Posts tagged Business Intelligence
In this blog post, I want to share a simple feature for SAP Dashboards to visually support the ability to compare multiple KPI’s with each other.
Imagine that you have multiple KPI’s you’d like to analyze. In the example below, I’ve displayed three simple deviation graphs (0 = target; above 0 is ok; below 0 is not ok) that display KPI info. It can be interesting to analyze if there is a relation between the scores of the three KPI’s in a specific month.
In the graph design below, It is quite difficult to compare the values. If you scan from the top graph to the two graphs below, you’ll easily loose track of the right column.
This has multiple reasons:
- The title of the individual KPI graphs is placed above the graph, instead of left of it. While comparing a bar in the top graph with the graphs below, you’ll have to ‘cross’ the title of the graph below. This distracts the reading process.
- Every graph has it’s own X-axis including category labels for the month.
- The distance between the three graphs is quite large.
- The black Y-axis distracts while analyzing (non-data pixels)
Now how can we easily support the process of comparing the KPI values for a specific month? I’ve made a simple demo dashboard to reduce the issue. In the following example, I’ve used five KPI’s.
In this example, you can easily compare the bars of the graphs because the selected month is put into ‘focus’ by marking it with a grey area. I’ve used a simple combination of dynamic visability and drill functionality. From a design perspective, I’ve eliminated some of the graph elements like the Y-axis, the X-axis labels, KPI titles (could be placed on the left) etcetera.
This is just a quick showcase / prototype of the technical functionality.
Let me know what you think of this.
Final note: This dashboard was developed using SAP Dashboards 4.0 SP04 Feature Pack 3
This week one of my colleagues asked me for help, while facing a challenge in Xcelsius / SAP Dashboard Design, at one of our customers.
The customer wanted to be able to drill down a whole bar, from a stacked bar chart, into a separated bar chart in wich the segments of the stacked bar, would be displayed as individual bars.
This doesn’t sound like a problem until you check the properties pane of the stacked bar chart object. If you set the ‘insertion type’ for the series (every single segment of a stacked bar is a single serie) on column or row, you’ll notice that the destination area of the individual series must be different from each other. This makes it hard to drill down a whole bar at the same time by clicking just a random segment of the stacked bar. If you select ‘insertion type’ value, you can only drill one value at a time.
Well how do you fix this?
I cracked this nut by adding some filter boxes and some MS Excel logic (which of course can be made invisible during run-time).
The further explanation of the case and my solution are included in the SWF file which you can open by clicking here.
For downloading the XLF file, click here.
Final remark: Design aspects were irrelevant for this case. The only purpose for now was fixing the issue. If I had to design a set of graphs for this case, the dashboard might have looked completely different.
There is lots of stuff we’d like to see in a new version of SAP Dashboards / Xcelsius. Probably the HTML5 version will focus mainly on HTML5 export functionality so lets stretch the wish list towards ZEN (I don’t want to type that 2314 counting character official product name).
If I look at SAP Dashboards / Xcelsius I’d love to see the following features being made available in a next version of SAP Dashboards or the new product ZEN. It is quite a wish list and I know that some of these things can be fixed with some creativity, but I’m looking for out-of-the-box functionality.
Here it comes..
- Help screen pop-ups / mouse overs
Now this is possible but requires to much tricks. The time of paper documentation is moving behind us. I’d like to see functionality to easily build integrated help functionality. With this I mean that I don’t need to create a background menu, transparent background to show over the dashboard, 10 custom label objects, a ‘close-window’ push button and some dynamic visibility logic to start the circus. Just provide help menu’s which are easy to configure.
- Decent printing options
I shouldn’t rely on 3rd party solutions for being able to print the dashboard the way I want it, including some simple annotations.
- Decent commenting options
This is not supported. Connecting to a remote database and store/retrieve comments is possible, but too much customizing.
- Flexible change of chart type (like in Webi)
I often use the Combination Chart just in case I want to change the chart type afterwards from line to bar chart. If I don’t do this, I’ll need to reconfigure the cell binding, properties, alignment, etcetera. Webi handles this much better.
- More developer-friendly drag and drop of components and objects
The amount of time you spend to align, resize and position objects can be reduced if this is improved. Selecting objects and moving them around sometimes works a bit buggy. Please fix this.
- New version of the Open Document Statement integration protocol. This should be ‘point-and-click’ easy
I shouldn’t need to be able to read HTML parameters for connecting BI content. Sure, it works OK and offers great functionality but this should be done like a ‘walk down the park’ instead of a ‘walk down the HTML parameter trial-and-error hell’. Make this point-and-click easy with a decent user interface.
- Easier integration between multiple dashboards
Jumping from one dashboard to another including parameters should be easy. This way you should be able to scale your development team without loosing interactivity. Now you often have one big sized dashboard with longer load times etc. Of course you can tune this with dynamic visibility, connection settings etc but cutting one dashboard into smaller pieces can have quite some advantages. Now this is possible, but only for advanced developers.
- Better support for custom fonts (include more than 1 custom font in the dashboard model)
The typography topic for dashboards is often completely skipped. I’ve seen and designed dashboards with a well designed typography model which really made a difference. Now the support for custom fonts is limited. If a user hasn’t got the used fonts on his machine, you can embed them in the dashboard. However, you can only embed one font. And flipping between serif and sans-serif for large headers and titles on one side and small lables and subtitles on the other side requires more than just one font.
- Debug mode for errors
Solving issues is often a complex process. An empty chart pops up. What’s going on? Does the connection not retrieve any data? Is the table range not large enough? Doesn’t the filtered row object pick the right label? Is the chart binded to the wrong cells? Is there a dynamic visability issue? Is there an authorization issue for the user? Is there no data at all in the source? And so on..
An advanced developer will be able to find the issue but this can require quite some time. I have been laughing quite often when an empty error dialog screen popped up in Xcelsius. Laughing only lasted for seconds, than the frustration came..
- CSS editor for easy theme and template creation
Xcelsius has some out of the box themes. Editing these themes is not possible for the average developer. In the installation folders of Xcelsius, CSS files are stored which contain all the styling. I’d like to see a modern CSS editor in which you can load, edit, save and share CSS templates. This way dashboard development can be taken to the next level.
- More flexible and detailed property options for all components
From a design perspective, Xcelsius falls short in some area’s. It does a real great job in the first 95% but as a die-hard, you also want to slam those last 5%. For example, a combination chart has no alerting options (comes in FP3). Setting markers in line charts (sparkline chart excluded) is only possible for every value on the X-axis. I, the designer, want to be able where and how the markers should be applied. For example one on the highest or lowest, and one in the end, not just everywhere.
The default legenda looks just ugly. I want to be able to make a more sophisticated legenda. And why can’t I set the scale range for the microchart? Now two charts cannot be compared since they can have a different scale range. Not to speak about the number of times I had to copy multiple graphs on top of each other to be able to create the chart looking exactly the way I wanted it to do. And for charts with a scale from negative to positive values I want to be able to make the X-axis line for the ’0′ Y-value a bit thicker but I’m only able to make the bottom X-axis line thicker (the lowest value line). This is just a small set of examples of stuff you just wanted to be able to configure slightly different, with a big positive impact on the user experience.
SAP Dashboards / Xcelsius has surprised me time after time by it’s flexibility and ability to realize requirements by applying ‘tricks’ and ‘voodoo magic’. This makes it that I love the product. Possibilities sometimes look endless. But when someone has to support this magic dashboard full of MS Excell spells and dynamic visibility voodoo, you may loose some friends.
Therefore I like to see some of this magic back in the standard component properties and menus. What does your wish list look like?
There has been a lot of buzz around the future of SAP Dashboard Design aka Xcelsius. It has been clear that the development in this tool is way behind to the new products popping up like the SAP BO Explorer including the Exploration Views feature. In general, there hasn’t been a major release for SAP Dashboard Design including new functionalities, other than focussing on the integration with SAP BW.
One of the top influencers in the BI community, Mico Yuk, addressed this issue publicly by tweeting about the subject. With this, she drew the attention from many SAP executives.
As a result, a webinar was organized for the 18th of April 2012 in which SAP would unveil their plans for the SAP Dashboard Design product. Will it die? Will it evolve to a web platform? Will we ‘only’ receive HTML5 functionality and when will all these things really start to happen.
Prior to the webconference, Adam Binnie (Global VP & GM, Business Intelligence at SAP) released a blog post in which he gave some more insight on the future of the Dashboarding solutions from SAP. You can check out the blog here.
In this blog post, he describes a new dashboard product codenamed ZEN, that is intended to provide rich, professionally authored, HTML5 applications and dashboards.
- HTML5 for rendering the “mobile first” experience and parity of experience between mobile devices and the desktop.
- Data access layer structured to support both big data (SAP HANA) and SAP NetWeaver BW data sources.
- Rich set of controls allowing both complex application development and quick easy dashboard production.
“It means choice and immediate value for both customer bases. Customers already employing SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (formerly Xcelsius) will be able to deliver rich dashboards on mobile devices. While customers looking to create more complex and sophisticated user experiences will have that control within project Zen.
Moving forward, the intent is for these two to slowly merge together, bringing the richness, diverse data source support, and dynamic “what-if” capabilities of SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards to the Zen architecture; in addition to bringing the fine grained control and enhanced development experience to the dashboards world”
They also say that the new solution will be opened up to the partner eco-system for adding even more rich functionality. For the current product, SAP Dashboard Design, it has proven to be a very strong plus.
There is also a more detailed ‘Statement Of Direction’ document included which can be found here.
I’m very curious where the difference in ‘fine grained control’ and ‘enhanced development experience’ lies, in relation to the current SAP Dashboard Design product. I think it will definitely be a web-based solution instead of the client solution SAP Dashboard Design is at the moment. With the evolving HTML5 features, this might bring very rich possibilities in which it is much easier to integrate dashboards in web applications and mobile apps.
Also features like write back, annotations, scheduled views and dashboard bursting are mentioned.
Write back can of course be very interesting for specific scenario’s. Especially if you look at it from a ‘action-based’ dashboard perspective. You see a error on the dashboard and want to take action by going to, for example, a SAP transaction to solve issues. Or update your forecast, based on gained insights by the dashboard.
Annotations has been a very long awaited feature. You want to be able to make annotations in your dashboard ‘snapshot’. You want to be able to explain why you were over-achieving or failing. You want your colleagues to be able to learn from your countermeasures so that they can benefit from your experiences. So your colleagues should be able to see what the effectiveness of your countermeasures were, by checking your annotations. Until now, making annotations hasn’t been properly supported so I’m very curious about how this will be implemented.
Personally, I also hope that printing features will be improved heavily, as well as a reduce in needed complexity to create interactive dashboards with drilldowns and filters. The MS Excel layer has provided a great piece of flexibility, but it also often costs to many time to build ‘simple’ drill down features between multiple objects.
Some other stuff like being more flexible to change data visualizations without needing to reconfigure the whole object from data binding, color properties etc would be very nice. We’ve seen in Webi and the BO Explorer that this is possible so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this one.
The intent is that both technologies, and their content and applications, will resolve onto a common tool within a few releases, and with minimal disruption for the customers using them.
Phase 1 (roughly end of 2012)
- SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards gains HTML5 output option to allow delivery to mobile devices.
- Zen’s initial release plans for HTML5 application development connected to SAP HANA and SAP NetWeaver BW.
- Both tools plan to leverage the SAP BusinessObjects Mobile app to manage them locally on the device and provide a single point of entry.
- The HTML5 component library of Zen is anticipated to expand to match current SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards offerings.
- Third party components support is planned for Zen so the large eco-system of SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards can also start to reach out to new customers.
- We anticipate continuing to expand the range of charting and other visualization choices for designers, and include additional features like: Write Back, Annotations, Scheduled Views, Dashboard Bursting to name just a few.
- The plan is to unify the data access technologies allowing the new Zen runtime to access all types of data and converge the two design environments into one.
I think that tonights webinar (it’s the 18th of April today) won’t bring many news other than the information already provided through the blog post of Adam. Personally, I see this a great opportunity from SAP to leverage their dashboarding solution for guided analysis, not to mistaken with ad-hoc analysis solutions like the BO Explorer. The mentioned features sound very nice and SAP preparing itself for mobile is for sure the right path forward. It also seams like they are providing customers with a ‘migration option’ for existing SAP Dashboard Design / Xcelsius dashboard towards this new ZEN product.
In the end, time will tell and I’ll make sure to follow the further developments. To end with, I’d like to thank Mico Yuk, from Benchmarkers.com, for getting SAP Dashboards on the agenda of SAP again and communicating actively on the subject. Thumbs up Mico!
Update May 10, 2012:
ASUG Webcast summary on ZEN. Lots of information.
Important update March 19th, 2012:
Official SAP Document with all new features of BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3 has been released. Download it here.
Overview page of all new FP3 features including links to webcasts on SCN click here.
A while ago, I participated in a SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 ramp-up project, before the GA status. In that specific period, there were still some bugs and missing functionality for such a major release. To specify one particular example of missing functionality, was the ability to create custom color palettes in WebIntelligence.
To resolve some open bugs and to bring quite some new features, SAP BusinessObjects has announced a feature pack for SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0, called feature pack 3.
This feature pack consists of:
- BI 4.0 SP3 customer fixes
- The new product features that were to be included in the original BI 4.1 release
- Improved integration with SAP NetWeaver BW and the SAP Business Suite. Dashboards (Xcelsius) will be able to access SAP NetWeaver BW directly via Business Intelligence Consumer Service (BICS).
- Xcelsius / Dashboards graphical object binding directly to BW query without using Excel layer (wasn’t possible for BW in 4.0)
- Xcelsius / Dashboards waterfall charts (new visualisation)
- Xcelsius / Dashboards can be accessed from within BI Launchpad
- Xcelsius / Dashboards extensive hierarchy support improvements (incl hierarchical table component to visualise hierarchy)
- Web Intelligence will receive improved SAP NetWeaver BW support and chart functionality (color assignment and expand/collapse functionality). Also, users will be able to export reports as .TXT files.
- SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards will include improved tree views with visualizations of hierarchies and report-report interface (RRI) support to invoke SAP Business Suite applications.
- Crystal Reports for enterprise will have direct to data support, improved SAP NetWeaver BW support as well as a report repository available on the Web. In addition, three new chart types will be available: tree map, tag cloud and box plot.
- Updates for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. This release introduces “exploration views,” which allows users (including business users) to create panels of analytics (boxes focusing on a given analytic) that they can move around the work area in Explorer to better view the data. In addition, Explorer will now support time and geospatial dimensions. In addition, users of the iPad version of Explorer will be able to access and work with the data offline.
- Universe access to SAP ERP in the form of InfoSets, SAP queries and ABAP functions.
- Ability to collaborate with SAP StreamWork. Users will be able to send BI documents directly from the BI LaunchPad to StreamWork for feedback and collaboration.
- Expanded mobile capabilities. Feature Pack will expand support to the BlackBerry Playbook and Android devices, while depreciating support for Symbian and Windows Mobile.
- Improved content search. Along with introducing deep indexing for Crystal Reports enterprise, Dashboards (Xcelsius) and BI Workspaces, search relevance will be improved with time (date ranges) and history options available.
- Added in-memory features. With Feature Pack 3, companies can use SAP HANA as a central management server (CMS) and auditing database. In addition, users will have single sign-on as well as analytic and calculation views available.
This feature pack will also have a ramp-up phase, of which the official nominations for participating customers will start in January 2012 (update 3/19/12: it has just started, not in January)
SAP’s planning is to make Feature Pack 3 General Available in Q1 2012 so that’s good news!
(Update 3/19//12: They didn’t make this, since it has just gone into ramp-up. No GA date available yet due to the ramp-up status)
More details can be found on:
SAP’s blog site by Nic Smith
searchsap.com by Jacquelyn Howard
Update June 2012: SAP presentation on new feautures
Update July 2012: Feature Pack 3 is now available for download on the SAP Service Marketplace