Thoughts on Xcelsius

Last week, Xcelsius Guru Mico Yuk pondered on Twitter whether Xcelsius was dead. 

This week, Steve Lucas, SAP’s General Manager for Business Analytics, provided new insight to SAP’s mobile business intelligence strategy in two blog posts entitled “The Demise of Flash and the Battle for the End-User Experience” and “Putting Mobile First and the New Business Intelligence Priorities”.  Steve lays out a three-point business analytics mobility strategy.

First, allow access to existing content like Web Intelligence and Crystal Reports via the SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI app, currently on the Apple iPad and coming soon for other tablets. Second, provide “high-definition dashboards” using SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, soon to be extended with new functionality known as “exploration views”.  And third, a “completely open” development experience for custom business analytics applications on mobile devices. I assume this refers to the Sybase Unwired Platform.

So where does Xcelsius (known on the new BI 4.0 platform as SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards 4.0) fit into this three-point strategy?

It doesn’t.

Scroll to the very bottom of Steve’s remarks, where we learn that SAP will “deliver an HTML 5 version [of Xcelsius/Dashboards] in 2012”. But “this may not make life perfect”, which I interpret as an early indicator that the HTML 5 version won’t be as robust or powerful as the current Adobe Flash based product.

In my opinion, Xcelsius has become the new Desktop Intelligence. In the pre-web era, Desktop Intelligence was the only BusinessObjects reporting tool. But it was too wedded to Microsoft Windows to make an effective leap to the web browser, so Web Intelligence was created. In a similar way, Xcelsius is too wedded to the Adobe Flash platform to make the leap to mobile devices.

And just like multiple iterations of Web Intelligence were required before it came close enough to the capabilities of Desktop Intelligence, it may take multiple iterations of an HTML 5 product before it can fully replace Xcelsius.  But there isn’t time for multiple iterations – customers are demanding mobile analytics now.  And while mobile Adobe Flash solutions from Exxova or Antivia may bridge the gap, adopting Adobe Flash to mobile devices is a short term, not a long term strategy.  Which is why declaring a “mobile first” strategy makes sense.

SAP BusinessObjects customers do not need Xcelsius on their tablets.

They need business intelligence on their tablets. And even smaller mobile devices like smart phones.

Tablets have a unique user interface. A great mobile business analytics tool will design for the device, not retrofit existing paradigms, which explains why Mellmo has been successful with its RoamBI product.  It was designed from the ground up for the era of mobility.

As best as I can tell from this week’s strategy announcement, SAP is designating its upcoming Exploration Views (coming later this year in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3) as its from-the-ground-up mobile analytics tool, not Xcelsius for HTML 5.  “Today, we call this SAP BusinessObjects Explorer” (are we going to call it something else tomorrow?).

This is not all bad news.  Just as SAP has protected customer investments in Desktop Intelligence with a lengthy rather than abrupt retirement, SAP is promising that it will protect customer investments in Xcelsius. And although it’s easy to poke fun of Desktop Intelligence today (see related Diversified Semantic Layer podcast, Die Deski Redux), it was only yesterday (OK, so it was 10 years ago) that Desktop Intelligence was absolutely the right answer for business intelligence.  In 2005, Xcelsius was the right answer – think of all the cool solutions that have been deployed since BusinessObjects purchased Infommersion. But in 2012, we need something else.

It’s OK to love technology. And its OK to cry when it lets you down and breaks your heart. But always love your users more.

Additional Materials

What do you think of SAP’s mobile business analytics strategy?

Dallas Marks

Dallas Marks

I am an analytics and cloud architect, author, and trainer. An AWS certified blogger, SAP Mentor Alumni 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.

24 thoughts on “Thoughts on Xcelsius

  1. Hi Dallas,

    Nice blog post. I’m also very curious what will happen to the product suite and how Xcelsius will fit in.

    Personally, I don’t see Exploration Views as a replacement of Xcelsius. On the other hand, Xcelsius is falling behind in terms of flexibility of interactive analysis.

    As I also said on my own blog, 2012 will be an interesting year..

  2. Good Blog. This is exactly what i thought and tweeted my comments few days back.@naveenketha ” @MicoYuk #HTML5 for #Xcelsius in 2012 is like a Band-Aid. Dashboards future seems to be BO Explorer exploration Views “. i think xcelsius is a great desktop dashboard tool but i think sap needs to do something amazing to get this tool to compete in 2012 and beyond,so i think behind the scenes sap may be thinking BO explorer may be its answer for dashboards of the future.

  3. Dallas, I enjoyed this post. It was nice to see someone separate reality from the hyperbole about Xcelsius and lay out the future in more practical terms, i.e., that maybe Xcelsius isn’t the right solution going forward. Although at the same time, this type of debate is at the core of why BusinessObjects loyalists are upset with SAP.

  4. Don’t you put that Deski evil on Xcelsius, at least not until Xcelsius has a more powerful SaaS cousin that people refuse to get on board with.

  5. Would you guys say that Adobe Flex Builder is Xcelsius more powerful crazy uncle? It publishes to Flash still but also now has publishing to iOS, Android, etc.

    1. Ryan, that’s a good question. But you’ve got a much stronger background in Flex development than me. A good post for you to write might be something like “if Adobe is going in this new direction with Flash, here’s where SAP should go with Xcelsius – if Ryan Goodman was its product manager”.

  6. I updated my blog post and changed the title:
    “SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) on iPad in HTML5, product enhancement or lollipop?”

    I’m not sure how to interpret the HTML5 announcement, it sure started an interesting discussion.


  7. Dallas,

    I just wanted to add my scoop on it coming from Xcelsius strengths and some customer view points

    There are some strong reasons why Xcelsius has been successful with SAP Customers ( assuming it is implemented with the right people designing it )

    1. Structured Exploration to the Way Executives want to view their business Vs Unstructured/ad-hoc Exploration offered by Business Explorer
    2. Executives are no longer happy with simply viewing what happened (Actual Data) and they are demanding that we integrate it with corporate performance data (budget and forecast) – Xcelsius has the connectivity options to integrated diverse datasets which they were manually doing it in Excel.
    3. Ability to provide details(drilldowns) to act on the intelligence gathered from the dashboard

    I am not convinced with the SAP Strategy that the new tools that are on the horizon will perform the following 3 items as well as Xcelsius does.

    I also do believe that Xcelsius has to improve upon Visualization Vs tools like QlikView and Tableau.

    But rather focusing on the strengths of Xcelsius (ability to better visualize Enterprise Data and Executive dashboard analytic demands) and build it from ground up to cater to mobility platform demands, SAP is letting device makers dictate their own product road maps. I’ve also had number of customers complain about SAP’s strategy of flooding with too many BI tools Vs deliver what they need out of the few good ones. Looks like the customer gripe will continue to grow bigger on the mobile road map also with 3 different choices.

  8. It is time to get rid of the excel layer,put the Xcelsius engine into a web client,extend the data limitations and allow query panel + drag and drop objects workflow.

    Create Apps for smartphones that can create and connect to dashboards.


    1. Yoav,

      I think you just described an enhanced version of Webi. The problem is that the engine that drives Xcelsius is based on an Actionscipt conversions of Excel functions, so removing Excel is plausible but would require a tool re-design.

      Also, BusinessObjects already tried moving Xcelsius to a Web-based tool and removed Excel years ago on and it was not very useful at all.

  9. Hi Ryan,

    I believe that with HTML5 ,HANA and other inovations that are coming true Xcelsius in his current state won’t last for more than a coupel of years.

    The ondemand wasn’t a real effort to change the tool as the market and Xcelsius were in different state.

    You can already see now in webi BI4 that some of the Charts and graphs are similar to Xcelsius.


  10. Couple of things are very clear that

    1.We all love Xcelsius and hate to see it Die.

    2.SAP has lot of products with very good features. My own and only frustration has been why wouldn’t SAP consolidate BI product suits to build/enhance fewer but greater tools without any deficiencies like lack of Mobility support on Xcelsius.

  11. SAP should really think a lot about this and come out with a flexible version…..

    Hope this would happen before Xcelsius diminish..

  12. Dallas,

    I think your comparison to Deski is right on. However, I think we’ll see a new path created similar to Crystal Enterprise and Crystal 2011. The Xcelcius tool won’t die, just fork into two paths. Dashboard Enterprise 4.0 will reduce the feature set for broader acceptance of the tool but Xcelcius 2008 will be there for richer development.

    I’m just sayin…

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