In the “12 Days of XWIS” series I included a few lesser-known facts from the history of Xcelsius. If you are interested in these but not so keen to trawl through each of the 12 posts, I have summarized them altogether below for easier reading.
The History of Xcelsius – Fact 1
Xcelsius was originally developed by a company called Infommersion based in San Diego, California. It was initially conceived (possibly over the dinner table) by Santiago and Santi Becerra the father and son who became the founding CEO and CTO respectively. They wanted something which spanned their two areas of expertise, namely, Business Intelligence / Performance Management (Santiago) and Game / Animation Development (Santi); the result was Xcelsius.
The History of Xcelsius – Fact 2
Infommersion was founded in 2002 and Xcelsius was officially released on July 10th at Flash Forward 2003, in New York. Later that year Xcelsius won “PC Magazine Best of Comdex” (remember Comdex in Las Vegas !!)
Infommersion and the Xcelsius product were acquired by Business Objects on November 1st 2005 for $40M.
The History of Xcelsius – Fact 3
The project at Business Objects to acquire Infommersion was code-named “project Beacon”. The deal was officially announced on the 4th October 2005 and was completed on the 1st November 2005.
The first Business Objects person to spot Xcelsius was Roger Sanborn, who sent an email in October 2003 saying “Check this stuff out. Go to the demos. Interesting, http://www.infommersion.com”.
History of Xcelsius Fact 4
The flexibility of Xcelsius is one of its key strengths, however it does mean that sometimes people push the boundaries a little too far. Amongst the most remarkable “complexity” stories I have heard about Xcelsius are:
- The Xcelsius model with 600 QaaWS connections
- The Xcelsius model with 120 Live Office connections
- The Xcelsius model which has 240 pages of documentation to describe the spreadsheet calculations
Fortunately, these were not all in the same dashboard!
History of Xcelsius Fact 5
Many of the original team at Infommersion are still involved in the BI word; indeed, most of them still work in and around the SAP BusinessObjects products. A number of the team are now working on Roambi at Mellmo, including Santiago Becerra (CEO), Santi Becerra (development), Brian Mantuano (development), Kirk Cunningham (marketing), Claire Remillard (nee Maytum, finance) and Jaime Zuluaga (product). Mary Bridgen (VP Sales) is now with Qliktech, Jesse Calderon (development) continues to work at SAP and Ryan Goodman is now CEO at Centigon solutions. (I am sure there are some I have missed, if so please email me and I will add them).
History of Xcelsius Fact 6
Did you know that prior to Xcelsius 2008, Excel was not embedded within the Xcelsius designer. This meant that you had to create your spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, save it as an xls, then import it into Xcelsius to work on it. This may not sound very onerous, but it meant that every time you wanted to make a change to the spreadsheet you had to go back into Excel, make the required changes then re-import the spreadsheet back into Xcelsius ! A fairly laborious workflow.
History of Xcelsius Fact 7
The Xcelsius icon has not changed much over the years; its evolution is shown in the image below. The first one might not have been an official product icon, but it did appear in a number of early sample dashboards created by Infommersion.
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. Without Richard, Alexis and QaaWS, the evolution of Xcelsius would almost certainly have been rather different.
History of Xcelsius Fact 9
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.
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.
History of Xcelsius – Fact 11
When it was first released, the SDK allowed developers to create new components which could be be dropped onto the Xcelsius canvas. However, what many people don’t realize is that with the release of Xcelsius 2008 SP1 the SDK was extended to enable support for new Excel functions within Xcelsius. This addition meant that it was now possible to:
- Implement built-in Excel functions which were not supported by the core Xclesius product
- Re-create custom Excel functions (e.g. commercial add-ons of custom VBA functions)
A good introduction to the extended SDK capability can be found on this SAP Community Networks blog post.
History of Xcelsius – Fact 12
Although Xcelsius has been one of the most successful dashboarding tools of the last decade (both commercially and in terms of the sheer volume of business information it has been used to disseminate) it is not without its detractors. Probably the best known and most outspoken of these is Stephen Few, who once described Xcelsius as a “child’s toy of a product” on his Visual Business Intelligence blog. Stephen’s issue with Xcelsius seems to be that Xcelsius makes it too difficult to create dashboards which conform to visualization best practice (in fact, Stephen might argue that this is impossible with Xcelsius, but I would disagree with him on that) and makes it too easy to create dashboards which are simply flashy for the sake of it.
As I have argued before (e.g. on the EverythingXcelsius blog) I think it is the combination of the two ends of the spectrum which have underpinned the success of Xcelsius; I guess my view is not surprising given that I authored theXComponents which contain both the XGlobe (perhaps the least best-practice-compliant component ever written for Xcelsius) and the first publically available bulletchart and sparkline components for Xcelsius.