University Alliances (UA) congratulates the NA Student Dashboard Design Competition winner: Team India from Colorado State University. Austin Walton, Laura Barron, and Matthew Zachman with support from their professor Cap Smith spent a portion of their Spring semester designing a Dashboard for the non-profit, Junior Achievement’s Philadelphia chapter. Following a two phase judging cycle they were offered the opportunity to attend SAPPHIRE NOW Orlando 2012, as part of the SAP University Excellence initiative, to present their dashboard to their peers, SAP Executives and a panel of judges including representatives from Junior Achievements.
The goal of this series is to exchange insights with professors, lecturers, students, researchers and the entire SAP ecosystem and community.
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Austin Walton – I am currently enrolled in the Colorado State University Master of Science in Business Administration – Computer Information Systems (MSBA–CIS). I received my undergraduate degree from the Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in Operations Management and International Business. Between degrees I was a project manager at Alpine Electronics, working on Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) audio and visual navigation units.
Our uncharacteristic team name was derived from a previous group competition were we were assigned the letter “I”. As we all know, there is no ‘I’ in team. Therefore we decided to modify the name based on the NATO phonetic alphabet where ‘I’ is pronounced ‘India’. On a more playful level our team adopted a theme YouTube video for the trip to SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando – A spoof of “What’s Going On” by the 4 Non Blondes featuring the cast of the 1980’s cartoon “Heman.” Spontaneous renditions and quotes from this video kept the atmosphere light and enjoyable.
Laura Barron – I am a graduate student at Colorado State University studying Computer Information Systems. I also attended Colorado State University for my undergraduate degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I became interested in my area of study after working as a graphic designer for two years and taking a web design class where I was first exposed to HTML and CSS.
Matthew Zachman – I am currently enrolled in the Colorado State University Master of Science in Business Administraion – Computer Information Systems (MSBA–CIS) and am specializing in Business Intelligence and Data Mining. My undergraduate degree is in Mass Communications from the University of South Florida. I became interested in IT when working in business after graduating and enjoyed working with computers. When recording the audio for our Camtasia video we were assigned one of the loudest rooms in the building. The elevator equipment was located next door, and the air conditioner was very loud. To cope with this Laura had to record her part of the presentation under a blanket.
Tell us a little bit about your experience building your dashboard. What were you most successful at? Where did you struggle? Were there any obstacles your team had to overcome? If so, how did you do this?
AW – We approached this project as if we were consultants and received requirements from our clients to guide the dashboard design process. This perspective allowed us to explore two questions when creating our solution: 1) What is the final objective of the dashboard and 2) Is additional information needed in order to make actionable decisions? These questions drove our decision making process and the overall dashboard design. One challenging aspect was developing a complete understanding of the case and identifying the implied assumptions. There were some ambiguous items, perhaps intentionally, where it would have been helpful to have direct contact with the client. As this was not possible, we deliberated and presented different ideas until we were all in agreement.
LB – I loved having the opportunity to participate in this project. As a graphic designer, I was most successful when working with the general appearance of the dashboard. The layout tools were very intuitive and I enjoyed the extent of customization available, for example the ability to match our dashboard’s design to the Junior Achievement brand. In my opinion, the biggest obstacle our team had to overcome was distance. I recently moved to Denver which put me an hour and a half away from Austin and Matt. We were able to overcome this challenge by using technologies such as DropBox and Skype.
MZ – Building the dashboard was a great experience. I was most successful at the layout and suggesting fine details but struggled in getting the dashboard to change when selecting a button. I also learned to use Camtasia to produce professional presentations, and have already used that skill for a YouTube presentation required for my networking class. Our team worked together very well. We had the drive to get the work completed, regardless of how much time and effort was involved. We have a desire to create quality work, did well with self-appointed deadlines and constantly communicated foreseeable problems well in advance. It was a pleasure to have Laura and Austin as teammates.
The skills you grew and gained from working with SAP’s Analytics solutions are highly valued in the marketplace. How did your experiences with the competition help advance and further your knowledge of SAP’s Analytics solutions and your marketable skills?
AW – Working with SAP Crystal Dashboard Design on a real world application solidified concepts learned from the Colorado State CIS program. Furthermore, the competition environment forced me to dive deeper into the concepts to understand their principles. Fortunately, the SAP Dashboard program utilizes Microsoft Excel, a program we all had previous experience with, allowing us to focus less effort on setting up the data and more on the greater scope of the project . This was beneficial because tools and software will change over time; however, concepts and principles will persist, ultimately allowing the skills acquired from this project to be transferrable and applicable across many platforms or projects.
LB – There is only so much that can be acquired in classroom training so we enjoyed having the opportunity to apply our current knowledge to a real-world case study. Not only did we gain valuable experience working with real company data but we also learned a great deal about interpreting project requirements. To be successful in this project it was necessary to look beyond the requested deliverables to determine what tools the company could benefit from the most. Having the opportunity to use SAP Crystal Dashboard, to experiment and explore in a real world situation was invaluable but I think I learned the most about SAP’s Analytics Solutions simply by attending SAPPHIRE NOW. It was a very exciting and educational experience.
MZ – Until this competition I had only designed a nonfunctioning dashboard for class. I was very impressed with the ease of using MS Excel behind the scenes of the dashboard, although there were a few constraints. It was very enlightening, using real data for the dashboard and we found real errors and had to respond to them. Also the Business requirements made it feel as if the customer requested items to be included, and we had to determine the best ways to display the requirements. This project, along with the helpful guidance of our professor Cap Smith, exposed our team and me to many skills we have not or may not experience in an educational setting.
As a finalist and eventual winner of the competition you had the opportunity to take part in the University Excellence program at SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando. What was the most impactful part of your trip? Tell us about your experience presenting to and receiving feedback from your peers and SAP Executives.
AW – Being a part of the University Excellence program and attending SAPPHIRE NOW was an amazing opportunity. The well-structured program provided several opportunities to learn more about SAP, analytics, and where the industry is headed. In particular, the keynotes presented by Bill McDermott and Prof. Dr. h.c. Hasso Plattner were useful in demonstrating SAP tools as well as explaining where SAP sees the future of their business. Additionally, the panel discussion with SAP executives fully illustrated the SAP culture which enables their success through teamwork and collaboration. This comprehensive view will allow me to better target the skills I will need to be successful.
Presenting before my peers and SAP executives was exciting and challenging. I was very interested to see how well the dashboard solution was understood. After our presentations the feedback received was very constructive and allowed us to adjust our messages to present a more complete picture to future groups. The University Alliances program at SAPPHIRE NOW was an excellent educational experience and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to participate.
LB – It is hard to pinpoint what was most impactful about the trip because the entire experience was so carefully crafted by the University Excellence team to be both educational and eye-opening. I enjoyed learning more about SAP by exploring the show floor and attending the keynotes as well as the opportunity for networking with both peers and executives. In regards to hands-on learning, I think the most valuable skill I walked away with was Design Thinking, a method of team brainstorming we were introduced to during the 3 day program.
Presenting to our peers was somewhat intimidating given that they were chosen for the University Excellence program because of their high academic achievement. It was apparent from their feedback that they wanted to help all three teams succeed. They had great ideas and suggestions for improvement which we tried to incorporate as much as possible in the limited timeframe. When we presented to the SAP executives and panel of judges, their questions were very insightful and gave us the opportunity to explain our process and the rationale behind our design choices. They too were very supportive and I appreciated the level of care they put into the judging process.
MZ – The trip was a great experience. I learned a great deal from the keynotes and visiting the exhibits. The guided tour of the show floor was great because we only had a limited amount of time. I’m very happy to have learned about HANA and the difference of database design.
Of course I was very happy to learn that we would eventually win the Dashboard design competition. I was surprised to receive so much feedback from our peers, usually students aren’t so forthcoming, and it may have been because only the highest achieving students are invited to participate in the University Excellence program. Their feedback was very helpful, although time did not allow for some of the improvements; we were able to implement a few. The SAP Executives feedback was great; they all asked questions we should have included in the presentation and helped reinforce our dashboard’s effectiveness. Finally during and after the competition, the other teams were very friendly and we have been communicating and sharing our dashboard designs, I think we can all learn more from each other for future designs.