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A New Lease of (HTML5) life for Xcelsius

Given that I was part of the team that brought Xcelsius into Business Objects, it is no surprise that I am a huge fan of the product and as I wrote in a recent post for the SAP Business Analytics blog, I believe it is helping pave the way for an important transition from Dashboards to BI Apps.

So, it was great to be in Scott Leaver’s presentation yesterday, at BI2012, to hear more details on the plans which Steve Lucas announced a few weeks ago about a future HTML5 version of Xcelsius/SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards.

Hopefully, this new level of detail will stop all the talk about Xcelsius/Dashboards being a dead product and set a path to a new period of innovation for Xcelsius.

What Scott explained yesterday was that the existing Xcelsius designer would be extended with two new capabilities, namely:

  1. Preview in HTML5
  2. Export to HTML5

Which means that ultimately the workflow for creating an HTML5 version of an Xcelsius dashboard will be as simple as opening an existing xlf in the designer and choosing export to HTML5.

Work on the HTML5 components (both visual and data connectivity) and the new JavaScript spreadsheet engine are underway and we could see the first public demos of a prototype version as soon as the summer, with a “beta program later in the year” and “general availability sometime in H1 2013”.

Prepare for a period of transition

Having said that, as you might expect from such a significant change, it is not all going to happen overnight. The first HTML5 version will only offer a subset of the existing components (apparently SAP’s customer research shows that something like 80% of existing dashboards only use about 10% of the available components), but there will be a compatibility checker built into the designer to warn you if components in your dashboard are not available as HTML5 and to possibly suggest alternatives.

In my opinion, another thing you will need to consider when making the transition to HTML5 is the complexity of the spreadsheet underpinning your dashboard. Although the Flash player has come in for some stick over the years it has been through many rounds of optimization and the jury is still out in my mind as to how JavaScript engines will perform with the initial version of the HTML5 export. I would predict that, at least in the initial production versions, dashboards will run more slowly in HTML5 than Flash, but that on-going improvements in both the Xcelsius export and JavaScript in the browser will mean that parity will be achieved in subsequent releases.

Why is this so important ?

As I wrote in the post on the Analytics blog (and spoke about in my session here at BI 2012), I am convinced that interactive, engaging, easy-to user BI Apps are the future of dashboards and a key part of the future of BI (IMO much more so than what is usually referred to as self-service BI). Having Xcelsius able to generate these types of apps/dashboards for the HTML5 environment, protects the huge investment people have made in this area over the years and opens up a straightforward path forward.

As Scott was at pains to highlight yesterday, these plans are still subject to change, but for me they represent a turning point in the history of Xcelsius and could re-establish it at the forefront of BI innovation.

What to do in the meantime ?

The only question which remains is what to do between now and when this new world arrives. My view remains as it was when I responded to Steve’s initial announcement, partners play a critical role. We can help bridge the gap whilst SAP undertake this major project.

If you need Xcelsius dashboards on mobile devices today (including the iPad) you can use XWIS Anywhere, which is today already HTML5 ready. If you want to dramatically simplify your dashboard development (and reduce the complexity of the spreadsheets they are based on) then XWIS Advantage offers some remarkable capabilities.

Not only do these offer significant value today, but we will continue to work with SAP, to ensue that we help make your transition to the new HTML5 world easier, when it comes.

The 12 Days of XWIS – Summary and the competiton

12 days ago, we started the “12 days of XWIS” series, and on each day we have posted a very short video highlighting a different feature of XWIS. During the series, we’ve seen how XWIS helps boost developer productivity, extend end-user capabilities, fend off niche-BI vendors, automate dashboard distribution, and even deliver dashboards on mobile and tablet devices.

At the end of each post, we included a little-known fact from the history of Xcelsius, so even if you were not interested in XWIS (although by the end of the series, how could you not be!), hopefully, there was still something of interest for you as an Xcelsius user.

On top of that, each of the 12 videos contained a hidden word or phrase from the previous day’s “History of Xcelsius” fact.

So, now the time has come for you to try and win your choice of an iPad or a Kindle Fire. In order to enter, you simply need to send an email to 12days@antivia.com listing for each day, the hidden word or phrase from the video that appeared in the previous day’s fact. So your entry will look something like:

Day 1 – strawberries

Day 2 – long winter nights

Day 12 – winner

(note: these are examples, not the real answers !)

Your email must reach us by 5pm Pacific time on Friday 13th January 2012. We will select a winner at random from those entries who get the most answers correct.

Good luck!

The Ninth Day of XWIS – Off-line Dashboards

Even in today’s connected world there are times when we need access to our information when we don’t have connectivity to our corporate systems. Our ninth day explains how XWIS solves this problem for dashboards, by adding an off-line capability to Xcelsius.

The video below shows how easy it is for the dashboard designer to enable the offline functionality in a dashboard (by dropping on a single “offline” component) and then how the end-user just needs to click the component in the live dashboard to save an off-line version for later use.

Notice how these off-line dashboards are fully interactive and how many of the features we have seen in the previous few days (e.g. drill down and across, synchronized data, ad-hoc analysis and Autowire) continue to work in the off-line dashboard.

(for best results, watch this video in full-screen mode)

Remember, in each video there is a “hidden” word or phrase from the previous day’s Xcelsius Fact. Find them all and enter the draw to win your choice of iPad or a Kindle Fire.

History of Xcelsius – Fact 10

Included in the Xcelsius 2008 release was a completely new set of maps providing more capability and covering the globe in significantly more detail. Unfortunately, one key map was missing – Canada ! This was particularly ironic as the Xcelsius development team was organizationally part of Business Objects’ Vancouver Development Center. Thankfully, the Canadian map was added in in the first service pack a few months later, but it was a pretty glaring omission for a while.

It just goes to show that bugs in software are like needles in a haystack, very hard to find, but obvious when you find one sticking in your finger.

Be sure to check back on Monday for the next installment of the “12 Days of XWIS” – why not subscribe to our blog feed, so you don’t forget!

The Eighth Day of XWIS – End-User Layout Control

Yesterday, we saw how the XWIS slice-and-dice component allows dashboard end-users to conduct some of their own ad-hoc analysis, thereby saving their design team from making endless incremental changes to their dashboards.

Today, on the 8th day of XWIS, we contiune this theme as we look at another feature which empowers end users and lessens the design team’s workload, namely the XWIS Zoom component.

The XWIS zoom component allows end-users to change the layout of their dashboards on the fly, so they can home in on particular visual components to help them make better informed decisions. Again, changes like this would normally require work from the dashboard design team, but the XWIS zoom component means that the end-users can complete more of these types of task on their own.

It might be possible to implement something like this using Xcelsius dynamic visibility and a number of hidden components, but the complextiy this would introuce would add considerably to the TCO of the dashboard. By contrast, the video below shows how simple it is to add the XWIS Zoom component to any existing dashboard; simply drag the XWIS Zoom component onto the canvas and re-compile the dashboard.

Once the dashboard is running, clicking on the zoom control allows the end user to choose the layout they want to see and which visualizations they want to see in the layout.


(for best results, watch this video in full-screen mode)

Remember, in each video there is a “hidden” word or phrase from the previous day’s Xcelsius Fact. Find them all and enter the draw to win your choice of iPad or a Kindle Fire.

History of Xcelsius Fact 9

Yesterday, we looked at how the introduction of QaaWS was pivotal to the success of Xcelsius. Another pivotal feature came in the 2008 release namely the Xcelsius SDK. This allowed third parties to write “add-in” components that could be used alongside the built-in Xcelsius components. The SDK has been a continued source of innovation over the years with many SAP partners creating components to extend the capabilities of the product.

One of the first (possibly the very first), component to be publicly demonstrated was a “coverflow” component, which Brian Mantuano from the Xcelsius development team presented in a session at Adobe MAX in October 2007. The 20 second video below shows the component in action in the Xcelsius designer.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment of the “12 Days of XWIS” – why not subscribe to our blog feed, so you don’t forget!

The Seventh Day of XWIS – End-User Ad-hoc Analysis

Over the last 6 days we have looked at various features of XWIS which dramatically increase the speed at which you can develop connected Xcelsius dashboards.

In fact, Ryan Goodman (who has probably written more Xcelsius dashboards in his time that just about anyone else) commented that, in his experience, XWIS increases the productivity of Xcelsius developers by between 10 and 20 times (i.e. 1000% to 2000%). The videos from the first 6 days of XWIS (particularly days one, two, three and four) demonstrate, collectively, just how dramatically XWIS can speed up Xcelsius development.

Today, on the 7th day of XWIS, we turn our attention to how XWIS brings new capabilities to decision-makers; capabilities which are pretty much impossible to create with Xcelsius on its own.

We start by looking at the “slice-and-dice” feature of XWIS which empowers the dashboard user by letting them create their own view of their dashboard data in a controlled environment … and has the added benefit of eliminating a significant part of the dashboard designers’ workload.

Even with the best dashboards, there are occasions when users need to see a view of the data in the dashboard which is not possible with the existing design. Often these requirements are short term, but important, nonetheless. Without XWIS, the only solution is to go back to the dashboard designers and ask then to add the new view to the dashboard.

Often is not possible to make the changes in the necessary timeframe, but even when it is:

  1. This creates yet more work for the dashboard designers in the BI team
  2. These incremental changes (often for transitory requirements) increase the complexity of the dashboard and add to the maintenance overhead

In the video below, you can see how easy it is to add the XWIS slice-and-dice component to a dashboard and how elegantly it solves the above issues; the slice-and-dice component waits in the background until needed, and one called-upon it allows the end-user to define their own views of the data without having to go back to the dashboard developers.

(for best results, watch this video in full-screen mode)

Remember, in each video there is a “hidden” word or phrase from the previous day’s Xcelsius Fact. Find them all and enter the draw to win your choice of iPad or a Kindle Fire.

History of Xcelsius Fact 8

One of the pivotal points in the history of Xcelsius after the Business Objects acquisition was when Richard Reynolds (at that time a Business Objects pre-sales consultant) proposed a project to the “Labs” development team in Paris to produce something he called the “WSDL Wizard” which would provide a direct connection between Xcelsius and the BusinessObjects semantic layer. Alexis Naibo (the Labs team owner for the project) took the project on but renamed it “Query as a Web Service” or QaaWS … and the rest is history. However, without Richard, Alexis and QaaWS, the evolution of Xcelsius would almost certainly have been rather different.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment of the “12 Days of XWIS” – why not subscribe to our blog feed, so you don’t forget!