Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thinking, experience, expertise and discipline are still required in the new world of analytics

This morning, Timo Elliot did his usual first-class job when he delivered the analytics keynote at the UK & Ireland SAP User Group Conference in Birmingham (UK). As always, I came away thinking about things in a slightly different way and, as usual, I agreed with pretty much all of what Timo said, but I wanted to add a few thoughts of my own.

There are many blog posts I could write based on what Timo said, but as I have to start somewhere, I will start with his analogy comparing what is happening today in the analytics world with what has happened over the last decade or so with digital photography.

Timo’s full post on this subject is here, but the nub of his message is: if you don’t embrace the move from current data warehousing technology to in-memory, column based, parallel data warehousing with in-database analysis then you will quickly start to feel rather old fashioned, to say the least.

I agree with everything Timo says here and in this related post, but, I would add two additional points which I think extend the analogy and cast a word of warning …

1) A digital camera might help you take better pictures, but it is no substitute for photographic talent

Digital photography has revolutionized how we all take pictures and there is no question that I now have more, better photos of my life than would have been possible 20 years ago. However, I still don’t take photos like Timo does. To see what I mean visit his gallery. You will see some great pictures which undoubtedly require a flair for photography, years of experience and an understanding of the science behind it (none of which I have).

2) Without discipline digital photography gives you a few great photos hidden in a sea of bad to mediocre ones.

In many ways, digital photographs are too easy to take and to keep. My photo library (which is spread over about 6 hard drives) is a classic example. Lots of shots taken without much thinking, resulting in a huge number of photos I don’t really want to see, obscuring the few that I would love to see over and over again. It is good to have this archive and one day, hopefully, I will go through it and sort it out, but I am pretty sure that if I had to think more about what I shot, and which shots I kept, I would be in a better place today.

These two points extend directly to BI.

A self-service BI system which makes it easy for business users to roam freely over large quantities of data is no substitute for BI flair, experience and understanding, and without discipline and thinking, the results of unfettered, end-user, self-service BI are too often summed up by the following quote from the Merchant of Venice:

“They are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.”

The new data-warehouse landscape which Timo describes has huge power to transform our businesses; let’s not squander it by using it to perpetuate the lazy myth that self-service for business end-users is the nirvana for BI.

Xcelsius and Flash – Plus ça change …

There has been a lot of speculation over the last few days about what the recent Adobe announcement about Flash player on mobile devices means for Xcelsius. To my mind absolutely nothing has changed!

It has become crystal clear over the last 6-12 months that the overriding issue for Xcelsius on mobile is not the lack of support for Flash on devices in general, but the lack of support for Flash on iOS in particular.

The only possible (if very unlikely) way that Flash could have got into iOS would have been for Steve Jobs to wake up one morning and change his mind. Once he died that small chance died with him. No-one at Apple was going to reverse the decision once Jobs was gone.

So, before the Adobe announcement Xcelsius needed a different way to reach the iPad and after the announcement it still needs a way to reach the iPad. Whether that is export to HTML5 (although Ryan Goodman has some interesting comments on that in his blog), a native iPad app to run xlfs or some sort of remote viewing (like we are doing for XWIS Anywhere) remains to be seen, but the announcement from Adobe makes no difference at all!

Flash on mobile is not dead

What is more interesting about Adobe’s announcement (once you get past the superficial, Adobe vs Apple media hype frenzy) is that it only marks the end of the Flash Player in a browser on mobile devices (and on TVs) but NOT the end of Flash itself on mobile (or TVs). In fact, the headline from the official blog announcement from Adobe says “Flash to focus on … mobile apps”.

This focus on mobile apps comes in the form of Adobe’s AIR technology (which embeds all of the “Flash Player”) and the effort they have put in to make this work on mobile devices (including iOS). In fact, the whole drive of Adobe’s imminent Flash Builder / Flex 4.6 release is about improved delivery on tablet devices (including the iPad).

Having played around with this technology over the past few weeks as part of our on-going development of FlexWIS, I have to say I am impressed with what it can do.

To see for yourself I would suggest downloading the Politifact app for either iOS or iPad and see what you think. It is a native iOS app, in the App Store written entirely in the Adobe Flash/Flex technologies. (As a nice side benefit, you can also produce Android and PlayBook versions from the same code base).

(Update: There is an interesting post on many of these topics from the Flex product managers here, the update section of this post has more details on Adobe’s ongoing support for the open source model, delivering mobile apps through AIR as well as insight into the exciting prospect of a Flex to JavaScript compiler )

Towards IBIAs

This is important for BI because I believe that the natural evolution of dashboards is to become “Interactive BI Applications (IBIAs)” (see our recent eBook). In fact, the power and flexibility of Xcelsius means that many of the dashboards it has been used to create are already mini-BI Apps. The Flash Builder / Flex environment provides a perfect next-step environment for when the UI demands of an app go beyond what is comfortably achievable with Xcelsius.

Now, I have heard some people suggest that a test for the Flex / Flash Builder combination is whether Adobe used it to produce their recently announced tablet apps, IMO this is no more a valid test than it would have been to ask Microsoft if they developed the Office products using Visual Basic. Of course they didn’t. But, just as VB started an explosion of enterprise app development for the desktop so the Flex/Flash Builder/AIR environment could do the same thing for enterprise app development across the desktop and mobile.

So, whilst I don’t think the Adobe announcement makes any difference to the future of Xcelsius (one way or the other), I am heartened that, at face value, this new focus for Flash from Adobe pushes us further down the road of develop-once, deploy-anywhere, interactive BI apps for the enterprise.

An XWIS 3.0 Update

XWIS 3.0

Earlier in the summer we announced that XWIS 3.0 was going into controlled release with a small group of customers and partners. Since then we have been working on the GA version and we had hoped this would be available by now. However, a couple of things have overtaken us, so I wanted to provide an update on the current timescales for release.

Since our preview announcements of XWIS Anywhere for iPad and FlexWIS at the recent ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Orlando we have been amazed at the response these products have received both from our customers and from the market in general. As a result, we wanted to try and include both of these products within XWIS 3.0 timeframe.

However, it has taken us a little longer than we expected to integrate these capabilities into XWIS 3.0. This is particularly true of FlexWIS, where we have had to do more work than anticipated to ensure that we can manage this and XWIS from a single codebase (doing this now will provide many benefits in the future).

We are working hard to ensure that all of these products are generally available by the end of the year and we anticipate that the first one to ship will be the GA release of XWIS 3.0 (XWIS Advantage and XWIS Publish) at the end of November. You can find out about all the new features in XWIS 3.0 on the XWIS 3.0 micro-site.

Thanks for bearing with us, and we hope that the combination of these three products will be more than worth the wait.

If you have any questions about XWIS 3.0, please do not hesitate to contact us.