Xcelsius Dashboards on iPads

Recently, I had a client meeting and once again the most popular question came up;  “How do we get our Xcelsius Dashboards on our iPads“?   There is no doubt to me that we are in a Post PC Era where mobile computing is the trend and future.  What seems like ‘the turn of the switch’, BI mobility has become a common requirement and standard expectation by almost all organization. One of the key driver, if not THE key driver, is the Apple iPAD.   Everyone seems to have either an iPhone, iTouch or iPad and the thousands of available Apps has transformed our expectation on how to access and interact with information.  It’s now simply expected that there is “an App for that”.  And organizations that have invested in SAP Xcelsius dashboards over the past several years, are now asking the question, “How do we get our Xcelsius Dashboards on our iPads“?

The quick answer, as we all know,  is that Xcelsius is FLASHED based and consequently not compatible to run on an iPad.  Many are wondering the viability of Xcelsius and its future in the SAP portfolio of products. It’s been put out there recently by SAP that Xcelsius will be HTML5 compatible down the road.  Let’s hope so. But this may be a long wait and will undoubtedly be initially lacking functionality we have come to love with Xcelsius.  There are a ton of SAP mobility innovations (Webi BI Mobile, Experience/Explorer) and architecture enhancements coming in the next 4.0 Feature Pack 3, but until I see the specific Xcelsius HTML5 strategy in an SAP roadmap, I am assuming we need to find a different approach.

This post attempts to look at our options for getting SAP’s BusinessObjects Dashboard (Xcelsius) on the iPad as well as some alternatives to using Xcelsius.

The current popular solutions to get SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) on an iPad are to either:

(1) Run RDP on the iPad to connect remotely to a windows server to open an run an Xcelsius dashboard

(2) Use iSwifter, SkyFire or similar iPad browser App that plays Flash on the iPad

(3) Use third party software to develop and/or convert Xcelsius to render on an iPAD like XWIS Anywhere by Antivia

(4) Leverage the new SAP BusinessObjects Mobile (Webi), Experience (Explorer & Exportation View) for the iPADs in place of Xcelsius

(5) Use alternative mobile visualization technologies in place of Xcelsius like Roambi or Google  Chart Tools.

I know options 4 and 5 kind of avoid the question, but are options that still need to be considered in defining long term mobile dashboard strategies.

1. Run RDP to run an Xcelsius Dashboard:

This options is creative, but is simply a work around that lacks iPad ease of use.  For example, the navigation of the Xcelsius won’t be able to utilize the iPAD ease of use we have all come to expect as standard mobile functionality.   It can be used to prototype or to demo but for organizations looking for long term dashboard solutions this is not the best choice.

2. Use Flashed Based Browsers:  There are a few Apps like iSwifter and SkyFire that have the ability to run flash content on the iPAD.  Theses solutions can work for some USE cases but have limitations on Security integration, iOS upgrade incompatibility, data connectivity, and iPAD navigation functionality.  I also came across ONLIVE Desktop cloud based App that allows you to run all MS Office tools plus a flashed based browser.  I really like some of these options, but I prefer the ability to simply select a BI Mobile APP that just opens my dashboards and accesses my BusinessObjects servers automatically.  Opening a browser and logging into my BusinessObjects server then selecting the Xcelsius application seems like a workaround.  Obviously, there are methods to shortcut this, but you get the idea.

To illustrate this approach, my college Josh Tapley demonstrates on YouTube our Cleartelligence Balanced Scorecard using  iSwifter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0pB0iWMzpk

Check out the following links:

3. Third Party Applications to Render Xcelsius on iPads:

Over the past few years, there have been some strong options to deploy third party applications that allow us to build Xcelsius dashboards and have a server translate Xcelsius to be compatible on the iPad.  If Xcelsius is pervasive in the organizations this may be a great option to consider.

I think the strongest player in this space is Antivia.  They have a powerful suite of tools that integrate with the SAP BusinessObjects platform to help develop Xcelsius content faster and publish personalized dashboards and a whole lot more. They recently released XWIS Anywhere for the iPAD that will render existing Xcelsius dashboards with no redevelopment and has key required features involving security and tight integration with the  BusinessObjects infrastructure.

But going down this road all depends on your business requirements, end user needs, and how pervasive Xcelsius already is in your organization.  If you’re not already down this third party path, I may hold off and consider alternative Dashboard solutions that do not require an extra layer on your SAP BI infrastructure just to run Xcelsius on an iPad.

Another third party app that displays Xcelsius on the iPad is called MyBI by Exxova Worldwide Corp.  I downloaded this app to my iPAD to try it out.   I need to do more research on the technology behind this app but it feels like a combination of RDP with a Flash browser.  It is well package, organizes your Xcelsius dashboards, and it seems to render the Xcelsius “as is”.  I did like it and think it would be a good phase 1 or quick approach to get Xcelsius content out to the organization, but it’s missing the iPAD navigation, typing, and visualization that we are now expecting in iPad apps.  For example, a pie chart works just like it should in Xcelsius, but I would like it to look and work more like a Webi Mobile pie chart.

Before investing in third party solutions, keep in mind that SAP is aggressively releasing new mobility integration (BI Mobile, Afaria, Sybase Unwired) in every release to improve security, functionality, ease of use, and mobile application development.  This does not specially address the Xcelsius dilemma on the iPAD, but the improved SAP mobility integration and security innovations need to be considered in the big picture before investing in a third party app that require compatibility, licensing cost, maintenance, and support.

Check out the following links:

4.  Use Webi and/or Explorer In Place of Xcelsius:

Selecting this options all comes down to your dashboard requirements and end user USE cases.  The mobile iPad Apps for Webi (SAP BusinesObjects Mobile) is easy to deploy and will definitely replace the need for some basic Xcelsius dashboards.  SAP is continuing to make this even more interesting in 4.0 Feature Pack 3 by adding new functionality like Webi Input controls and other filtering capabilities.  If you have some straight forward  metrics that can be visualized using multiple Webi reports, this may be a great option.   Below are screen shots of the Webi Performance Dashboard reports that can be found when you download the app.


Another giant step closer for SAP dashboards on the iPAD is the BusinessObjects Experience App (Explorer & Exploration Views).  SAP plans to release the long awaited ‘Exploration Views’ or newly branded ‘Experience’ in 4.0 Feature Pack 3.  This is an impressive upgrade of Explorer and will allow us to build some customizable Explorer dashboards that are extremely user friendly and flexible.  If the requirement is that the end user wants to build their own dashboards, this will be a very strong contender.  I definitely can see that Exploration Views will replace the need for many Xcelsius dashboards.  But if strict guided navigation combined with advance visualizations are the requirements, then we need another option.  Below are screen shoot of Experience Dashboards that can be found when you download the app.


Check out the following APPs and links for more information:

5. Think out of the BOX – Use Alternative Mobile Visualization Technologies:

If none of the above options is a fit because of USE cases, security, compatibility, complexity, cost, infrastructure, etc, but you need strong guided navigation combined with advance visualizations there is a 6th option.  Don’t use Xcelsius on the iPAD.  Instead continue to leverage the entire SAP BusinessObjects foundation (Servers, Universes, BI Services, Web Services, Webi Reports, CR, etc.) but leverage third party mobile visualization products such as Roambi or Google  Chart Tools to deliver the Dashboard experience.

I’m not going to go into all of the Roambi capabilities but they have been around awhile in this space, have some incredible mobile applications, innovations, and have great integration with the SAP BusinessObjects platform.  As you do your research checkout their capabilities.

A final option that is a very viable choice without significant investment and providing incredible flexibility in visualization choices and deployment options is using Google  Chart Tools. The idea is to use Google  Chart Tools as the dashboard front end presentation layer and BusinessObjects to serve the data.  Simply put, replace Xcelsius with Google Chart Tools.  Essentially, Xcelsius is a visualization tool that primarily uses Web Services. QAAWS, LiveOffice, or BI Services to get data from your BusinessObjects platform.   You can do the exact same thing using the Google  Chart Tools by leveraging Web Services and Webi BI Services to pull data from the BusinessObjects platform.  Google has a competitive library of visual components and they seem to add to them monthly.  This solution does require building the solution using Goggles API code so it will be considered more technical in terms of development, but the flexibility to integrate these dashboards into any application that will be compatible on the iPAD and any other device is a compelling solution.

To illustrate this example, below is the Cleartelligence Medicare Advantage Enrollment Dashboard built in Xcelsius by Josh Tapley (http://data-ink.com) and Ron Keller (http://bihappyblog.com) and directly below that the same dashboard built by Ron Keller using Google Chart Tools.

 Xcelsius Version     

Xcelsius Version

Google Chart Tools Version

Google Chart Version

Check out the following apps and links for more information:

Being able to get our SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) on our iPads is a perplexing problem because of Xcelsius and Flash viability and overall direction.  SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) is a great product and we can do some absolutely amazing things with it.  But if we still need to invest in workarounds and other platforms just to support Xcelsius on an iPad then we probably need to find a better way.   I do feel we need more from SAP on this topic as we all try to set our roadmap strategies for BI mobility, but in the meantime, I think we have some viable options to consider.

Please let me know your thoughts and ideas on this topic.

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Dashboard

Ron Keler and Josh Tapley recently created a Medicare Advantage Enrollment Dashboard to illustrate Xcelsius integrating with XML data feeds.  This dashboard utilizes up to date data from the government center for Medicare and Medicaid services which publishes monthly national Medicare enrollment numbers each month.   We used a simple, clean, and intuitive screen design to highlight the Medicare analytics that allows users to easily understand enrollment trends across several key factors.

For the technical story please visit Ron Keler’s BI Happy Blog.


Medicare Advantage Enrollment Dashboard