Monthly Archives: November 2012

The final (HTML5) dashboarding lesson from the BBC Weather site

This is the third of three posts about the future of dashboards inspired by the BBC weather site. The previous 2 posts can be found here and here.

The final observation I am going to make about the BBC Weather site is that it is written in HTML and JavaScript. The reason this is important is that there is currently a lot of debate about whether HTML5* or native development tools are best for delivering to mobile devices. The fact that the BBC weather site is (as explained in the previous posts) an “interactive”, “big-data” dashboard, and is written in HTML/JavaScript seems to suggest that this is a technology that is suitable for mobile dashboard delivery.

As you would expect with all new technology debates there are strong opinions on both sides. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg recently said “The biggest mistake we made …  was betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native” which was then rebutted by Brightcove CEO (and one time Macromedia CTO), Jeremy Allaire who said, “Mark Zuckerberg was dead wrong, and it was shameful for him to throw HTML5 under the bus because Facebook had an outdated and poorly written hybrid app”.

This matters all the more for those of us interested in SAP products because SAP has nailed its dashboard flag firmly to the HTML5 mast. The most recent part of this strategy was the release of SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards SP5 which introduced an “export to mobile” capability which is based on HTML5.

For what it is worth, I am very much with SAP. To me, HTML5 seems an almost perfect delivery mechanism for dashboards. I was initially sceptical that it would be up to the job, but there is now pretty much overwhelming evidence that it is.

SAP has done a great job with its HTML5 export in Dashboards SP5 and as you can see from this video of some of the early work** we have done with SAP to embed the capabilities of our DecisionPoint product into this new world, the results speak for themselves; a completely interactive dashboard, with intuitive navigation around a 10,000 row data set, with better performance on an iPad than the equivalent dashboard running in Flash on the desktop. Proving beyond reasonable doubt that HTML5 is up to the job of rendering dashboards.

But the real value of HTML5 (at least compared with native development) is that it is cross-platform. This is particularly true of mobile devices where support for newer features of HTML is strong, but it is also true on the desktop where most browsers (with the exception of IE8 and before) acquit themselves well. With the use of personal mobile devices in organisations growing all the time (BYOD), being able to cater for cross-platform delivery of BI in general and dashboards in particular is vital, and HTML5 fits the bill nicely.

To explore this topic in more detail, join me for a Webinar on the 13th December, where I will discuss the (HTML5) future of SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (and DecisionPoint). Judging by the level of registrations for this Webinar (it’s already our most popular webinar ever, by some margin), it seems there is a huge appetite to learn more about this subject and hopefully hear how HTML5 will breathe a new lease of life into SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards / Xcelsius.

*Whilst it is not really correct to say HTML + JavaScript = HTML5, it does seem to have become commonplace so I have used the two interchangeably for convenience in this post. For those who are worried about the difference, just read “HTML + JavaScript” wherever you see HTML5 in the post.

** Whilst the mobile export in SP5 is generally available, the SDK required to embed third-party components did not make the first release, the capability shown in the video above is work we did with a proof of concept version of the SDK which SAP are refining for release in the next version of SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards.

This post also appeared on the SAP Communist Network (SCN) here.

Dashboards, BBC Weather and Big Data

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post outlining why I think the BBC Weather site points the way to the future of dashboards. Interestingly, not only does the BBC site provide good lessons for dashboards in general, but I also believe it has a lot to say about how to get the best out of Big Data.

Big Data is generating a huge buzz in the Business Intelligence community at the moment, so much so that I have heard people suggest that if you are not currently taking Big Data to heart then your organization is bound to fail. The truth (as always) is a little different from the hype; Big Data analysis is a powerful tool, but one which should be used carefully, and this is where I think that the lessons from the BBC Weather site can help.

As I said in the previous post, I think the BBC Weather site is an excellent example of a dashboard and if more dashboards were built using its “ENTICE” principles then we would see greater use of and greater value from BI in our organizations.

However, not only is the BBC Weather site an excellent example of a dashboard, it is an example of a dashboard written on top of a truly vast set of data. I have no doubt that the underpinning weather data would more than hold its own when compared to all of the “big” data sets being considered in BI organizations around the world today.

The important thing to note is that although the dashboard is underpinned by a huge volume of data (and very sophisticated analysis) the final interface for the end-user is incredibly simple.

As an end user of a weather dashboard I don’t need to see individual data points, or understand the analysis which has gone into computing the forecast, I simply need high level answers which will make a difference to me.

I use the end results of deep analysis performed by highly skilled people served up to me in such a way that I don’t even really know I am using it.

The same is true in business. The business of analyzing big data lies with data analysts (or “data scientists” as they seem to be becoming known) that is their job; it is what they are paid to do. The rest of us have another job to do, running our organizations, something we can do better with insight gained from big data analysis … but, the quicker we can get into the numbers, get what we need, get out and get on with our  job, the more efficient we  will be. For me, the obvious way for that to happen is to have that insight packaged up and accessible, simply and intuitively, through dashboards.

A couple of years ago it was reported that someone said “HANA will make exec dashboards obsolete”. Nothing could be further from the truth; interactive dashboards are the perfect interface for the vast majority of us to consume the big data analysis performed by the comparatively tiny number of data analysts/scientists who understand it all the way down.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see interactive dashboards as the ONLY required access mechanism to data in organizations for everyone who does not have “analyst” (or scientist) on their business card … but, that is an idea for another day.

If you would like to find out about the quickest, easiest and lowest cost way of creating interactive dashboards on datasets large and small then take a look at DecisionPoint. For more details about DecisionPoint, watch this short two-minute video and see for yourself how it is the perfect tool to replace Xcelsius.

This post also appeared on the SAP Communist Network (SCN) here.

The BBC Weather page and the future of dashboards

Drawing a comparison between a business dashboard and the BBC weather page might seem odd, but I am convinced it is valid and more than that points a way to the future of dashboards as we use them in business.

Over the past few years the world of dashboards has moved on from “at-a-glance dashboards”, which just give a summary overview, to “interactive dashboards” which allow the end user to click (or more recently tap) on the screen and navigate their data in a simple, intuitive manner.

So, modern dashboards give both a summary of the situation and the ability to easily get more detailed information through simple, intuitive navigation. Which brings us to the BBC weather page, as it also exhibits exactly these properties, as this 25 second video shows:

People say that the “consumerization of IT” means users want a Google-like interface to their data. I disagree, consumerization really means that people will want a BBC-Weather-like interface to their data. To my mind this means six things:

  1. Easy-to-use
  2. No training required
  3. Task focused
  4. Interactive
  5. Connected to data
  6. Engaging

And it is no coincidence that the first letters of these spell ENTICE, because the best dashboards have the ability to entice users into using them like no BI technology has ever done before.

The fascinating thing is that the weather app is letting me do multi-dimensional (or OLAP) analysis on the data. E.g.:

  • More detailed forecast = drill down on time
  • Different day = drill across on time
  • Different Location = drill across on location
  • Map = slice-and-dice to view data by geography rather than by time
  • Hour-by-hour = drill across geographic view by time

So it is no surprise that this is exactly the type of navigation required in an interactive dashboard. For users of SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards / Xcelsius this is a double edged sword, because although Xcelsius was one of the first dashboarding tools to provide the flexibility required to create this type of interactive dashboard … with Xcelsius it can become complex to implement this cube-based, OLAP style navigation in the underlying two-dimensional Excel spreadsheet.

Fortunately, there is an answer to this in the form  of DecisionPoint from Antivia. For more details about DecisionPoint, watch this short two-minute video and see for yourself how it is the perfect tool to replace Xcelsius.

As a footnote, it is interesting to note that the BBC Weather “dashboard” is written in HTML and JavaScript and it also has something important to say about “big data” but those are stories for another day.

This post also appeared on SAP SCN here.