Archive for the ‘Guru Reviews’ Category

Dec
6

Advanced Printing for Xcelsius is Here… Finally!

A few months ago, I received an email with a subject, “check out this print component” from Gabriel Braun at DataSavvy Tools. When I fired it up, I had a smile ear-to-ear because I was sitting in front of exactly what every customer has been asking me for the last 5 years… A robust print button capable of letting me choose what I want to print, control layout, and print to landscape or portrait. So I am happy to say that thanks to the Data Savvy Tools ingenuity, the community now has a fantastic option for printing: Dash Printer

While we try to keep promotions to a minimum on EverythingXcelsius.com, we could not resist posting about this new component because it is so heavily requested among customers. While some would argue that a basic function like printing should be taken care of by SAP, history has told us that they prefer to use the ecosystem to fill in certain gaps. Frankly, I don’t think that it could have been done any better than this.

After clicking on the print icon, you can click and drag to draw the area for which you will print. This way if you only want a portion of your dashboard printed, you can do so.


While still inside of your dashboard, you can instantly toggle the scale, margins, layout, and alignment of your image to print exactly what you want. This way every user is presented with the same visual print setup regardless of operating system.

So if you need an advanced print button for Xcelsius, you can now look to DataSavy Tools for a sound solution moving forward. Get the Dash Printer NOW!

Ryan Goodman is the Founder of Centigon Solutions, an SAP® software solution partner, that is strategically focused on developing add-on products for use with Xcelsius®. To learn more about him, please visit our Gurus page.

Aug
11

Understanding BI4 Dashboards and XWIS

If you’re using Xcelsius (now SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards) for your enterprise dashboard projects, by not looking beyond what comes “in the box,” you may well miss out on capabilities which could make a critical difference to your project; even with the advent of BI4.

What you get with SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards is one of the best dashboard design platforms because of its free-form design paradigm for rapid dashboard development. Another great thing about SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards is the community of experts and third party providers who fuel adoption, education, and innovation.

A great example of this is XWIS from Antivia. The folks at Antivia say “every connected Xcelsius project could deliver better, faster and at lower cost using XWIS” and I have to say there is good reason for this, having created many connected dashboards over the years. I have taken a stronger stance in the last year endorsing XWIS 2.5 and would agree that XWIS can deliver between 10 and 20 times productivity improvement to Xcelsius projects. “Production dashboards in days not weeks or months” can actually be achieved, which is why XWIS has become a tool of my dashboard design trade!

Having said that, over the last few months I have been asked a number of times if the value of XWIS diminishes now that BI 4 is about to go to GA. My short answer is “no” for XWIS 2.5 and “absolutely not” for the recently announced XWIS 3.0. To elaborate, I wanted to share both XWIS and BI4 capabilities so you can determine for yourself.

What do I get in the box with BI 4?

BI4 is a significant upgrade to the SAP BusinessObjects product suite, perhaps the largest in its history, and has customers eagerly awaiting the GA (some details of the new capabilities of BI 4 can be found at SCN in Pierre Leroux’s blog: “Innovations SAP BusinessObjects 4.0“).

Included in the upgrade are a number of enhancements specific to SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards 4.0, the most significant being:

Embedded Query Designer

The embedded query designer is a great new way of streamlining the existing Query as a Web Service (QaaWS) process. Now it is possible to design your queries using a standard BOBJ query panel inside the Xcelsius environment. No more needing to reach for the stand-alone QaaWS front end. It currently only works on the new “unx” universes but expect that to change in the future. So, for people who are using QaaWS today this represents a great step forward in terms of developer workflow and productivity.

Direct binding

For queries which are created with the new embedded query designer, it is now possible to bind the results directly to chart and selector components, without having to go through the spreadsheet. This is yet another important step forward for the maturity of this dashboard development platform, alleviating traditional workflow and performance implications of spreadsheet binding.

Parameter Selector Component

Working in tandem with the previous two features the parameter selector component makes it simpler to add query parameterization capabilities to your dashboard so that the end-user can see different slices of data by selecting a new parameter for the underlying query.

What are you missing by staying inside of the box?

There are many compelling reasons to use XWIS with both XI 3 and BI 4, including long standing XWIS features, such as:

Content re-use:

One of the strengths of XWIS is that is lets you reuse existing BI content (WebI reports, Crystal reports (on a universe or not), JBDC queries …). It is almost certain that you already have the data you need for your dashboard in an existing, managed price of content already governed under SLAs. XWIS allows you to re-use this content rather than having to create new queries.

Hierarchies and auto-drill:

XWIS natively supports hierarchies from your universe, but even better, it also provides an interface to edit and persist new hierarchy definitions, so you can re-use them on other dashboard projects. Furthermore, through its hierarchical data support, XWIS also supports auto- drill both within its own components and also in native Xcelsius components using its innovative Autowire feature (see below).

Cached Data Sources:

Because XWIS can leverage Crystal or WebI as a data source (in addition to JDBC), you can leverage BOE scheduling to offload complex number crunching, and then push scheduled data to your dashboard that you can drill and filter through.

Dynamic Measures and Dimensions:

One of the really powerful features of XWIS is the possibility to change the dimensions and measures (and even the underlying report) dynamically at run-time depending on end-user actions. This is a game changing feature for developers; with a flick of a switch you can increase the sophistication of your dashboards to answer more end-user requirements more easily.

Design-Time Variables

If you require a custom variable in a dashboard, you don’t have to go back to the universe designer or bind your data to the spreadsheet, in XWIS, you can create custom variables right inside of the property sheet while maintaining its hierarchical relevance and drill path.

Autowire:

Bypasses the spreadsheet for charting components and allows XWIS components to directly connect to Xcelsius charts complete with support for hierarchies and auto-drill.

And now in XWIS 3.0, there is even more capability, including:

Live preview

The latest version of XWIS allows you to see your data immediately at design time, in tables, charts, and even GMaps Plugin. This is a huge timesaver and changes the whole dynamic of creating a dashboard by eliminating the need to continually go to preview mode to see how the dashboard will look to end users. This feature really does have to be seen to get a full appreciation of how radically it alters the design experience.

Data Sync:

Keeping a number of components in sync whilst navigating around a dashboard, is often a key requirement (and one that some niche dashboard providers have done a good job at), the new data component in XWIS 3.0 brings this capability to Xcelsius.

Data Merge:

With many organizations needing to combine BusinessObjects data with other sources (e.g.  SQL, OLAP, spreadsheet), XWIS allows you to merge data from multiple sources, within your dashboard, and then take advantage of all the XWIS capabilities (auto-drill, slice and dice, etc) using the combined dataset.

Where do you go from here?

When the rubber meets the road and stakeholders are accountable for delivering dashboards back to the business, developers need confidence to deliver a wide range of capabilities. This is where tools from partners within the SAP eco-system can make the difference to your XI3 and your BI4 projects.

When it comes to a complete dashboard lifecycle, I have always believed that Antivia approaches BusinessObjects connectivity and integration the way that it should have been done in the first place with Xcelsius. New BI4 enhancements illustrate that SAP is committed to improving enterprise integration and connectivity. If your company is already building dashboards with success using QaaWS for your enterprise initiative, SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards 4.0 will certainly be a breath of fresh air. However, if you really want to get the most from your dashboard development investment, I suggest that you give XWIS a serious look.

Feel free to post questions and comments here, as I would love to get the community’s feedback on this topic.

Ryan Goodman is the Founder of Centigon Solutions, an SAP® software solution partner, that is strategically focused on developing add-on products for use with Xcelsius®. To learn more about him, please visit our Gurus page

Apr
21

Xcelsius and Business Intelligence Web Services (BIWS)

With the limited availability of scalable data connectivity options for Xcelsius, are you constantly seeking  to improve your dashboard performance?  If your answer is ‘YES’, then this post is for you.

Easily connecting to an ‘Enterprise database’ is a well known problem when using SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (formerly known as Xcelsius). Let’s refer to it as ‘SCDD’ from here on. Traditionally you have two main data connectivity options, namely Live Office and Query as a Web Service, that is until the release of Business Objects 3.1 SP2 which included a 3rd option named BI Web Services.

With BI Web Services (referred to as BIWS going forward), you leverage the web service engine available in Web Intelligence and connect it directly to your dashboard utilizing the QaaWS connector in SCDD.

5 Reasons why you should consider using BIWS:

  1. You can gain simple access via the QaaWS data connection interface
  2. Your data can easily be filtered using the filter properties in the report
  3. You can connect to cached reports to facilitate faster response times and dashboard overall performance
  4. You can filter, drill and prompt from your dashboard without the need to go back to the universe
  5. It will also be available in BI 4.0 (which is what I used for these examples)

To provide insight into the process, I broke it down into a 2 part step-by-step process that includes screenshots.  Keep in mind this was done in a BI 4.0 environment but should work the same in BOE XI 3.1 which is where I originally tested it.

PART 1: SETTING UP YOUR WEBI REPORT AND WEB SERVICE

1.  Launch the Web Intelligence Rich Client. Create your query and basic report. NOTE: Don’t be too concerned with formatting the report at this stage, just make it viewable so that you can review the output.

2.  Save and export the report to the CMS.

3.  In the Webi Rich Client, Highlight a report block and right-click then choose Publish as Web Service. (Note: Report web services are mapped to a report block just like Live Office objects are.)

4.  The Publish Content wizard is then displayed.  Click Next.

5.  Enter the Name of your web service to and click Next.

6.  Define the name of the content block, Set your Filters then Click Next.

7.  Click Publish, and voila! Your web service is created.

8.  Copy the WSDL url and place in a Notepad.  You will need to paste this into the QaaWS data connection in SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards.

The next step is to access the web service from your dashboard.

The BI web service is exposed as the same SOAP interface used by QaaWS. To use the service in your dashboard, you will add a QaaWS connection, Import the wsdl, choose a method and then define the input and output parameters.

PART 2: HOW TO CONNECT TO THE WEB SERVICE FROM YOUR DASHBOARD

1.  Launch SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards.

2.  Open the Data Connection Menu and add a QaaWS connection.  Paste URL into the wsdl URL box and then click Import.

3.  For this example, choose the GetReportBlock_State_Sales_Service from the Method dropdown list.

4.  In the Output Values, bind the table cell to the same number of columns as your web service report block. (Note: Choose as many rows as you think you may need)

5.  Bind the Header cell value to a single row of cells to hold your report block header.

6.  Change the usage to refresh when loaded.

7.  Preview your dashboard.

CONCLUSION: In reviewing the Connection options, you see that using the BIWS is more powerful than using the basic Qaaws connection. You have two methods to use, one for retrieving the full report block the other is for drilling. We will cover drilling in a future post.

TIP: If you want to search for a specific row value, you can set the value to be read from your spreadsheet and bind the operator to the word ‘equals’. There are other options for operator such as ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’.

With BI Web Services and SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards you have a lot of flexibility to provide fast and robust data access to your dashboards, hence improving the performance which is your main goal.

Scott Strool is a Senior BI Consultant for Benchmarkers Business Intelligence, where he helps customers obtain their BI visions. He presented at the 2010 SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Orlando, FL, and has led many dashboard initiatives. You may follow him on twitter at @scott_strool.

Feb
11

Webinar Alert: Facts and Myths about Xcelsius: Creating Enterprise Dashboards

Ever wondered what’s  really a fact or myth when creating enterprise dashboards? If the answer is yes, then attending this webinar by Xcelsius Guru and Author, Ryan Goodman, on February 16th (10 am PST, 1 pm EST) is a must attend.

Ryan will help you separate Xcelsius facts and myths by discussing implementing enterprise dashboards with drill-down, interactive analysis, offline data access, and large data volumes.

Not only will you get to hear Ryan speak, but sign up also gets you EXCLUSIVE access to templates when you attend the webinar. So don’t walk, but run to sign up today as spaces are limited and filling up fast!! See below for registration details.

Webinar Details:

Soo Tang Yuk is the ‘Xcelsius Gurus Network” community manager and evangelist. To find out more about her, please visit the About Us page.

Jan
13

No more QaaWS?

Xcelsius is one of the most innovative business products of the last decade and in combination with the BusinessObjects platform (both XI 3 and BI 4), it provides a world-class, market-leading, enterprise dashboarding solution which is delivering enormous value to thousands of organizations around the world. Given this, it is not surprising that on Twitter and in the blogs, there is a excitement building in Xcelsius circles about SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 and Xcelsius 2011.

The focus is mainly on three new capabilities:

  1. The new embedded query creation capability (replacing QaaWS)
  2. The ability to bind these queries directly to components (rather than going through the spreadsheet)
  3. Built in “Query prompt Selector” controls.

As stated in the “What’s New” documentation for BI 4.0 these new features are “focused on improving productivity and direct enterprise data connectivity”. The $64,000 question is “are the productivity improvements they bring marginal or breakthrough?”

As anyone who has been involved in developing Xcelsius dashboards connected to server side data will know, the two key things which hamper productivity are:

  1. The need to manage multiple connections to the server
  2. The need to use many formulas to manage the data from these queries into the components based on end-user selection

These are also key drivers of total cost of ownership because the complexities they introduce to the initial development also, even more dramatically, affect the cost of ongoing support and maintenance.

Multiple Data Connections

The main reason for having multiple data connections is to get data from different hierarchical levels with each level (indeed each combination of levels from different dimensions) requiring a different query. So a dataset with just two hierarchal dimensions, each with three levels of hierarchy, would require 9 (3×3) different connections to get all possible levels of data. However, it goes beyond that, the need to also have “select distinct” queries to populate lists of values and a number of other auxiliary requirements, mean that most non-trivial connected dashboards typically require between 10 and 20 queries to serve the end user needs, even on a single dataset.

Spreadsheet formulas

With multiple datasets comes the need to manage which dataset drives which component in response to the end user selection. The formula engine of the embedded spreadsheet is an incredibly powerful and flexible method for doing this, however, as has been commented on so many times in the past, spreadsheet formulas are incredibly difficult to debug, document, and maintain. This is even more true when the use of complex formulas (e.g. ones using data manipulation functions such as VLOOKUP) is required.

If we combine these two together into an index of Xcelsius complexity it would look something like:

Xcelsius model data complexity = (100 * number of queries) + (10 * number of unique “complex” formulas) + (3 * number of unique simple formulas) + number or repeated formulas

(I have just pulled the factors here out of the air to illustrate the point, but would love to engage with others in the Xcelsius community on a standardization of a measure like the one above)

So the question is: “do the new query and binding capabilities of BI 4.0 reduce this (or any similar) complexity index ?”

Unfortunately, based on what I have seen so far, the answer is “no”. Although the new query capability “replaces” QaaWS, it looks to have pretty much the same level of query sophistication, i.e. fairly static, parameterized queries (although the new capability does add the ability to add static sorting), with no dynamic, hierarchy awareness. This means that it is unlikely that Xcelsius models ported to BI 4.0 would  be able to rescue the key complexity drivers of “number of connections” and “number of data manipulation formulas”.

This in turn minimizes the value of the other new features, because directly binding data from a query to a component and managing that query directly with a prompt selector is only really useful if the query returns all the data you need. Otherwise, you are still left with needing to manage the data through the spreadsheet which disqualifies the use of these new features.

That is not to say that there are no benefits to the new capabilities. They do make the whole process of initial query creation simpler, because you can do it all from within the Xcelsius environment and for simpler dashboards that have static  (albeit parameterized) data requirements the new direct binding and prompt selectors will prove to be a productivity boost. Additionally, they also make demos of data connectivity in Xcelsius much simpler!

If anyone feels differently, or even better, has an example of a real-world Xcelsius dashboard which is much simpler using the new features, I would love to hear about them. I would also love to hear any thoughts people have on the creation of a complexity measurement for Xcelsius dashboards.

Donald MacCormick is a board member and strategic advisor to Antivia, an SAP® software solution partner, and creator of XWIS the Xcelsius-to-SAP BusinessObjects connectivity solution. In past years, he was a long term member of BusinessObjects and Crystal, and part of the team that brought Xcelsius into the BusinessObjects portfolio.

Jan
4

Xcelsius Gurus Top 10 of 2010

To say that 2010 was a very memorable year for the Xcelsius Gurus community is an understatement.  To see what I mean, take a minute to read my 2010 Top 10 list below.

#10 SAP TechEd Conference

Coming in at #10 is the SAP Teched conference in Las Vegas.  There I had the pleasure of co-hosting the Xcelsius hands-on sessions with 2 of my favorite technical guys from the SAP Xcelsius and RIG team, Matt Lloyd and Patrice Lebhan. The event drew in such a crowd that we had to turn away attendees.  I also had the pleasure of doing a live interview with fellow mentor Jamie Oswald (a must watch for those considering attending TechEd in 2011) and former SAP Executive Marge Breya. There aren’t enough lines to explain how great this event was so click on the links below to see firsthand.

  • Click here to see pics of the event!
  • Click here to view interview #1 with Jamie Oswald and Jason Cao (SAP BusinessObjects Community Leader)
  • Click here to view the interview #2 with former SAP Exec Marge Breya and fellow SAP Mentor Karin Tillotson

#9 Xcelsius Advance Training in Dallas

Hosted by Mike Alexander and myself in Dallas, TX this was a jam packed fun event.  This event is traditionally sold out with a waiting list, so if you are interested do write us an email early to get on the list. We are considering doing one on the West and East coast this year due to popular demand.

#8 EverythingXcelsius Blog Design Update

If you visit our site often enough, and our Google statistics show that many of you do, you have probably noticed that a few months ago we made some small updates to the blog’s design. Two major updates include our sleeker image enriched front page now with enhanced social media buttons and our new ‘Resources’ tab which is a one stop shop for Xcelsius related links on the web. You will also notice that our ‘Showcase’ tab now takes you directly to our commercial website to see examples of some of our guru dashboards which takes us to #7!

#7 Launch of our Commercial Website Benchmarkers Business Intelligence

If you’re wondering why this is so far down the list, it’s because we have yet to do an official launch, as we are still making some small adjustments. Expect to hear more about our official commercial website Benchmarkers Business Intelligence, where we work with some of the world’s biggest companies to deliver state of the art BusinessObjects deployments, migrations and implementation being sure to include our well known and best designed dashboards. We will do an official company launch in Feb 2011, but those who wish to find out more can visit our site http://benchmarkers.com to see how other companies are benefiting from our services.

#6 My SAP Mentor Nomination

It is no secret that the acquisition of BOE by SAP took the BOE community by storm in 2008, me included. I was again taking by a storm when I was informed that I had been nominated by the SAP BOE community to become an SAP mentor.   There isn’t enough space in this blog post to document my adventure in the first year as an SAP Mentor, but I will do a better job to document the journey in 2011.

#5 SAPPHIRE / ASUG Conference

Making our Top 5 is SAPPHIRE, the biggest SAP sales event of the year. Unfortunately, it was not an option for many BOBJ folks who shied away from the heavy SAP ERP presence. Teaming up with ASUG, SAP managed to pull together one of the best events that we ever attended. There was no shortage of BusinessObjects information, just BOE attendees!

#4 Reportapalooza

Coming in at #4 has to be the first official BusinessObjects virtual competition (at least that we know of). With a name like Reportapalooza how could we forget? We emailed asking for your votes and entries, you won prizes, saw some really cool dashboards and then forgot it existed. While the event may have lasted for a bit too long, we do give SAP an A+ for wanting to engage the community with their software. Recruiting big BOE community names like SAP Mentor Jamie Oswald, known author and blogger, Jim Brogden, and myself, it was the first of its kind. Big KUDOS to the winner, Brian Durning at PepsiCo (also ASUG Crystal Reports Chair). Will SAP do another one next year? Guess we’ll have to wait to see.

#3 EverythingXcelsius Social Links reach 1000+

Making the top 3 has to be the fact that our Twitter and Linkedin Group both exceeded 1,000+ followers this year. We are delighted by the tremendous growth and look forward to having you be a part of our community’s evolution in 2011. Lots of exciting changes in 2011. We truly feel that we host the most passionate community members in the SAP BusinessObjects realm and we appreciate all of you!

#2 SAP BusinessObjects User Conference (aka SBOUC) / 2nd Annual Xcelsius Gurus Reception

As the only BusinessObjects conference that currently exists (though more are popping up in 2011) this event took off in Orlando with over 1600+ attendees, a far cry from its despicable attendance in Dallas the year before. On-site was the “Who is Who” in the BOE world, along with tons of informational sessions, and keynote demos of the upcoming BOE XI 4.0 release. Most shocking however was the formal announcement by Steve Lucas, SVP for SAP Business Objects North America that BOE had accounted for 52% of SAP sales up to Q3. We also co-hosted the wildly successful 2nd Annual Xcelsius Gurus Reception with the help and support of the SAP Xcelsius Marketing Team. Pics can be seen here.

#1 SAP Renames Xcelsius

Topping the charts at #1 is of course the Xcelsius name change to SAP Crystal Dashboard Design or #SCDD depending on what day you look on twitter. While some who are in emotional distraught blogged and tweeted that the “Xcelsius name will never die” it is clear that SAP is moving forward with it in an effort to consolidate their Crystal product portfolio. If it is any consolation, SAP took it one step further to leave no rock unturned by also changing the names of long beloved products such as ‘Infoview’ to ‘BI Launchpad’ (1/10/11 Update. Correction – Web Intelligence will not be remained and hence the statement has been removed. Refer to the comments below). They even managed to gain accolade from Gartner who openly criticized SAP for their frequent name changes.

** Just for fun we had to add this video done by fellow SAPMentors Jon ERP & Dennis Howlett on this phenomenon!

What to expect in 2011?

  1. More Conferences, more coverage…
  2. More Gurus covering more topics and products …
  3. More Webinars and Collaberations …
  4. New Community aka “The Evolution” …
  5. Official launch of commercial website Benchmarkers Business Intelligence!

Mico Yuk is a 2010 SAP Mentor and the founder of the Xcelsius Guru Network and the Everything Xcelsius blog. To learn more about her, please visit our About Us page.

May
19

The Future of Flash in the BI Space

With the recent back and forth battle between HTML5 and Flash and their place in the future gaining even more extensive tech-media coverage, we’ve been keeping a close ear to the arguments and have attentively followed both sides of the story since our core products and supporting technology rely heavily on Flash and Flex.

As the marketing and PR battle rages on between Apple and Adobe, blanket statements are being tossed around regarding the viability of both HTML5 and Flash technologies as if they’re competitors. So far, this debate has only served as a disservice the community in general as the misinformation train continues to board people in high places who don’t completely understand the technologies and begin to make decisions for their organizations that are driven by the general influence of external, biased companies promoting their own product interests, as opposed to properly assessing project technology needs based on other factors that have more, real world substance.

Many people have voiced their opinions on this topic and it’s certainly not breaking news though we thought it beneficial to speak directly on the future viability of Flash and Flex for enterprise Rich Internet Applications, specifically in the Business Intelligence space.

(more…)

Jan
26

Overview of Xcelsius 2008 SP3 – Part II (Videos)

Overview of Xcelsius Service Pack 3Happy New Year. Well, it’s January, so we can still exchange wishes. As you all know, towards the end of 2009, SAP released Service Pack 3 for Xcelsius 2008. I started a video series to show you what’s new in the latest service pack. This is a 2 part series. In part I, I showed you how to download and install the service pack. I also talked about the new components. As promised, here is part II. In these videos I talk about the new features and also performance enhancements. I tried to squeeze it into a single video, but I couldn’t and since I can only upload a 10min or less video on YouTube, I split it into two. So part II comprises of 2 videos. Don’t forget to watch both of them to get a complete overview. I tried to do my best to cover all the new features, if I had missed something, please feel free to use the comments section to shout it out. Watch the videos after the jump.

Part II Video 1

Part II Video 2

Kalyan Verma is a BI consultant, freelance Xcelsius Developer and a Web Blogger. He is based out of Boston, MA and his technology interests range from BI to Visual Data Analysis. Visit our Gurus page for more info.

Dec
29

Overview of Xcelsius 2008 SP3 – Part I (Video)

Xcelsius Service Pack 3I know it’s not a breaking news anymore that Xcelsius SP3 is out there to download. However, I tried to put together a video post on the same. I’m sure by now many of you must have already downloaded the new SP3 and playing with the new and exciting features and components like a little kid who just got his/her Christmas gift. Trust me, I did the same. This is a 2 part video post series. Part I is all about Downloading, Installing and the New Components. Part 2 is all about the new features. I encourage you all to subscribe to our RSS feed so that you don’t miss out on Part 2 video.

Apart from showing how to Download, Install and talking about the new components, I also quickly demonstrated how to use them. Beginners might find it a little hard to follow. Please note that this is just to introduce the components. We will be doing a series of Text and Video posts in the near future to demonstrate the full functionality of the new components.

Kalyan Verma is a BI consultant, freelance Xcelsius Developer and a Web Blogger. He is based out of Boston, MA and his technology interests range from BI to Visual Data Analysis. Visit our Gurus page for more info.

Jul
7

Ryan Goodman’s Take on “Flashy vs. Few”

The following is in response to a discussion on the EverythingXcelsius group on LinkedIn. View discussion

stepehn_fewbook_pic

The flashy aesthetics of Xcelsius has always been a debate sparked by data visualization experts and designers who like the “shiny” graphics provided by Xcelsius and other technologies. I disagree with customers or developers who passionately desire Flashy graphics over what Few emphasizes as well executed dashboard design by maximizing every inch of screen real estate. Xcelsius does not derive its value by looking shiny, and customers today don’t buy into flashy graphics over a solid value proposition both for business and/or IT stakeholders. Xcelsius sells because it provides value as a flexible point and click development tool for constructing BI dashboards. The sleek look of Xcelsius with simplistic interactivity captivates the attention of customers the same way that advertising does in print, web, and television media. After a customer purchases a dashboard technology like Xcelsius, the novelty of flashy widgets fades immediately once execution and implementation becomes priority number one.

Many software vendors offer their own “dashboard” technology, so customers exposure to these concepts have put pressure back on vendors to improve the technology. A gray scale dashboard with flat graphics is not exciting to look at compared to Xcelsius at first glance, but once you dive into the content and the visual communication aspects of dashboard design, Xcelsius can lose its luster if the dashboard designer does not understand technology and technique. I believe that the following are the top reasons that experts like Stephen Few get agitated with Xcelsius:

  1. Flashy Graphics and Gradients
  2. Missing data visualization controls and features
  3. Poor execution of best practices

1. Flashy Graphics and Gradients

I think the standard skin that comes bundled with Xcelsius 2008 is much better than the previous Apple OS (Aqua) skin from 2003, which was bubbly and over the top. Like everything, trends can dictate how design is applied during a certain period. In the early 2002 up until recent years, shiny graphics with heavy shadows and bevels dominated the discussion of why Xcelsius graphics produced tremendous interference. Good design does not adhere to technology trends, and data visualization shouldn’t be any different. What Edward Tufte advises in a statistical landscape and Stephan Few advises in a business landscape will not change much over time, regardless of technology. What I consider “interactive data visualization” borrows from these concepts but focuses data visualization as one important element of an interactive application. What most customers desire and adapt from Xcelsius technology is basic data visualization coupled with an interactive user experience for drilling, filtering, and inputting information. Users are comfortable with clean, yet stylized graphics in Vista and Apple operating systems, so there is no reason why interactive controls can’t be stylized with light gradients to provide some depth and create that perceived ease of use.

2. Missing data visualization controls and features

The demands for better data visualization controls has not changed much in recent years, but unfortunately Xcelsius has fallen behind with a lacking library of data visualization components that belong in every dashboard application. Why we still don’t have Microcharts, Sparklines, and Few’s bullet charts out of the box is beyond me. The Xcelsius SDK has opened the door for us to improve Xcelsius to a certain point, and there are excellent new add-on components coming on-line to fill this gap. This short list of components have become the de-facto standard for dashboards, so I look forward to having them at my disposal soon.

3. Poor execution of best practices

Everyone has a creative side, but someone who has never picked up a design book with an emphasis on data visualization should not implement dashboards for their own company and certainly not as a consultant. Dashboard development is not the forum to unleash creative juices when the intent is to monitor business performance. Working with clients who have educated themselves have definitely facilitated more productive engagements. Reading a book does not make you an expert, but it does allow for more constructive discussions and a smoother delivery of a dashboard. While I can appreciate Stephen Few’s passion for calling out vendors for product gaps, I do not think that marketing materials intended to illustrate technology capabilities should be placed into the critique bin. With that said, vendors need to put their best foot forward to prove that their technology can deliver adequate dashboards execution as well as marketing sizzle.

Hopefully this sparks interesting conversation, but more importantly I hope it will lead you to:

  • Submit enhancement requests to BOBJ and push them to continue improving and evolving the technology to support good design.
  • Practice design principles and guidelines set by the experts including Stephen Few.
  • Educate your customers or stakeholders who do not understand best practices and guidelines for good design.

Ryan Goodman is the Founder of Centigon Solutions, an SAP® software solution partner that is strategically focused on developing add-on products for use with Xcelsius®. To learn more about him, please visit our new Gurus page.