It’s been a while since I shared some new content with you. The main reason is because I’ve been extremely busy with client projects and expanding the Intelligence team at The Next View.
A couple of months ago, I gave a presentation at SAP Netherlands during the SAP Forum event. The SAP Forum (previously known as SAP World Tour) is a one-day event on which SAP presents their innovations and latest technology. I hosted a presentation on effective dashboard design and data visualization principles. Until now, I wasn’t aware of the fact that the photographers caught me in the middle of the action during the event
Normally session attendees receive the presentation but I wanted to give them something extra. Something that would tickle and excite them even far beyond the moment of the actual presentation.
Together with some of my colleagues, we came up with the idea to create a high quality, A1 sized poster containing 8 tips on effective dashboard design. The idea was born. After many pizza sessions, different prototypes and discussions on content (could we copy Stephen Fews quote “no more pies” ?) the poster came to life. The creative brain for the design of the poster is colleague Frodo Jansen, a very talented UX and BI consultant.
At the SAP Forum venue, every attendee of my presentation received a poster and it was a great success. But we didn’t expect that it would go viral after mentioning it on social media like Facebook and Twitter. The result? We had to print over hundreds of extra copies. Customers even started sending pictures of their BI team putting the poster on their office walls or project war-rooms. A great success we never expected to become so big.
After this, I wanted to be able to spread this data visualization poster with my international followers so Frodo and I decided to translate it. Today, the English version of the Data Visualization poster is born.
Drop me a line to receive the poster digitally in high resolution or printed on hiqh quality A1 sized paper.
If you decide to put it on your office wall, I’d love to add a photo of that to my collection so make sure you’ll share it with me.
Today SAP Dashboards Service Pack 05 is released on the SAP SCN marketplace. Of course I downloaded it right away.
The first thing I noticed on SCN is that it is a real Service Pack, not a full installation. So you can install it quite fast.
I installed it on Windows 7 and when you do this, the first time you start xcelsius.exe, you might receive an error message (C++ runtime error). Just right-click the xcelsius.exe file and select “run as administrator”. You only have to do this the first time. I encountered this issue before and already wrote a short blog about it in the past.
Object browser enhancement
SAP added a search box to the object browser pane. For me, this is great since I often have dashboards with lots of objects.
For example, when you enter “actual”, all objects with that name will be shown.
This (simple) feature has been on my personal wish list for quite a while now so I’m glad this feature has made it into this SP05 release.
Mobile compatibility panel
Of course, the main new features are to be found in the mobile and HTML5 support topic. One of the new features in this area is the whole new ‘Mobile compatibility panel’. This panel is new, next to the existing panels (components, query browser, object browser).
If you have an existing dashboard model and you open the mobile compatibility panel, all object names are shown, including a icon to tell if they are supported for mobile export.
In my (quite simple) dashboard example, the print button and sparkline object aren’t supported. This results in not displaying the objects in the dashboard in preview mode. The print functionality is integrated into the SAP BI mobile app so you might not need a separate print button anymore.
You can see in my example above, that the object names contain a number behind the name label. This means there is an error or a warning. In this case, the warnings apply on custom colour and theme settings of the used objects. Only one theme is supported for now, the Nova theme.
Next to this, you can see that there is a general comment, which suggests to change the canvas size to the optimal iPad screen resolution.
The preview button has also changed. It now has two mobile related options. Fit to screen and orginal size.
After you select one of the available options, a iPad case surrounded dashboard will be shown, including the ability to test the interactivity of your dashboard model. Here comes some magic.
Since your navigating the dashboard with your fingers, and not a mouse, it can be tricky to see what line you are watching. SAP added a extra feature, which makes it able to easily analyse the data on mobile devices by showing a ‘mouse-over’ help screen showing relevant info.
Saving to platform
The options for saving your dashboard have also changed. You now have the option to save your dashboard as a flash file, as a mobile file, or both.
One of the SAP developers even put a little ‘easter egg’ or real mistake into this SP05 version. He probably was a Borat fan. See the menu option for ‘Save to platform as > Dashborads object for desktop only’.
iOS optimized font types
If you navigate the properties of the objects, you’ll also notice that some new font types are added, specifically for mobile use.
Support of most used components
I’ve made a little test dashboard with a subset of the components I personally use the most in dashboard projects.
In the design mode, this looks as follows.
If we now check the mobile compatibility panel, we’ll see some errors and warnings.
Note that the spreadsheet table, connection refresh button and horizontal bullet chart aren’t supported. Furthermore, there are some specific warnings regarding the combo box settings. It doesn’t support the number of labels displayed, six in my case.
If we preview it in mobile, you’ll get the following result.
- The bullet chart has disappeared
- The alert functionality in the combination chart is removed
- The design of the buttons has changed
- There was a warning on the amount of labels of the combo box, but they are all selectable
- The refresh connections button has disappeared
- The spreadsheet table has disappeared
I’ve also tested some basic dynamic visibility functionality by using a toggle button to change the visibility of a graph and this worked.
Other general test results:
- The value component is not supported
- The area chart component is not supported
- The list builder component is not supported
- Mouse over interaction for buttons and graphs aren’t supported
- HTML formatting for text boxes is not supported
- Animated entry effects for objects aren’t supported
In general, quite a large set of components is supported in this first release. SAP announced that more components will be supported in the near future. Most of the unsupported components or properties are not critical.
Check the updated help section of SAP Dashboards to see all details on what is and what isn’t supported.
Support for data connections
All connections using the data manager are not supported.
For example, the BICS SAP Netweaver BW connection type through the ‘data manager’ is not supported for mobile. For SAP BW, only SAP BW connections using the query browser are supported. This means you’ll need to re-build all your connections through the query browser. This can result in quite some rework.
If you open the data manager, it states “These connections are not supported on mobile devices”. This means you’ll always have to use the query browser instead of the data manager if you want to use mobile dashboards.
I’ve tested the performance by opening existing SP02 dashboards in SP05 and the results are disappointing in some test cases. The time to open a dashboard is around 5x as long as in SP02 and starting a published dashboard also takes about 5x as long. I encountered the same performance issues while testing SP04 (FP3) in the past versus SP02.
Since performance is one of the core factors for user acceptance, this can be quite an issue. I hope to hear from you if you encounter the same performance issues. In the past, I’ve already logged SAP support calls for the bad performance in SP04 (FP3) but SAP couldn’t reproduce the performance issues.
What are your experiences?
Important update: The performance issues only exist when using custom themes. If you use default themes like Nova, performance is not different from other SP versions.
Prerequisites for use on iOS devices like iPad and iPhone
There are some important technical prerequisites for being able to view mobile dashboards on for example iPhone and iPad.
1. SAP BI 4.0 enterprise platform with SP05
You’ll need 4.0 SP05 for using mobile dashboards.
2. BI Mobile server installed on your enterprise platform
The BI Mobile server handles the synchronization between your mobile device and BO enterprise platform. It checks which BI content (Webi reports, Crystal reports, Xcelsius dashboards and in the future SAP Design Studio (ZEN) documents) is made available for mobile use. Next to this, it passes the parameters set in the opened BI report/dashboard and communicates this with the Enterprise platform and returns the data.
3. SAP Dashboard Design SP05
The SP05 version includes the new mobile panel, compatibility checks and publish to mobile modes.
4. The iOS app SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS version 4.4 (planned release is December 15th 2012)
You’ll need the app for viewing the dashboards on a mobile device since the app includes the HTML5 wrapper.
The overall architecture looks as follows:
I’ve tested this new SP05 version for about two hours now and I must say I’m quite positive about the first results. Of course I’m waiting for the release of the iOS app SAP BI Mobile 4.4 so that I can actually deploy to a mobile device but up till then, this looks positive.
The main concern is rework for existing ‘data manager’ connections.
SAP does show they’re still investing in this existing dashboard product and finally some real innovation and enhancement is in place. If you look at the current state of SAP Design Studio, I think Xcelsius still is the best dashboard solution in SAP’s portfolio for the upcoming years.
A smart guy called Joseph Warbington discovered a way to test your dashboard in HTML5 and get the HTML5 ‘source’ files without publishing to the platform. He uses the temp folder of Xcelsius. Very smart
Check this page to find out how to do this.
The SAP BusinessObjects 4.4 mobile app will be released on December 15th 2012.
SAP press release: click here
This blog post has made it into a official SAP note on SAP Dashboards SP05. That’s funny .
What’s the issue?
It can occur, that printing your dashboard, using the ‘printer button’ component results in empty graphs.
In my situation, the axes and labels were shown on the paper print-out but the actual data (line or bar) wasn’t visible. It seemed to happen mainly in complex dashboards with a large amount of components.
How to fix this?
The solution lies in the version of your Adobe Flash player. In Adobe 10.x versions of the Flash player it’s a known issue. If you’re able to upgrade to version 11.x, the problem seems to disappear.
If you’re in a corporate environment, I realize that upgrading might be a complex challenge. For now, this is the best solution. An alternative can be using screen capturing tools like for example Snag-it, but requires more mouse clicks from the user.
I was quite happy when Feature Pack 3 for the SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 platform was released. However, after installing it on a 32-bit Windows 7 machine with MS Office 2010, I encountered a C++ runtime error every time when I launched Xcelsius.exe.
It took a while to find the solution but here it is:
- Right click Xcelsius.exe
- Select the ‘Run as an administrator’
- Problem solved..
The next time I started it, without the ‘run as administrator’ trick, it launched just fine.
Like many times, finding the solution is often the hardest part. Applying the solution it self is often very simple.
If you may encounter the same problem, try this solution.
It helped in my case.
This blog will be updated regularly with SAP BusinessObjects Analysis edition for application design (ZEN) content and resources. If you have useful resources you want to share, send me a message and I’ll add them to the list.
Since this is a new product, more content will start popping-up on the internet very soon, especially since the launch of the product beta. I’m trying to stay on top of this product, since it is positioned as SAP’s future ‘Dashboard solution’. Today (June 3 2012) I have not seen any info on the visual design aspects of the solution to give me some benchmark and comparison material to SAP Dashboard Design / Xcelsius. Time will tell.
For now, gain knowledge and wisdom by checking out the resources below.
Video: Dashboarding Statement of Direction webinar recording (Youtube)
Blog: My personal ZEN wishlist including interesting wishes in the comments
Q&A: Anita Gibbings does the Dashboard Statement of Direction follow up > great value!