Monthly Archives: August 2011

Remarkable engine oil for Xcelsius

After writing a recent post on EverythingXcelsius.com about seeing third-party add-ons to SAP Business Objects in a positive, glass-is-half-full way (more, better functionality now) rather than a negative, glass-is-half-empty way (it should be part of the product), I got to thinking about how to express this specifically for XWIS. Continue reading

Results of an Xcelsius-XWIS POC

This is a Guest post by Matt Hawkins who is CTO and Principal at SAP Business Objects gold partner, Kingfisher Inc. Matt provides some insight of the results he got when he used XWIS to underpin an Xcelsius POC.

I recently did an on-site proof of concept (POC) for a new client who was struggling with various aspects of their Live-Office connected Xcelsius dashboards. Having worked with many Xcelsius customers I was fairly confident that I knew the challenges they were facing, but I continue to be surprised by scale of engineering involved in some large  Xcelsius deployments – the original dashboards were constructed with a total of 120 separate Live Office connections… Phew!

I thought I would share the results of the POC in the hope that others might benefit from the experience.

The situation was fairly typical in my experience: Xcelsius was a well-received by the business, users loved the new access to data they had through their dashboards, and they loved the look and feel of their dashboards. However, as the required work flows became more and more complex the data required to support the dashboard also grew and grew, development times grew longer and painful performance negated the previously great first impressions. Some scenarios would take over a minute to process (and this is with BWA as the underlying engine!).

The POC was specifically around replacing the Live Office connectivity with XWIS Enterprise from Antivia and the results were impressive.

As you can probably imagine, the existing logic to manage 120+ connections across multiple SWFs was…significant, to say the least. Just deconstructing the logic took a while to understand (and would be a maintenance nightmare).

By utilizing XWIS Enterprise we were able to significantly reduce the number of connections to the server (down to 8 from over 120), which improved the stability of the application and had a dramatic impact on dashboard performance, as shown by the metrics associated with the key success criteria for the project:

  1. 3:1 reduction in initialization time of the dashboard (saving  a minimum of 5 seconds per dashboard).
  2. 10:1 reduction in “screen to screen” lag of the dashboard (saving 17 seconds on each screen refresh).
  3. Switching between business categories (drill-across) changed from a 22 seconds wait, to sub-second (thanks to dynamic filtering) providing “Speed of thought” navigation for the user.
  4. 10:1 reduction in connections, reducing client and server-side complexity of dashboard development
  5. A lot of the complexity in the dashboards was due to manipulating the datasets based on user interaction – replacing all of this with XWIS Advanced bindings for dimensions / filters / sorts meant we slashed the number of excel formulas by the hundreds (Okay I lost count, but we literally deleted whole sheets from the model).

All of this was achieved within the constraints of the POC, which included not changing the look and feel of the application – although there are plenty of enhancement opportunities now open to them, it was outside the scope of the POC…and this post.

For the client, these gains mean they will see significant benefit in these areas:

  1. Increased performance for their users
  2. Decreased dashboard development time for new projects
  3. Reduction in on-going support and maintenance cost

 


Disclosure – Kingfisher is an Antivia partner and reseller … but, it was results like the ones above which led us to become a partner in the first place, and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to wow an Xcelsius customer with XWIS.

BI – To standardize or not to standardize

I read an interesting article the other day quoting from a recent Gartner report (The Consumerization of BI Drives Greater Adoption) which suggested that organizations should take a portfolio approach to Business Intelligence (BI) rather than take a standardization approach.

This is very much in line with recent marketing pushes I have heard about from some of the niche BI vendors who are advocating concepts like “opportunistic” or “end-user driven” BI. These concepts suggest that the value of BI is too great to be hamstrung by your existing BI infrastructure and advise you to choose tools for specific tasks to allow your end-users to get on with things on their own, regardless of how these tools fit into your existing BI landscape.

As always, the best course lies somewhere in between. The benefits realized over the past 10 years from the move to BI standardization (e.g. higher data quality, single version of the truth, lower cost of ownership, …) should not be given up lightly, but at the same time a slavish insistence on only ever sourcing from one BI vendor would be an equally big mistake.

Of course, all this depends on what you mean by standardization.

One of the benefits of standardizing your BI on one of the larger vendors’ platforms is that you can extend the capabilities of the platform using tools from the inevitable ecosystem of partner offerings which grow-up around the platform. In many ways this gives the best of both worlds, everything is based on a robust enterprise class foundation but you have the option of extending with innovative offerings from smaller vendors without fragmenting into BI silos.

As a dedicated SAP BusinessObjects solution partner, we at Antivia obviously believe strongly in the BI ecosystem model and one of our most important goals is to help SAP BusinessObjects customers stay on their core platform as long as possible, before they are forced to add incompatible BI tools to their portfolio.

Given this, I guess that it is inevitable that some of the messages which the niche BI vendors use to attack SAP BusinessObjects, such as “build dashboards in hours or days not weeks or months” are precisely the same value propositions we offer through XWIS albeit through an extension to the SAP BusinessObjects technology rather than a replacement of it.

Not surprisingly the new version of XWIS makes further strides in this area. Two key XWIS 3.0 features, AutoSync and Data Merge address two of the key areas where smaller vendors tend to attack Xcelsius:

  1. Data Merge and Spreadsheet Reader allow corporate data from SAP BusinessObjects to be combined with other non-BusinessObjects data. For example: to support tactical BI projects with a short shelf-life or to support forecasting where budgets, actuals and forecasts are all held in different places (Watch a short Data Merge and Spreadsheet Reader video )
  2. AutoSync provides automatic data and navigation synchronization across dashboard components. This gives a huge productivity boost to Xcelsius developers reducing development and maintenance time. (Watch a short AutoSync video)

And, there will be more to come in the future as we continue our drive to help SAP BusinessObjects customers get the best possible return from their BI investment.

Having said all that, no matter how rich the ecosystem around any BI platform is, there will be times when you need to add a new, disconnected tool to your BI portfolio to meet a specific requirement. At such times, just make sure you are addressing a real requirement and that there is no way to extend your existing platform to meet it.

So, whilst I agree with the Gartner report that in a very strict sense “the concept of a single enterprise BI product standard is flawed”, I would also say that a high degree of standardization around a single BI platform remains by far the best approach or put simply: “standardize on the ecosystem and add specialist tools with care”.