As I look back on 2011, which has been a pivotal year in Antivia’s growth, I can’t help but reflect that it’s now 10 years since my first company, Blue Edge Software, was acquired by Business Objects.
10 years ago, Business Objects and Cognos, both then standalone entities, were the giants of the BI world; Crystal Decisions was yet to become part of Business Objects; and Xcelsius was but a twinkle in the eye of Santiago and Santi Becerra the founders of Infommersion (see Donald’s recent post on the history of Xcelsius fact#1)
At Blue Edge, we brought capabilities to the BusinessObjects platform which were similar to those offered by lower end competitors of the day, like Actuate. For example:
- Personalized report distribution: re-wind Moore’s law 10 years and even with the best-performing data warehouses, personalizing a report by refreshing it once against the database for each user, using row-level mapping didn’t cut-it … batch windows were just too short for the processors of the time to churn through all that data. So, at Blue Edge, we introduced single-pass report bursting to the BusinessObjects platform, where you could refresh the report once and then create personalized versions for 100s or 1000s of users based on their profile (it was a bit like splitting each section of the report onto its own page and giving each user their own index which only allowed them to view the pages that were relevant to them).
- Guided navigation in reports: We recognized that not everyone is a data analyst (and, today, I still believe that 99% of end-users shouldn’t be given unfettered access to data), so we enabled guided navigation within our reports, automatically creating hyper-links so users could explore anomalies in their data following paths predefined by specialist data analysts.
Today, increasing the level of BI adoption is still a big challenge for many organizations. However, our tool of choice for getting information to a mass audience today is no longer the report, rather it is the dashboard, or perhaps more accurately, the interactive BI application. And, through Xcelsius we’re able to create custom, interactive BI applications that reflect the way our business works and which users can just pick-up and use, with no training.
Nearly all the successful dashboards I’ve seen over the years have implemented some level of interactivity (embedding the same type of guided analysis we delivered 10 years ago at Blue Edge). However, building this interactivity with Xcelsius makes for complex dashboards with lots of data queries and lots of formulas. Simplifying these dashboards by minimizing queries and eliminating Excel formula has been the focus of my current business, Antivia. And, through XWIS, we’ve been able to help over 50 SAP customers worldwide to deliver their Xcelsius projects better, faster and at lower cost.
Today, I still see my role as helping organizations to make BI more accessible to more users and I guess you could say that at Antivia, we bring the flexibility and productivity gains promised by many niche BI vendors directly into Xcelsius and the SAP BusinessObjects platform.
However, the biggest change I’ve witnessed in the past 10 years has been in how we want to consume our BI. At Blue Edge, it was all about making information available through the web-browser. Today, the big drive is towards tablets … or, more accurately, the big drive is towards iPads. In 2011, we’ve witnessed a radical change in corporate IT policy where many organizations are now buying iPads for their employees in droves (I believe, SAP themselves currently hold the record for the largest corporate iPad deployment with some 12,500 deployed !), whereas a year ago many IT departments would have been fighting tooth and nail to keep these devices away from the corporate network.
Given this, you won’t be surprised to hear that my most satisfying achievement this year has been Antivia’s development of XWIS Anywhere, which solves the issue of getting (Flash-based) Xcelsius dashboards onto the iPad and does so in a way that fits in with the corporate data security demands of our large customers.
So, 10 years on from Blue Edge and we’re still wrestling with the BI adoption challenge – in one way, not much has changed. But, with dashboards, interactive BI applications and tablet devices – in another way, everything has changed. And, today, I believe, we are developing the tools and deployment capabilities that will enable BI to become truly pervasive and I’m excited that Antivia, through XWIS and with our new FlexWIS product, is playing a part in the next stage of BI’s evolution.