The Big Book of Dashboards

Twenty-eight real-world dashboards show how solid design can illuminate your business data.

The Big Book of Dashboards is- well- a really big book of dashboards. 448 pages of them. Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer, and Andy Cotgreave- all household names in the Tableau community- have produced a book that is both beautiful and useful, just like the visualizations that they write about.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is a single chapter entitled Data Visualization: A Primer that reviews terminology and sets the stage for what’s to come.

The second part of the book is the heart of the book and lends the book its name. Twenty-eight dashboards, each described in its own chapter. You’ll learn why a particular dashboard “works”. Sometimes you’ll learn why it doesn’t work as well as it should. The three authors even critique each other’s work, which is like being a fly on the wall of a design review.

Part three of the book is called Succeeding in the Real World and is filled with practical advice, including how to deal with users that want something “cool” instead of useful. Or- heaven forbid- a pie chart.

The Big Book of Dashboards

Not only are many of the dashboards visually stunning, the book design is beautiful to behold. You’ll probably learn as much about things like color, typography and whitespace from the book itself as much as the dashboards contained within.

The book is written by three Tableau experts, but it is not a “Tableau book”. If you’re looking for a “How do I do that in Tableau” book, there are plenty of those on the market. The focus here is elegantly solving business problems through design, regardless of what tools you use. And yet, I really hope that the product management team at SAP will flip through this book and ask “can our product do that”? As a practical “cookbook”, this book will fit comfortably on your shelf in between the more abstract writing of authors like Stephen Few and the practical “tool-centric” guides from your preferred software vendor. Although I imagine it will get too much use to simply remain on a shelf.


Will Security Concerns Override Your BI Strategy?

The future of Flash may no longer be in the hands of Adobe but instead in the hands of IT security.

It hasn’t been a great month for Adobe Flash. Both Google and Mozilla took extraordinary steps to temporarily disable Adobe Flash from their respective browsers, bringing disruption to SAP Dashboards (see related BusinessObjects Board article).

Dashboards Not Working in Firefox

Adobe released a patch and all was well again, but isn’t it really just a matter of time before we’ll be going through the same exercise? There’s a growing chorus in the mainstream press, not just the technical press, to walk away from Adobe Flash.

While the Occupy Flash movement (yes, there is a movement) advocates letting “your IT department know you can do without Flash”, there are some obvious places (like Explorer and Dashboards/Xcelsius) where the Adobe Flash Player is required by SAP BusinessObjects.

Unfortunately, there are also several less-than-obvious places (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet). However, much of everyday web browsing no longer requires the Adobe Flash Player. I was motivated by the recent controversy to remove Adobe Flash from my two Macs, just to see what would happen. I’ll limit Adobe Flash to my Microsoft Windows VM that I use at work.

SAP customers have endured similar scenarios with the Java Runtime Engine and Web Intelligence. But unlike Java, which still manages to have multiple dependencies in today’s enterprise, there are fewer reasons to rely on Adobe Flash and IT security may act more quickly to eliminate it completely from corporate desktops. Mainstream web sites like YouTube no longer require Adobe Flash (and let’s be honest, many organizations prevent you from watching grumpy cat videos at the office anyway).

SAP’s strategy for Dashboards and Explorer has been to leave them as-is as new plug-in free tools like Design Studio and Lumira increase in both maturity and adoption. That strategy assumes that Adobe will continue to support Flash indefinitely, allowing SAP customers to continue to use Dashboards and Explorer content even though the tools no longer receive investment. However, the future of Flash may no longer be in the hands of Adobe but instead in the hands of IT security, keen to remove Flash from the enterprise. This change of direction will to put more pressure on business intelligence competency centers to retire SAP Dashboards and Explorer more quickly than anticipated, and earlier than the current SAP BI roadmap will comfortably allow.

How are Adobe Flash vulnerabilities affecting your BI strategy? Is your organization under pressure to retire Adobe Flash? Please share a comment below.

Overdesigning BI Architecture for SAP Design Studio

Rethinking when to install the SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio server components.

SAP Design Studio 1.3 Splash

Over two years ago, SAP unveiled their roadmap and strategy for dashboards (see related article, The Future of SAP Dashboards)Today, in 2014, many SAP BusinessObjects customers have committed to a two-prong strategy of continuing to support legacy Xcelsius/Dashboards while looking for opportunities to begin using SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio, the successor to both SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and SAP BEx Web Application Designer (WAD). In some cases, it still makes sense to prefer Dashboards over Design Studio for new projects due to the maturity gap between the products.

Practically speaking, the two-prong strategy means that many BI administrators are installing the Design Studio components as part of their new SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.x deployments. SAP releases new versions of Design Studio approximately every six months. The current version is 1.3 and version 1.4 is expected in November 2014.

The Design Studio client app opens with an attractive welcome screen featuring a breathtaking mountaintop vista.

SAP Design Studio 1.3 Welcome

Although there’s a “Getting Started” section on the welcome screen for developers, there isn’t one for BI administrators, so here is some guidance. Design Studio, like SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, is not integrated out-of-the-box with the BI platform and has both web-tier components and server components, as shown in the installation screen below.

SAP Design Studio 1.3 Features

Ideally, these Design Studio server components would be integrated into the BI 4.x platform (see related article, Please Integrate the Integrated Enterprise BI Platform). But they aren’t, so plan ahead and put specific line items in your BI 4.x project plans for Design Studio installation and configuration tasks. The additional time required to install the server components can really add up, particularly if you have a lot of nodes in your BI 4.x deployment.

Installing Design Studio Before You’re Ready

In theory, proactively getting your BI 4.x platform ready for Design Studio seems like a best practice. I’ve done it for several customers. Unfortunately, in many cases you’ll spend extra hours installing a version of Design Studio that’s obsolete before your developers are able to use it for meaningful projects. This means that you’ll spend even more time later uninstalling the old version of Design Studio server components before installing newer ones.

Uninstalling obsolete Design Studio 1.1

Installing Design Studio When You’re Ready

Instead of budgeting hours for Design Studio in your BI 4.x upgrade project, place them instead in your first funded Design Studio development project. In this way, you’re guaranteed not to waste effort deploying a version of Design Studio that’s obsolete before you begin using it. The planning phase of a Design Studio project is also a good time to either apply the latest patch for your BI 4.x platform’s current Support Pack level or move up to a higher Support Pack level entirely.

In the meantime, install Design Studio on a sandbox server that isn’t part of your normal Development->Test->Production software development life cycle (SDLC). A sandbox environment is also a recommended place to test BI 4.x patches before committing them to the environments you use daily. You’ll be able to satisfy the needs of curious developers who want to begin learning Design Studio and conducting functionality bake-offs between Dashboards and Design Studio. New version of the BI 4.x platform or Design Studio server components? No problem. There’s only one server to upgrade.


If they aren’t already, your developers should definitely be putting Design Studio to the test (see Chris Greer’s related article, Is Xcelsius the new Deski? Die, Deski, Die!, on the EV Technologies blog). Give them some quality playtime in the sandbox. But until you’re truly ready with a funded project, don’t over-design your BI 4.x environment.

Other Perspectives on SAP Design Studio

What is your experience with Design Studio? Creating new dashboards or porting existing ones from Xcelsius/Dashboards?

MAD About Olympic Sports

Online journalism is changing expectations about corporate business intelligence.

Everyone’s mad about the Winter Olympics. But many online news sites have gone MAD with their Olympic coverage.

I’m referring to the MAD framework established by Wayne Eckerson in his fantastic book Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing your Business. The MAD framework describes a three-tier system to track organizational performance:

  1. Monitor
  2. Analyze
  3. Drill to Detail


Starting at the top of the pyramid, we monitor using graphical, metrics data. This is the highly summarized dashboard that we typically think of. We analyze at a greater level of detail, typically with summarized, dimensional data. The data can be navigated by various hierarchies such as time or geography, or in the case of the Winter Olympics, a particular sport. Lastly, when questions arise, the MAD framework allows us to drill to detail, looking at a fine grain of information, typically a single transaction or event. It is not always necessary to examine this level of detail, but it is important to provide it so the root cause of a problem can be determined.

So how is this paradigm being used in Winter Olympics media coverage? I’m a big fan of the Wall Street Journal. It was one of the first news sites with a pay wall and I’ve been a subscriber since it first appeared on the world wide web. As with most news sites, the Wall Street Journal has added some interactive dashboards with updated medal statistics from the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The Wall Street Journal includes an at-a-glance dashboard on its home page, number of medals by country. There is some drill-down capability, as we can look at all medals or get more information- news stories- about the event.

NBC_2014_Sochi_Dashboard_01 Clicking on “more Olympics” takes the reader to a new page that still has the highly summarized medal statistics at the top but now includes a smaller dashboard in the bottom right corner (I’ve highlighted it in orange) that breaks down the medals by gold, silver, and bronze.


If the user clicks on “all medals” instead, they can examine individual countries using a geographic map.


By hovering over the country, readers can see the total number of medals compared to the Wall Street Journal’s prediction. For example, Norway had 20 medals to its credit but the Wall Street Journal is predicting a total of 33.


The Wall Street Journal does a great job of allowing its readers to monitor a high-level summary. And we can drill down to individual countries. But there isn’t much in the way of analysis, nor a truly fine grain of detail such as individual sports or athletes. No doubt this is partly due to the Wall Street Journal’s executive audience. Typically, executives only need to carry around a few key statistics to share at the corporate water cooler. And after all, the Wall Street Journal is a financial newspaper, not a sports publication. True Olympic data geeks aren’t looking to the Wall Street Journal to provide ways of slicing and dicing Olympic results.


Another observation we can make from online journalism is that consumerisation of business intelligence is changing expectations of what’s possible. The ability of executives and middle managers to slice and dice Winter Olympics results is changing their expectations of what they should expect from their corporate business intelligence systems. What I really like about Mr. Eckerson’s approach is that business intelligence isn’t a dashboard. It isn’t data discovery. It isn’t highly formatted reporting. Instead, it is all of these things, well integrated and capable of meeting the needs of various stakeholders from the entire organization.

Is your organization struggling to deliver this kind of business intelligence? Wayne Eckerson’s book is still my favorite “if you can only read one book about business intelligence, read this one” book. But be warned. There is no “easy” button in business intelligence. It is difficult, multi-disciplinary work. It requires a well-blended combination of business knowledge and technical expertise. It is by definition disruptive to corporate culture. And we often learn that our biggest struggles are chiefly “people” issues and not “technical” issues.

Are you following the Winter Olympics online? I’m interested in which web sites you are visiting and how they are shaping your own ideas about analytics, business intelligence, and performance management. As always, your comments are welcome.

What Does the Fox Say?

What does Andrew Fox have to say about dashboards?

What does the fox say?

With an ocean in between us, I’ve never met Andrew Fox in person. But it’s on my bucket list to do so.

Andrew has written some helpful insights about dashboarding. Timo Elliott found much to like in Andrew’s article, which was also cited in last week’s ASUG Weekly News Roundup.

What does Andrew Fox say? That dashboard designers need to find balance between the need for sticky- sometimes flashy- dashboards and good visual design.

In delivering easy to consume, information rich, actionable insights maximising the use of the real estate available on the consumption device you stand the greatest chance of adoption by the “floating” users.

A Hobbits Tale…  My journey in dashboards: From Flashy to Few and back again…
Andrew Fox, Pre Sales Principal at itelligence UK

There’s a lot of hard-earned insights about business intelligence and analytics on Andrew’s blog – you should bookmark it.

Andrew Fox on Social Media

Now go build some dashboards! Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow!

But really- what does the fox say?

What does the Ohio University Marching 110 say?

SAP Mobile BI 5.0 Thumbnails

Thumbnail images for SAP Mobile BI 5.0 should be 208×208 pixels.

Remember those really attractive 216 pixels wide by 122 pixels high thumbnail images you created for SAP Mobile BI 4.4 (see related article, SAP Mobile BI 4.4 Thumbnails)? Here’s an example.

SAP Mobile BI thumbnail

Here’s how the same thumbnail appears in Mobile BI 5.0 for Apple iOS.

Old sized thumbnails in 5.0

The thumbnails appear squashed because amidst the other UI enhancements in Mobile BI 5.0 and higher, SAP has adopted an Instagram-like square thumbnail size of 208 by 208 pixels. The new size is documented in the Administrator and Report Designer’s Guide available on the SAP Help Portal. Aside from the difference in dimensions, the procedure for creating and using thumbnails is unchanged from the previous version of Mobile BI.

For iOS, thumbnail images only appear on the iPad, not the iPhone. I do not have an Android tablet to verify how thumbnails work and there is no mention of thumbnails in the Android guide.


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.”

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 5.0

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 5.0 integrates Explorer, Lumira and more.

Today, June 26, 2013, SAP released SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 5.0 in the Apple iTunes App Store. The app requires iOS 6.0 or higher and compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. This app is also optimized for the iPhone 5 display.

What’s New in Version 5.0?

  • Support for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer
  • Support for SAP Lumira Server and Lumira Cloud
  • A brand-new user experience for better organization of BI content
  • Geo analysis and SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio support on iPhone
  • BI inbox support to burst reports to a specific user
  • Collaborative decisions with SAP Jam
  • Support for Arabic language (right to left support)
  • Technical enhancements

IMPORTANT: Explorer functionality requires the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 platform, so XI 3.1 and BI 4.0 customers will still need to use the standalone Explorer for iOS app for a while longer.

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile 5.0 on iTunes

You can find all the documentation on the SAP Help Portal:

This is an exciting release and I can’t wait to dive in.

SAP Mobile BI 4.4 Thumbnails

Karsten, I’ll take Undocumented SAP BusinessObjects Mysteries for $500.

UPDATE: Mobile thumbnail size was updated in SAP Mobile BI 5.0. Read this article instead.

If Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was on vacation and SAP solution manager for mobile analytics Karsten Ruf was his guest host, a contestant might say,

“Karsten, I’ll take Undocumented SAP BusinessObjects Mysteries for $500.”

Mobile Thumbnail tweet from Karsten Ruf


Karsten might ask “The answer is 216×122 pixels – can anyone guess what the question is?

“Karsten, What is the proper size for a thumbnail image for SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI?”


Despite a lot of really valuable information in the Administrator and Report Designer’s Guide for SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 4.4.x on the SAP Help Portal, the desired image size for thumbnails is currently undocumented.  The best information I could get from a call to SAP Support was to not worry, the image would automatically resize. However, without knowing the proper dimensions, your attractive company logo might turn into a Salvador Dali painting. Definitely not cool.

Be sure to put a line item in your mobile BI project plan to either resize your organization’s logo yourself or ask somebody in the corporate art department to help you out.  You’ll want to create a JPEG or PNG image that’s less than 100 KB in size and has the dimensions of 216 pixels wide by 122 pixels high. In addition to your organization’s logo, you’ll want to create some additional thumbnails for various subject areas like finance. Using stock photography (I recommend iStockphoto) or images culled from your organization’s official web site.

I’m no Adobe Photoshop expert, but I’ve been able to produce great results with Pixelmator for Mac OS X, a very affordable image editor in the Apple App Store.

I’m confident that the mobile thumbnail dimensions will be documented in the forthcoming SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 manuals. But until then, remember 216 by 122.


What kinds of images is your organization using for mobile thumbnails?  

A Plug for your Adobe Flash Plug-In

Adobe really wants you to keep using your Flash player.

I was recently prompted to update my Adobe Flash player and was greeted by the following propaganda piece.

Update Adobe Flash Player

Great messaging from Adobe. You need our frequently insecure and unstable plug-in to play Facebook games and watch videos. No mention of “serious business productivity”. Or the fact that the upgrade may break your SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius dashboards.

So please, for sake of usability, online security and stability, please update your Adobe Flash player. Pretty please? Before the Adobe Flash development team enters a recovery program for self harm.

Anyone up for a game of Farmville?