Let’s say you have business users in your organization who would like reports on, for instance, web statistics from your public web site. However, they don’t know how or don’t have the time to put together the requirements for what data they want, what data sets they want to correlate, or what the reports should look like. With Visual Composer, you can put the power in their hands to define what their reports should include and how they should appear.
What are the top twenty most visited pages on the site? What are the top ten downloads? Okay, now tell me the top twenty most visited pages by geographic region. How about the top ten downloads by domain? Wait, I changed my mind, I want the top ten downloads by geographic region and the top twenty pages by domain. And I want to drill down into each geographic region to the country level. Sorted in reverse alphabetical order. Oh, and did I mention that I want the data plotted monthly, quarterly, and year-over-year?
Can you imagine being the developer who works on this project? I’ll bet lots of you don’t have to imagine it, you’ve lived it. Let me tell you, it’s no picnic being on the other end either — sometimes your original specifications just aren’t on the mark but you can’t tell until it’s been deployed, and then you have to go back to the drawing board. Speaking for myself, I feel bad when I make the developers rework things over and over again.
Enter SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer.
It wasn’t in the context of the above scenario that I was introduced to Visual Composer (although you can see where my interest in this tool lies, hint hint to the tech guys). I was an informal guinea pig for the user guide that was being written for SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer, so one of the technical writers sat with me while I worked through the exercise included in the guide, noting places where the instructions weren’t quite clear to someone not familiar with the product. But after playing around with the tool a little, I quickly got the hang of it. And good thing, too, because I’ll be demoing the product at the Macromedia MAX conference in Anaheim this weekend. If you’ll be there, come find me and make me show off my newly acquired knowledge.
The stumbling blocks that I encountered were mostly due to the fact that I was not already familiar with the data sources. I was working within a model where the data sources were created by someone else and were dummy sets of data for testing purposes. But within a real world setting where the data sources come from systems that you work with regularly, this tool can be used by just about anyone in the organization to do things like build quick models for prototyping an application, or go all the way and create a full-blown analytics application for deployment.
Since Visual Composer’s main interface uses drag-and-drop services, it was easy for me to piece together the data I wanted to access, specify how I wanted the data displayed, and then arrange the layout of the overall display. I started in the Compose screen by dragging an iView into a model and double-clicking to open that iView. Going to the Find Data screen next, I browsed through the data sources, selecting which data sets I wanted to generate reports on. At this point I could specify if I wanted to display the results in a table or chart for each data set. I fiddled around with the layout a little by just dragging the objects to get the tables and charts aligned exactly the way I wanted to see them on a page, clicked the “deploy” button, and voila! I instantly had the type of graphical report that most business users want to see.
But wait, there’s more! Remember the “deep-dive into the data” part? The data sets could be linked together so that I could slice and dice by category and correlate pieces of information across data sets. And with embedded Flash technology, I could click on one part of the graph and have the data in a related table automatically update to reflect the detailed data associated with that piece of the graph. And given the simplicity of it all, I could go back into design mode and easily change data sets, create new linkages, or move things around.
The best part? I didn’t have to bother one single developer to get the report I wanted. And that’s a win-win for both sides.
Of course, as a developer, you can also use this tool to generate the desired reports while pretending that you toiled long and hard over the hand-coded scripts, but don’t mind working on this project after hours as a special favor. That’s how you get all the hard-to-come-by giveaways that marketing keeps stashed in their secret closet for the express purpose of bribing the tech guys when help is needed.
Hey, whatever works.