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Dashboards Are Dead, Long Live Dashboards

In the coming two years, not only will we have to deal with the turmoil of Brexit and all it brings, but Adobe Flash will be reaching the end of its life, being unsupported after the end of 2020. Before then Microsoft will be phasing out support for its browsers and operating systems. This means that classic Xcelsius dashboards will no longer be supported by SAP and may even cease to work at all in the platform. At the very least their continued use will lead to headaches for IT departments and pop-up warnings and frustration for users.

My personal regret is that I will have never used the Admiral theme for its true purpose – I’ve been waiting for a sailing club or an Elizabethan explorer to retain my services for years now, to no avail.

So what options do users of SAP Dashboards have to replace or migrate their interactive data visualisations? There are a lot of options and a few different approaches.

Migration Options

This is where we come in! As it stands, in late 2018, SAP is offering no way of migrating/converting Dashboards models automatically or via a wizard to another tool’s format.

The best we can suggest in this category is to upgrade to the very latest version of the SAP Dashboards tool and edit and re-export all your models as HTML files. This option has been available for a few service packs now and should mean that your dashboards can live on a bit longer while you replace them.

There are consequences, as you will find that not all features of the product are supported in HTML. Each of your files will need to be assessed for compatibility – there is a menu available for this purpose in the later versions of the application.

T1

Rebuild and Replace

The options for replacing Dashboards within the SAP toolset are varied. Which option is better for you depends on how your dashboards are displayed, what skill sets your developers have, where your data is, and how end users like to interact with them. Licencing and budget will also be a factor in your decision, but I am going to focus more on the technical aspects here, assuming few barriers to licence access.

I will cover one aspect of replacement which does refer to licencing – SAP Dashboards had the ability to export a file to an Adobe Flash enabled PDF or PowerPoint file which retained interactivity. Buttons were press-able and drill-down accessible, although the data was not refreshable. That meant you could design a dashboard, give it data from your BOBJ platform, break that connections and then export it to one of these formats. This way people could view data in the dashboard and find their own answers without using a session from your platform. It is a manual process but it works for some users.

None of the replacement options from SAP offer this kind of uncoupled functionality yet, you can export some of them to PDF and other formats but they have no interactivity.

The tools an SAP BusinessObjects customer has at their disposal to replace SAP Dashboards include the following, in no particular order:

  • SAP Lumira Discovery
  • SAP Lumira Designer
  • Web Intelligence
  • BI Workspaces
  • SAP Analytics Cloud

These tools have benefits and weaknesses and are better in some situations than others. I’m going to consider all of them in these categories and use-cases:

  • Ease of development – how complex is the design tool to use?
  • Data capacity and performance – how much data can the dashboard display and what’s the performance of the application like while it does it?
  • Where can it get its data from?
  • What are the unique selling points of the tool?
  • Ease of interaction?
  • Auto-refresh-ability – can it run on a big screen, with data updates and movement between views occurring at timed intervals?
  • Can it go mobile?

Let’s play dashboards Top Trumps!

Lumira Discovery

Originally just ‘Lumira’, Lumira Discovery was going to be SAP’s main data discovery tool with easy visualisations built in. Characterised as ‘PowerPoint with data’ it was going to be the tool that business analysts have on their desktop for ad-hoc data mash-ups and data-story-telling. SAP have since created SAP Cloud Analytics and decided Lumira Discovery would have a guaranteed lifespan only until 2025, with limited development until then. The Nexus 6 of dashboarding tools then.

A sample Lumira Discovery document with interactive filtersA sample Lumira Discovery document with interactive filters

Ease of Development

Supremely easy to use, Lumira Discovery is a simple way to create good-looking visualisations. Drag and drop functionality combined with simple menu options allow anyone to create stories with data.

Data Capacity and Performance

As a desktop tool if you start trying to bring A LOT of data into a story, things do slow down quickly. Once on the BI Platform performance improves, but it is known to consume RAM when running, so heavy Lumira users often have clustered platforms with dedicated servers.

Where Can It Get Data From?

Almost anywhere in the SAP eco-system and a fair-few places beyond. It can feed from universes, direct from BW and Hana, as well as a lot of database brands. Flat files and Excel are also available as sources.

USP

One of the best things about Lumira Discovery is its compatibility with Esri maps right out of the box. It has the best and most detailed mapping functions of any of the on-premise tools with no add-ins or extra licences required.

Ease of Interaction

Very simple – filter boxes are clear and easy to use, clicks on charts and buttons are responsive and natural. Navigation between views or pages is not present as easily as in SAP Dashboards and there’s no show/hide functionality as such.

Auto-fresh-ability

Not yet – Lumira Discovery needs a human in front of it to operate the buttons and filters. They can be scheduled in the BI Platform though, something that SAP Dashboards always lacked.

Can It Go Mobile?

Yes. Lumira Discovery files are visible easily through the SAP BI Mobile app on all relevant devices.

SAP Lumira Designer

SAP Lumira Designer used to be called ‘Design Studio’ before SAP merged the two brands and made them interoperable. Now it is possible to create a simple Discovery dashboard and then edit it later in the more sophisticated tool. Designer is as the name suggests more aloof, cool and complicated than its straightforward sibling. It is much more configurable, relying on JavaScript and CSS for its narrative setting, which means that programmers can get it to do just about anything with the right API and some hard-work.

The Lumira Designer developer viewThe Lumira Designer developer view

Ease of Development

Not for the faint-hearted, you need more than a knowledge of Excel ‘vlookups’ to be able to successfully create a masterpiece. That said, if you can Google, you can get by in Lumira Designer and there are templates and wizards to get you started.

Data Capacity and Performance

There are hard limits to the size of datasets that Designer can handle, but these are much greater than the 512 rows of SAP Dashboards infamy. 500,000 data points is the maximum from a universe.

Where Can It Get Data From?

Universes, BW, Hana, and others. It doesn’t yet have the capability to freely consume data from web-services like SAP Dashboards could (useful for manipulating data in WebI before passing to the dashboard) but there is a paid-for add-in to bring that back in to the application.

USP

Flexibility – if you can dream it you can build it. If you build it they will come. The use of JavaScript and CSS means that you can control everything on the page, and the community evolving around the software provides many add-ons and development potential.

Ease of Interaction

Depends entirely on your design, are you a minimalist who likes to pare down to just the essentials, or are your dashboards the size of 19th century Russian novels?

Auto-fresh-ability

Yes, you can set up the timing of data refreshes and the timing of tabbing between views.

Can It Go Mobile?

Yes, it was built from the ground up to be accessible on mobile devices.

Web Intelligence (WebI)

Perhaps you are surprised to see WebI named in a blog about dashboards, but it is just one of the many things that this versatile reporting tool can do.

Input controls, element linking, the filter bar, fold/unfold (outline mode), drill down and now auto refresh and animated charts (in the Fiori launchpad from 4.2 SP6 onwards) give the Web Intelligence designer the ability to build what any observer would call a dashboard.

Animated auto-refreshing Web Intelligence report

Ease of Development

You’ve probably already done the created something that could be dashboard in WebI without realising it, it’s that easy (if you know WebI well). If you’ve not used WebI then it’s still very simple – we can train it to users in a day.

Data Capacity and Performance

Virtually no limit on data, and tried and tested performance.

Where Can It Get Data From?

Universes mainly, but also BW and Hana, flat files and free-hand SQL.

USP

Its ubiquity – if you have the SAP BusinessObjects platform (not including SAP Crystal Server) you have access to it.

Ease of Interaction

Input controls aren’t obvious if you don’t know where to look, and drill down and element links can be missed by unobservant report viewers – a few well placed text boxes can do wonders for that though.

Auto-fresh-ability

There is now! Since 4.2 Service Pack 6 there has been the ability in the Fiori launchpad to run a Web Intelligence report in ‘advanced mode’ and set it to refresh automatically, and you can combine this with animated charts. That’s a dashboard that you can put on a wallboard! The WebI session timeout is handily disabled for a report running in this manner as well, so it should be ideal for a quick way to the functionality you want.

Can It Go Mobile?

It can, and some would say it gets even better once you’re there, with Google-map-like geo-charting functionality and some great touch-screen interfaces for charts and sections.

BI Workspaces

What are these you ask? You have them but you probably don’t use them. They allow you to view multiple objects at once on a user-curated dashboard, you can pick elements from reports and the Launchpad UI.

A BI Workspace view

Ease of Development

Very easy, you just pick elements from your existing reports to be displayed in tiles on a page, with the ability to re-use parts of the home screen and the documents list too. They can be totally personal or saved in a public folder an accessed by groups of people.

Data Capacity and Performance

Depends entirely on your reports.

Where Can It Get Data From?

Where ever your reports do.

USP

Nothing else does this job in the tool set yet.

Ease of Interaction

Very simple, as they don’t do much beyond display content and content parts that already exist.

Auto-fresh-ability

No, the workspaces only display content as it appears when you open the file.

Can It Go Mobile?

No.

SAP Analytics Cloud

This is the new kid on the block for SAP visualisation tools. If your data is already in the cloud, especially if it is one of SAP’s own cloud offerings such as SuccessFactors or Hana then this is the natural place for you to report on that data. It can also pick up data from client-side systems, and can be linked into on-premise BusinessObjects platforms to consume data from universes as well as databases and flat files.

Your data can be loaded by schedule into the cloud to enable the reports, or a reverse-proxy can be set up so that your data never leaves your own servers.

Add-ons to the subscription-based licencing models for SAC bring planning and predictive modelling to bear on your data enabling you to have a complete view of your business in one package.

A sample SAC Dashboard

Ease of Development

SAC is designed to be intuitive and the interface is graphical and well-laid out. The busiest period of development is apparently over, with the fortnightly updates that sometimes changed work-flows and button location now slowing down.

The great power of machine learning that being based on SAP’s cloud server farms brings to bear on your data gives you access to automated data modelling and report building. Stories and insights into your data can be created at the touch of a button.

Data Capacity and Performance

If your data is already cloud based and part of SAP’s ecosystem then you should have no problems. Moving lots of data from an on-premise location into the cloud for use in a model and story can take a while depending on your network speeds. Once there the interface is fluid and responsive.

Where Can It Get Data From?

Most SAP sources including universes, flat files and databases are supported as data-sources.

USP

The power of the cloud – machine learning and AI algorithms are brought to bear on your data. Predictive and planning add-ons will give you smart insights and greater control of your business.

Ease of Interaction

The UI is clean and simple as befits a modern platform. Accessing stories and interacting with them is intuitive and simple.

Auto-fresh-ability

Not yet – the visualisations are meant to be interacted with and interrogated rather then displayed on wall boards.

Can It Go Mobile?

There is a dedicated app for SAC on iOS and Android so yes you can get your data anywhere. The app runs best on the most modern tablets and phones though as it has a high demand for memory.

DSCallards are experts in this field so if you need any advice on how to take your dashboards forward, just give us a call on 0808 164 2625 and we will be happy to help.

Posted by Keith Fisher, Senior Business Intelligence Consultant, 27th November 2018

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