Between an Xcelsius Rock and Dashboard Hard Place

Xcelsius is not dead. But neither is speculation about its future.

Between an Xcelsius Rock and Dashboard Hard Place

With the introduction of the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 ramp-up now behind us (see related article, Feature Pack 3) and the North American SAP SAPPHIRE ahead of us (May 14-16, 2012), some SAP BusinessObjects customers are unsure how their dashboard and guided analysis strategies align with the SAP BusinessObjects product roadmap. Many feel like Homer Simpson, caught between a rock and a hard place.

Although the most visible conversations are happening on Twitter, many more conversations are occurring within business intelligence competency centers around the world. Xcelsius, now rebranded as SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards Dashboard Design, is being attacked on two fronts. The first front is, sadly, the vendor’s own self-inflicted wounds. The second is the emergence of the post-PC tablet era. The combined effect of both on customers is somewhere between mild disorientation and paralysis.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Xcelsius 2008 seemed to get lost during SAP’s acquisition of BusinessObjects. The product was legendary for service packs and fix packs that seemed to introduce more bugs than bug fixes. And it failed to keep pace with both simple updates to the Adobe Flash Player and more substantial innovations of the underlying Adobe Flex platform. As recently as September 2011, SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards 4.0, the successor to Xcelsius 2008, shipped with only Adobe Flex 2 support. And that release only contained modest feature and productivity improvements. Although SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards 4.0 Feature Pack 3 (now in ramp-up) supports Flex 4, it is reasonable to interpret these missteps and others as an indication of SAP’s lack of interest.

The Failure of Mobile Flash

Vendor missteps would be enough to give customers some reservations. But Xcelsius has also been attacked on the mobile front. There is a long list of companies caught completely off guard by the success of Apple’s iPad. Enterprise stalwarts like Dell, Google, HP, Microsoft, and Blackberry/RIM have been outmaneuvered. So we shouldn’t be surprised that SAP was also caught a bit off guard and is coding furiously to catch up. To be honest, I expected the tablet wars to play out differently. I assumed Adobe would eventually get Flash working well on non-iOS mobile platforms and force Apple to begrudgingly accept it. For the record, I was also expecting HP to claim the #2 spot in the tablet market with Palm’s webOS (Thanks for nothing, Leo). Instead, the “tablet market” is currently the “iPad market” and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And rather than forge ahead with a dwindling number of mobile operating systems and device vendors, Adobe is pulling the plug on mobile Flash. Microsoft has since followed suit, dropping plans to develop mobile Silverlight, its Flash alternative.

SAP recently announced a “mobile first” strategy for business analytics. Should a “mobile first” guided analysis tool have dependencies on Adobe Flash and Microsoft Excel, neither of which run natively on today’s tablet devices? Is HTML 5 support really important when a native iOS app would satisfy the current iOS-dominated tablet market?

Should Organizations Continue Xcelsius Development?

So the big question remains. Should organizations invested in Xcelsius technology continue their Xcelsius development? My answer is a resounding “yes”. Customers who have already been successful with Xcelsius, who have determined their winner in the Coke vs. Pepsi taste test (QaaWS vs. Live Office), and made investments in licensing and training should continue to use the product with enthusiasm. Of course, that enthusiasm should be tempered. And new business requirements should always be weighed against any vendor’s up-to-date tool selection decision tree. Xcelsius should never be chosen as a development tool solely because a business user says “I need a dashboard”. Tool selection has always been nuanced and this fact is unchanged in the current product landscape.

Should Organizations Start Xcelsius Development?

What about SAP BusinessObjects customers not actively using Xcelsius? Their situation is different. Based on the current state of affairs (see related article Thoughts on Xcelsius), I am hesitant to recommend Xcelsius to customers not currently using it. Others may disagree, and that’s a conversation worth having in the social media marketplace and at Starbucks locations everywhere (see Donald MacCormick’s A New Lease of (HTML5) life for Xcelsius on the Antivia blog). But based on what is presently (and publicly) known, that is my recommendation. I may think differently after SAPPHIRE if the rumors about new products and product roadmaps are true, but I still believe Xcelsius is the new Desktop Intelligence. Xcelsius in its present form cannot go mobile without third-party help from vendors such as Antivia and Exxova. While existing Xcelsius users should eagerly evaluate these solutions, customers not currently using Xcelsius would be better served making investments in SAP’s own Mobile BI app or Mellmo’s RoamBI. Both tools leverage existing investments in Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence. And although Exploration Views, new in Feature Pack 3, are not a direct replacement for Xcelsius, they are a key component of SAP’s current mobile strategy.

Conclusion
At the recent SAP Insider BI2012 conference, there was standing room only for Scott Leaver’s “Future of Dashboard Design” session. Scott is the enthusiastic global solution manager for the Dashboard Design product line. Although customers are a bit disoriented, the fact that they showed up to pack the room should demonstrate to SAP that a future for Xcelsius is important to a substantial number of SAP BusinessObjects customers. Scott and his crew are passionate about the product and resolute in protecting and extending their customer’s technology investments. So the Xcelsius product line will continue to be supported. And it will be enhanced, with HTML 5 features promised for later in 2012.

But today, customers find themselves between an Xcelsius rock and a Dashboard hard place. They presently do not have all of the facts needed to move forward with confidence. No SAP reality distortion field can change this situation. Only shipping products can.

How has your organization’s dashboard and guided analysis strategy changed in the last 12 months? I’m eagerly expecting more news at SAP SAPPHIRE and hope in the meantime that SAP can facilitate a respectful and constructive conversation with its customers and partners.

Author: Dallas Marks

I am a business intelligence architect, author, and trainer. I help organizations harness the power of analytics, primarily with SAP BusinessObjects products. An active blogger, SAP Mentor and co-author of the SAP Press book SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide, I prefer piano keyboards over computer keyboards when not blogging or tweeting about business intelligence.

13 thoughts on “Between an Xcelsius Rock and Dashboard Hard Place”

  1. Great blog Dallas.

    I’m very eager to hear the updates from SAPPHIRE about the product roadmap and the so called new “mystery tool”.
    In the meanwhile, I’ll join the social media marketplace 🙂

  2. Roambi is fantastic but can’t get you away from Xcelsius because it doesn’t have a desktop component. So we’re stuck with having to deal with a rock (the desktop) and a hard place (mobile). Mobile BI should be the obvious answer, but as yet I haven’t seen a demo where it looks like the same report would work well on both types of machine. Grrrr.

  3. Jamie,

    Good point about current state of mobile Web Intelligence. But my opinion is that in 12 months, mobile Web Intelligence will be closer to browser Web Intelligence than HTML5 Xcelsius will be to SWF Xcelsius. But I can be proved wrong…

  4. SAP are planning a version of Xcelsius that will render in HTML5. The first cut will be out later this year (read early next year).

    There is a project Zen, that will address all of these issues.

  5. Being in the “Companies who aren’t developing in Xcelsius yet” camp I have a different spin. We “have to” deliver dashboards, and we “have to” use the BObj tool suite.

    There is no forward thought on mobility yet, as I recommended we purchase XWIS Anywhere when we purchased XWIS Advantage but was told it wasn’t needed at this time.

    I imagine that there will be a small fire drill once the dashboards start to roll out and the 200+ iPads in the enterprise currently can’t view them.

    Either way, the next 12 months will be interesting to see where Xcelsius goes as a product. My personal opinion is that there will be an End of Life announcement, and the new product will replace it in the suite… I don’t see them sustaining something that doesn’t play in to their new “Mobile First” philosophy.

  6. Xcelsius gets us 80% of the way where customers want to be out of the box, and with third party technology 95% of the way there. The ghost of Xcelsius will haunt SAP for years to come if killed off because that is the benchmark for which everything will be measured.

    Has anyone actually seen project “Zen”? This is the fourth time I have heard about it. Anytime I hear the magic bullet theory where 1 new technology is going to replace and resolve all of our problems, I get nervous.

  7. As mentioned in an ASUG session : Project ZEN is code name for product “Analysis for Application Design”, is one more analysis tool ( for OLAP & for Office) and replacement for BEx Web Application Designer.It is currently in Beta release and will be in GA in Q4-2012.Never heard from anyone that, it would be addressing issues with Xcelsius.

  8. I would suggest people ask Adam Binney about project Zen.

    The future is HTML5 and mobile. Flash is dead.

    The choices are:

    Enhance Xcelsius to generate a HTML5 package that can be published with similar ease to and Xcelsius SWF.

    Build a HTML5 Dashboarding tool from scratch. This is what I believe project Zen to be about.

  9. Pingback: Thoughts on BI 5.0

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