Visualizing the Perfect American Diet

Pie charts, in. Pyramids, out.

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a new nutrition icon to replace the Food Pyramid- the MyPlate.  The visualization is intended to help Americans understand the proper amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy that should be in our diets.

USDA MyPlate
The USDA MyPlate replaces the Food Pyramid

But Brian Vastag, science reporter for The Washington Post, had this observation (click here to read full article):

Circular, with four colorful divisions to represent the four main food groups, the new plate looks just like a pie chart [emphasis added] — a description experts shun because, well, pie isn’t good for you.

Brian isn’t alone in thinking that pie charts aren’t good for you.  However, I believe a pie chart not only works because of the dinner plate metaphor but because it depicts only four data values.  Plus, the slices represent approximate and not precise amounts.  The main point of MyPlate is that half of our diet should be fruits and vegetables, but frequently isn’t.

Learn more about the USDA MyPlate at ChooseMyPlate.gov or follow MyPlate on Twitter.

DISCLAIMER: No SAP business intelligence products were used in the creation of the MyPlate.

What do you think of the USDA’s new MyPlate?  Think a bar chart would have been as memorable?

Performance Dashboards, Second Edition by Wayne Eckerson

If you’re looking for your first book on business intelligence, dashboards and performance management, this is it. And if you own the first edition, you’ll appreciate the new chapters, case studies, and reorganization of the material.

Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business by Wayne Eckerson is quite possibly my favorite business intelligence book (Wiley, 2nd edition, 2010, ISBN 978-0470589830). I reviewed the first edition several years ago and recommended it to my clients, regardless of whether they were business users or IT professionals (see my earlier review of the first edition, Performance Dashboards). So I was delighted when a review copy of the second edition arrived at my doorstep. As I began reading, I had two primary questions. First, would it still be the first book I’d recommend? And second, should owners of the first edition purchase the second edition?

I’m happy to say that the answer to both questions is “yes”. Although the book covers the same themes as its predecessor, the book’s contents have been reorganized and over 50% of the material is new. The 308-page book is organized into three parts and 15 chapters. There’s even electronic editions for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Google Books.

The first part, The Landscape for Performance Dashboards, provides a solid foundation of concepts. Business professionals will want to read the chapter entitled Assessing Your Organizational Readiness.  And technical professionals will want to read the chapter entitled Assessing Your Technical Readiness. But both chapters should be read by all readers, as many dashboard projects fail because one side fails to understand the challenges of the other. Which is why part one concludes with a chapter entitled How to Align Business and IT. The chapter on technical readiness presents Eckerson’s BI Maturity Model, which can help technical teams assess not only where they are but also have a productive dialog with their business sponsors about how to get to the next stage in the model.

The second part, Performance Dashboards in Actions, provides brand new case studies for each of the three types of dashboards: operational, tactical and strategic. There are two case studies for each type so readers can compare and contrast the different approaches.

The final part, Critical Success Factors: Tips from the Trenches contains six chapters, each titled “How to…”. These chapters provide helpful checklists that will help organizations structure their requirements and project plans. They’ll also help frame questions to vet potential outsourcing partners.

If you’re looking for your first book on business intelligence, dashboards and performance management, this is it. And if you own the first edition, you’ll appreciate the new chapters, case studies, and reorganization of the material. I’ve seen many dashboard projects fail because either the business sponsors, the IT department, or sometimes both think that they can continue business as usual. There is a third way and Performance Dashboards is a useful guide that can help you find it.

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.”

Xcelsius 2008 version numbers

You need a secret decoder ring to determine your Xcelsius version.

For whatever reason, SAP doesn’t put obvious information like “Xcelsius 2008 Service Pack 3” on its About screen. Instead, you need a secret decoder ring to determine the version. It’s almost human readable:

Starting with the release of Fix Pack 1.1, the “Xcelsius Version” number will correspond to the Fix Pack numbering structure noted above. The version number will be structured as follows: [Product Version].[Service Pack Number].[Fix Pack Number].0.

Fortunately, the Xcelsius folks at SAP have placed this information in the Release Notes document, which can be downloaded in Adobe PDF format from the SAP Help Portal. I’ve recreated it here for easier reference.

Xcelsius Release Xcelsius Version Build Number
Xcelsius 2008 (RTM) 5.0.0.99 12,1,0,121
Xcelsius 2008 SP1 5.0.0.99 12,1,0,247
Xcelsius 2008 FixPack 1.1 5.1.1.0 12,1,1,344
Xcelsius 2008 SP2 5.2.0.0 12,2,0,608
Xcelsius 2008 FixPack 2.1 5.2.1.0 12,2,1,6
Xcelsius 2008 SP3 5.3.0.0 12,3,0,670
Xcelsius 2008 FixPack 3.1 5.3.1.0 12,3,1,776
Xcelsius 2008 FixPack 3.2 5.3.2.0 12,3,2,864
Xcelsius 2008 FixPack 3.3 5.3.3.0 12,3,3,973

 

You can infer from the About box below that I have Xcelsius 2008 Service Pack 3 Fix Pack 3.3 installed. A more complete listing of Xcelsius 2008 and Dashboards 4.0 version and build numbers is located on the SAP Community Network.

A similar matrix for Crystal Reports 2008 versions can also be found on the SAP Community Network.

Xcelsius 2008 and Windows 7 (FixPack 3.3)

Today I installed Xcelsius 2008 SP3 + Fix Pack 3.3 on my Microsoft Windows 7 Professional laptop.  FixPack 3.3 adds Windows 7 support, in addition to some other important fixes.  You can download the fix pack from the SAP Service Marketplace (S-ID required).  The folks at Everything Xcelsius have kindly posted the What’s Fixed and Release Notes documents.  Also check out the SAP Community Network blogs for Ryan Goodman’s Top Xcelsius 2008 SP3 Enhancements.

Xcelsius 2008 FP3.3 on Windows 7

 

Xcelsius 2008 SP3

Xcelsius 2008 SP3 is here!

Just in time for Christmas, Xcelsius 2008 SP3 arrived this week. Timo Elliott has an excellent summary of its new features and Ryan Goodman picks his top 10 enhancements.  Service Pack 3 is intended to keep everyone sated until the next major release of Xcelsius arrives next year, presumably with the rest of the BusinessObjects Enterprise suite.  The software is a full build, meaning that either you or the installation program will uninstall the previous version before installing the new one.  I encountered a minor known issue with the Xcelsius.msi but was able to resolve it after reading the release notes.

UPDATE: I found the documentation (including the files missing on the SAP Help Portal) in C:\TEMP\Documentation\en.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do some clever things with the new sparkline and bullet charts before January comes around.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Excel Fix After Installing Xcelsius

After installing Xcelsius 2008, Microsoft Excel stops opening documents properly.

One of the advantages of having a personal blog like this one is that it gives you a space to write down stuff worth remembering that you might forget later. I have discovered that I’m usually not the only person having a problem getting something to work, and even a modest tip or trick is worth writing down. I realize that this particular issue with SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius 2008 is old news to a lot of folks. I’ve patiently worked around the issue but finally couldn’t take it any more, as I am spending a lot of time in Microsoft Excel creating a dashboard project plan.

After installing Xcelsius 2008 (or was it one of the subsequent service or fix packs?), Excel stops opening documents properly. As you might guess, trying a Google search on common words like Xcelsius, Excel, broken, doesn’t work, etc. doesn’t return a solution quickly (does return a lot of links, though… GRIN…).

My colleague and Xcelsius Xpert Andrew Koller sent me this solution from Microsoft MSDN and BOB, the BusinessObjects Board, has one as well.

One might think that the problem is with Windows file extension associations, but the issue is corrected in Excel itself. To correct, launch Microsoft Excel, then go to Excel options, looking for the Advanced area. Look for “Ignore other applications that use Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE)” and place a check next to the item to select it. The screen shot below shows the option in Excel 2007.

Problem solved. Now back to the project plan…

Xcelsius 2008 Dashboard Best Practices

The bottom line? If you’re an Xcelsius 2008 user, this book belongs on your shelf.

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2008 and 2009 creating Xcelsius dashboards for various clients. A book that I have found very helpful is Loren Abdulezer’s Xcelsius 2008 Dashboard Best Practices (Sams Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-0672329951). According to the bio on the back of the book, Loren is editor-in-chief of Xcelsius Journal, the online magazine for Xcelsius users.

Loren’s book provides a comprehensive view on Xcelsius 2008 functionality including samples, which can be downloaded here from the Xcelsius Journal web site. The book contains 16 chapters organized into three sections: Xcelsius 2008 Fundamentals, Xcelsius 2008 Best Practices and Techniques, and Advanced Features. As an IT professional who didn’t use Excel much before Xcelsius, I really appreciate how Loren brings his extensive knowledge of Excel to the material. This includes treatment of statistics, financial analysis and “less-than-optimal” (uh, dirty?) data.

In the “Advanced Features” section, Chapter 15 deals with XML and Data Connectivity. I would have preferred a more robust treatment of Query as a Web Service (QaaWS) and Live Office. But “rather than attempt a cursory across-the-board discussion, this chapter outlines from a hands-on perspective pragmatic issues and techniques for accessing XML data, particularly Excel XML maps”. Of course, treatment of QaaWS and Live Office would have required a big investment in sample universes, reports, BIAR files, etc.

The last chapter, Chapter 16, is about “Creating Custom Components for Fun and Profit” using the Xcelsius Component SDK. Many Business Objects professionals don’t code applications, but the chapter helps Xcelsius developers stick their toe into the water with Adobe Flex Builder and ActionScript/Flash/SWF development.

The bottom line? If you’re an Xcelsius 2008 user, this book belongs on your shelf.

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.”

Xcelsius 2008 Map Components

Geographic maps available in Xcelsius 2008

NOTE: This post was originally authored on 07/21/2008 and updated on 05/05/2009.

Xcelsius 2008 provides a large collection of geographic maps for data mapping. One of the challenges with working with those maps is specifying the region key lookup codes for each state/province/country on the map. Beginning with Xcelsius 2008 SP1, the product includes a handy Microsoft Excel reference in the samples folder, which is C:Program FilesBusiness ObjectsXcelsiusassetssamplesUser Guide Samples by default. Look for the MapRegions.xls file. (In the previous version of this post, I indicated that the spreadsheet was available on the SAP BusinessObjects Community web site but I can no longer find it there).

Here is a list of the maps included in Xcelsius 2008. Curiously, Canada by province was originally omitted from Xcelsius 2008 but was included in Xcelsius 2008 SP1 (see related article, O, Canada!). No official word on whether Mexico by state will also be added in a future fix pack or service pack.

Contenent Maps
World By Continent
Africa By Country
Asia By Country
Asia Pacific (large) by country
Asia Pacific (small) by country
Central America By Country
Europe (large) by country
Europe (large) by country Mercator
Europe (small) by country
European Union by country
Europe By Country
North America By Country
Oceania by country
South America By Country

Country Maps
Albania by region
Andorra
Armenia by region
Australia by region
Austria by state
Azerbaijan by province
Belarus by region
Belgium by province
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Bulgaria by region
Canada by province (requires Service Pack 1)
Cambodia by province
China by region
Croatia
Cyprus by district
Czech Republic by region
Denmark by county
England
Estonia
Faroe Islands by region
Finland by province
France by region
Georgia by republic
Germany by state
Gibraltar
Greece by prefecture
Hungary by county
Iceland by province
Indonesia by province
Ireland
Italy by region
Japan by region
Kazakhstan by region
Kyrgyzstan by region
Laos by province
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg by district
Macedonia
Malaysia by state
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia by province
Myanmar by region
Netherlands by province
New Zealand by region
North Korea by region
Northern Ireland
Norway by province
Papua New Guinea by region
Philippines by region
Poland by region
Portugal by province
Romania by county
Russia by mercator
Russia by region
San Marino
Scotland
Serbia and Montenegro by region
Slovakia by region
Slovenia
South Korea by region
Spain by autonomous community
Sweden by county
Switzerland by canton
Thailand by province
Turkey by province
Turkmenistan by region
Ukraine by province
United Kingdom by region
USA
USA (Continental)
Uzbekistan by region
Vatican City
Vietnam by province
Wales

State Maps
California By County

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.”