text to explain a view

The detailed specification is still in progress, but we envisage text boxes comparable to those found in MS Office applications, which will be moveable, sizeable, and with control over text colour, font and background colour. We also plan to include free-floating arrows to link text to individual icons, groups of icons, or colour blocks.

A text box will be created from a new text tool, and then a click-and-drag in the desired view. This feature ties in with some other planned simplifications. The toolbar will no longer drop icons at the bottom left of the screen, but wait for a second click so that you can position the new icon directly.

The drag-and-drop interface for creating relationships between elements will be enhanced with target highlighting (so that you know when you are ‘in the right place’). In addition, a new ‘data link’ button will enable you to link elements by clicking on the toolbar and then dragging a linking line from one element to the other.

In addition, the ‘drop’ interface for Transformations will be extended to allow the type to be changed to Expression on demand, and to link directly to the next free input.

Results export wizard for Excel

Having completed the Excel link generation function from the STEM Model Editor in STEM 7.1, there is a clear parallel benefit to automating the generation of Excel results interfaces too. The basic intention is that you should be able to ask STEM to create an Excel workbook containing all the data from a chart in the STEM results program, or from all the charts in the current view, or from selected views in the current workspace. In other words, we will use the existing graph selection interface as the wizard element for selecting data to send to Excel.

Exporting STEM model results to Excel

Just as the export of model data from the Editor is primarily intended as a way to create dynamic input links, so we plan to create Excel sheets which will link their data dynamically from STEM (using the STEM add-in toolbar for Excel) in such a way that they can be updated automatically after you re-run the underlying model.

All the data from a given view will be written to a single worksheet with the same name as the view, and you will have the option to choose separate sheets when exporting multiple views. STEM will offer to write subsequent exports onto new sheets in a previous export workbook if you so wish.

Automatic column-format selection for charts of aggregate measures

With one or two exceptions, most of the standard graphs in STEM are defined as line charts, for maximum flexibility when charting multiple elements and scenarios on the same graph. However, for charts with just a few elements or scenarios it is generally clearer to show aggregate measures such as revenue, traffic volume and cost with columns or bars (especially as this has the additional benefit in STEM of allowing variable column widths for quarterly and monthly results). Most users routinely re-format such charts each time.

Instantaneous and aggregate values

Now we propose to introduce preferred column and bar format types which will automatically show simple charts as column or bars respectively, while reverting to line (or possibly squared line) format for anything ‘too complicated’ (a criterion yet to be precisely defined!).

Other simplifications in the Editor and Results programs

Editor Results
  • Percentage operator
  • Market Segment size to show time-series button rather than constant dialog, and similar for Location sites and Cost Index cost trend
  • Direct access to create top-level notes from icons
  • Better accelerators for running scenarios and sensitivities
  • An average subscribers demand basis for Services
  • A default results workspace to auto-create a range of charts from scratch for new models
  • Consolidation of quotient results
  • New result to show the number of Resource units decommissioned early
 
General
  • Clearer formatting for exported model inputs
  • A help button for the STEM add-in toolbar for Excel
  • Clearer error messages and highlighting of the status bar when an error occurs
  • Simpler example models
  • A stem.tips email list for exchange of modelling and practical advice

This is where we are headed, and we seek your input

Of course, our plans may change as other requests are added, but this article should give a clear indication of our focus and priorities for STEM 7.2. The intention is to share our ideas at the earliest stage in order to stimulate further discussion, and to gain feedback from our customers on the overall directions indicated.

You can discuss these topics with us directly at the STEM User Group Meeting, 19–20 September 2007 at Corpus Christi college in Cambridge, UK.

Now read on to find out about our more radical plans for STEM 8.0.

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