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University Alliances (UA) congratulates the EMEA Student Dashboard Design Competition winner: Team GZA (“Great South Africa”) Designers from South Africa. Alexander Oloo, Channel Hillebrand, Dirk Ras and Wonga Ntshinga spent a portion of their past semester designing a Dashboard based on the 2012 European Football Championship.

The goal of this Spotlight Series is to exchange insights with professors, lecturers, students, researchers and the entire SAP ecosystem and community.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Alex.jpgAlex: I am currently enrolled at the University of Pretoria and plan to graduate with my Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering. I have been involved in the mentoring and education of first year university students in the Computer Science Department for the last 3 years.

Channel: Presently enrolled for a Master’s Degree (MSc) in Computer Science degree at the University of Johannesburg. I completed my Bachelor of Science (BSc) Computer Science and Informatics degree in 2010 and then in 2011 achieved my BSc Honors Computer Science degree with distinction, majoring in Artificial Intelligence, Mobile Programming and Biometrics.

Dirk: Currently enrolled for my Master’s Degree in Computer Science at the University of Pretoria. My field of research is Digital Forensics applied to Federated Database systems. I have also completed my Honors degree in Computer Science this year where my research topic was Digital Forensics of private Cloud Computing Systems.

Wonga: I am studying towards obtaining a degree in Doctoral Technology (Information Technology) at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). My research is titled, “Choreography of Intelligent e-Services” which I’m delivering while obtaining a Master’s Degree; my undergraduate degree was undertaken at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

We chose the name “GZA Designers” for our team name because we thought the “G” would stand for “Great” and “ZA” for “South Africa.”  So, we believed that we are Great South African designers! Having stated all that, we never imagined that we would actually win the competition.

What Were Your Experiences in Building the Dashboard?

Alex: It was quite the experience, as it combined two of my greatest interests: computing and football (also known as soccer). The goal was to effectively communicate football statistics, which may as well be Greek to the layperson, in a concise, interactive and intuitive manner. As an avid gamer and web designer, simplicity of user controls is something I am passionate about.

Channel.jpgChannel: My experience with building the dashboard is focusing on a good design and constantly adapting to what the user wants. I believe these attributes are the key to a great dashboard. The goal for us was to become proficient in the tool and to create a dashboard that enthusiastic fans would like to use, which in our opinion, we achieved!

Dirk: The goal was to create a usable and innovative application. At first the problem seemed to be quite trivial in that we simply had to add some graphs and pretty User Interface (UI) elements to the dashboard. However, as we progressed, it became clear that there is a lot more to giving a user information in an attractive and helpful manner. As a result, the SAP Analytics tools gave us the ability to provide this information in a clear and interesting way.

Wonga: The team’s thought process was to create a set of mock-ups to envision the look and feel of the dashboard. Our designs were given to football fans in order to obtain their feedback. My experience at this stage was to listen carefully to what the fans required as we asked them questions such as, “Does the dashboard make sense?” and “will the information be meaningful to a soccer player?”

We followed their advice ensuring that their requirements were met and implemented. This approach was pursued in order to portray information that is relevant and useful.

What were you most successful at? What was your greatest challenge? Were there any obstacles you had to overcome? If so, what steps did you take?

Alex: I find I was most successful at finding simple and intuitive methods of representing the football data in the dashboard, which is probably a result of being a footballer since before I could speak English.

I found it difficult to find the exact control that I had envisioned. To overcome this obstacle the tutorials were helpful. The biggest help was the group brain storming sessions that we conducted. Random clicks and “let’s just see what happens” turned out to be a lot more fruitful with such a dynamic group.

Channel: I was the team leader and I think we worked well together. We were most successful at creating a dashboard that football fans can use.

The greatest obstacle we had to overcome is to familiarize ourselves with the tools. We worked through the tutorials provided and made test dashboards to familiarize ourselves with the interactions between different components of the dashboard.

Dirk.jpgDirk: Our ability to work well together as a team was a big factor in our success. My greatest challenge was to find what the relevant information to be displayed. As I have a limited knowledge of football it was initially quite difficult to separate the trivial information from the interesting information. This obstacle was overcome by speaking to people who are football fans and much more knowledgeable than myself. This gave them an opportunity to explain what they need. It again showed us how important user engagement is when developing software.

Wonga:  We were successful working as a team using a dynamic approach to work coherently together. The spirit of the team was that we allowed each team member to be creative, as much as possible, in his/her allocated tasks. The challenge, for me, was to develop the PowerPoint presentation and dashboard with a strategy in mind (i.e. how to present the dashboard with the characteristics of Euro 2012 football players). Hence we choose a design that resembles a fast car dashboard which football players are known to love.

Furthermore, I paid attention to the documented evaluation criteria in order to cross-check that we covered every criteria being assessed.

The challenge was to ensure that, firstly, we have a complementary team. Secondly, that the dashboard-design aesthetics supports the quality use of colors (i.e. reflecting the Junior Achievement brand). Moreover, that the size of the fonts are readable, including the arrangement of the components.

The obstacle included that it took time to fully understand the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and implement these KPIs on the dashboard. To resolve the situation we read all the documentation that we received from the organizers (including online resources, online demos, tutorials, power point presentations/lectures, background of the competition, etc.). Additionally, we studied the University Alliance Community (and the SAP Community Network) which has a vast community of people that use SAP software.

Wonga.jpgThe 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?

Alex: Before this project I knew nothing about SAP’s Analytics solutions which meant that everything I have learned contributed to a great leap forward in my knowledge. The greatest skill I have learned is how to approach an unfamiliar obstacle in a constructive and patient manner.

Channel: Working with SAP Analytics gave us the opportunity to learn a new tool in a fun group environment. Now I have the ability to include interactive dashboards in my presentations. The tool is simple to work with and can create powerful, interactive charts to display relevant information. These experiences contribute to a great new skill to add to my CV (a.k.a. resume).

Dirk: My exposure to the SAP Analytics solution added to my skills by giving me the opportunity to use a tool that would, under normal circumstances, not be available to students like myself. SAP software has a reputation for being expensive and not user-friendly. The SAP Analytics tool showed that this is not the case; the tool is simple to use and able to provide rapid and relevant information that would otherwise be remain very complex data.

In today’s market it is vitally important to have the right information at the right time. This realization can only be achieved with data analytics due to the volume of data, thus learning the SAP Analytics tool is a great boon for me and a marketable job skill.

Wonga: Now I know how to create what-if scenarios and transform business data to show the wow-factor and knowledge in using this tool. I know how to optimize the user experience using the dashboard. However, there is still substantial information to learn (e.g. connecting to web services in Xcelsius 2008) in ensuring that my skills are more marketable as reflected on my updated CV.

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