SAP Insider Reporting & Analytics 2016 INTERACTIVE

Join me and my friends at SAP Insider’s Reporting & Analytics 2016 INTERACTIVE conference.

Join me at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida on November 2-4, 2016 at SAP Insider’s Reporting & Analytics 2016 INTERACTIVE conference. I’ll be there with my co-workers, Chris Bushmeyer and Eric Vallo (see the full EV Technologies speaking roster here). I’m giving two presentations about Web Intelligence and will be sharing the latest visualization enhancements included in the latest SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise 4.2 Support Pack 3 release.

Leverage the newest capabilities of SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence to create powerful visualizations for your data

Thursday, November 3, 2016 at 8:30 AM – 9:45 AM, room TBD

There’s a story in your corporate data, but sometimes it needs an analytic storyteller to bring that story to life. SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.0 introduced a new charting engine, several new chart types, and a redesigned workflow for creating charts. In this session, we’ll look at the features in the latest 4.2 release. Learn not only how to use Web Intelligence charts but when to use them by applying best practices for the display of quantitative information on desktops, tablets, and smartphones.

  • Discover Web Intelligence 4.2 charting capabilities, including new geolocation charts
  • Learn best practices for displaying quantitative information
  • Review special considerations for tablets and smartphones

Making mobile magic with SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence

Friday, November 4, 2016 @ 10:30 – 11:45 AM, room TBD

Ready for mobile business intelligence? This comprehensive session teaches you how to create new SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence reports and tailor existing reports for tablet and smartphone devices. Learn how to configure the BI platform to be mobile-ready as you learn:

  • Techniques to master new mobile-exclusive capabilities, like graphs and scorecards
  • Important differences between card view and page view
  • Using publications to distribute personalized content to users via their mobile devices

Download the presentation slides and sample downloads from the SAP Insider web site.

Image credit: Rosen Shingle Creek

Information Dashboard Design, Second Edition by Stephen Few

Stephen Few releases a significant update to his classic dashboard design book.

Stephen Few has made significant contributions to the field of data visualization, publishing books like Show Me the NumbersNow You See It, and Information Dashboard Design. Drawing inspiration from experts like Edward Tufte and Colin Ware, Few has a real talent for bringing theoretical concepts to life in a practical way.

The first edition of Information Dashboard Design, published in 2006, completely changed my approach to building dashboards (see my review of the previous edition). The second edition of Information Dashboard Design (Analytics Press; Second Edition, 2013, ISBN 978-1938377006) is a significant revision and rewrite of its predecessor, with lots of new material. It is a reflection of how the world of data visualization has changed since 2006. None of the data visualization tools available at that time supported Edward Tufte’s sparklines or the author’s own bullet charts. Nor were there Apple iPhones (released in 2007) and iPads (released in 2010) to display analytics. The changes are also reflected in the subtitle, which is now “displaying data for at-a-glance monitoring” instead of “the effective visual communication of data.”

Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few book cover

What has not changed since 2006 is software vendors’ pursuit of gaudy impractical visualizations like exploding pie charts (see related article, A Few Words about Data Visualization in SAP BI 4.0).

Without a doubt I owe the greatest debt of gratitude to the many software vendors who have done so much to make this book necessary by failing to address or even contemplate the visual design requirements of dashboards. Their kind disregard for visual design has given me focus, ignited my passion, and guaranteed my livelihood for years to come.

Stephen Few
Acknowledgements for Information Dashboard Design

Although Few is well-known for his disdain of pie charts, his advice is grounded in the science of visual perception. He devotes entire chapters to sparklines and bullet charts. And he provides new guidelines for visualizing data on smartphones and tablets. The chapter “Putting it All Together” provides in-depth analysis of real dashboards submitted for a dashboard design competition. It’s very instructive to see multiple dashboards attempting to meet the same set of business requirements, with varying degrees of success. And the book concludes with “From Imaging to Unveiling,” a short but meaningful chapter about how to design for success. Not only is the content valuable, but the hardcover edition is beautifully rendered in color with high-quality materials.

This is a book about dashboard design- not implementation. It’s not written exclusively for technicians, but anyone who has an interest in bringing useful data visualization to life in their organization. Few’s goal is “eloquence through simplicity” and he achieves it with this new book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Few Words about Visualization in SAP BI 4.0

A few choice words about exploding pie charts and exploding egos.

Last week, I tweeted about a recent post on Stephen Few’s blog, a criticism of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0, was conveniently posted during the week of SAP’s annual ASUG/SAPPHIRE conference.

It’s worth noting that the article was not written by Stephen Few himself, but one of his team members, Bryan Pierce.  Honestly, I was a bit nervous making my tweet, as 140 characters doesn’t give much space to convey whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with a tweeted link.  And by tweeting in this case, I’m giving free publicity with increased page views to a point of view I disagree with. But another Twitter user shared my sentiments.

Yep. An article criticizing BI 4.0 based on a marketing slide (shown below) with a dreaded pie chart. An exploding one, even. Here’s the offending slide.

And yes, it is offending. But there are two issues with this kind of reasoning.

First, the product has been judged using a single marketing slide and not a thorough evaluation. Just as we’ve heard of the “death of political journalism“, articles such as this one illustrate a similar death of technology journalism. Looking for on-line eyeballs during a vendor’s annual user conference is not much different than technology web sites trying to get hits for Usama bin Laden’s death. There’s intense pressure to obtain page views at any cost. A ratings bias takes precedence over any editorial bias.

Second, there is always tension between the capabilities of tools and the limitations of the people that use them. In other words, buying a set of expensive chef knives does not automatically qualify me to challenge Bobby Flay on The Iron Chef. Simply removing exploding pie charts from a product like Web Intelligence does not guarantee that I’ll create reports with effective visualizations. Neither does removing bullet points from Microsoft PowerPoint. No matter how many wizards Microsoft includes, I am still perfectly capable of creating ugly and ineffective slides if I don’t think about design.

In “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs“, author Carmine Gallo reveals that you never see bullet points in a Steve Jobs presentation. And in “Information Dashboard Design“, Stephen Few encourages us to avoid pie charts, exploding or not, in favor of more effective visuals. We need books like this (and the experts who write them) to help us create our best work.

But we don’t need product reviews based on PowerPoint slides.

Interested in better visualizations and better business intelligence products? Join the engaging dialog unfolding in the comments of Perceptual Edge’s blog post, SAP BusinessObjects 4.0’s “Engaging New User Experience”.

Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few

A book review of Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design.

NOTE: Information Dashboard Design is now in its second edition, which I review here.

You can, as the adage goes, judge a book by its cover. Take, for example, the spartan cover of Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data. Designed by the author himself, it sets the tone for a book dedicated not to a specific tool or performance management methodology, but instead about improving how dashboards can most effectively present information.

Dashboards are currently the “in” thing to have. You’re simply uncool if your organization doesn’t have one. But let’s face it. Dashboards are often designed and built by IT geeks (of which I am one). And like the wagon wheel coffee table in When Harry Met Sally, many of our dashboard designs should be hauled out to the curb.

“Above all else, this is a book about communication”, writes the author. And Stephen Few delivers, taking the reader on a journey through an unlucky “thirteen common mistakes in dashboard design” (see Chapter 3). Based on research on how humans process visual information (see Chapter 4: Tapping Into the Power of Visual Perception), he lays down principles that shun the “bling” features that look cool in software vendor demos but fall short in actual use. Who knew that sometimes the best way to present numbers is in a, sigh, table instead of a bunch of space hogging speedometers (see Chapter 6: Effective Dashboard Display Media).

In my role of consultant, I am frequently handed a cocktail napkin (less frequently a requirements document) that already lays out the design. So my job is more about following directions, not offering constructive guidance. However, this book has strongly influenced how I approach my work. Though not specifically about Xcelsius (although it is mentioned), I recommend Information Dashboard Design to my students whenever I teach SAP’s Dashboards or Xcelsius 2008. I believe its insights will change how you can improve your dashboards by striving for the effective visual communication of data.

Resources

Stephen Few’s web site is Perceptual Edge. His books can be purchased at Amazon.com and other on-line retailers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book with my own funds. It was not a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”