Big-data

You may well have seen this analogy before for the topic of “Big Data”, could the same be said for SAP Design Studio and connecting to data through the universe?


I may be barking up the wrong tree but a year or so after its launch SAP Design Studio appears to be making little traction in the dashboard space for SAP in the UK market.  (I base statement on my contact with companies through my day job and engaging with business users through the UK&I SAP User Group and Data Visualisation Special Interest Group.)


To be honest the majority of companies I have spoken to thus far are what you may call “Agnostic SAP BO Enterprise customers”. Is the real adoption rate different for companies who use SAP BW as their primary datasource instead of the classic BOBJ user community using the universe connectivity?


Is this observation the same worldwide?

Why aren’t companies adopting SAP Design Studio?

We have seen in the Dashboard statement of direction from SAP that there will be convergence between SAP Dashboards (aka Xcelsius) and SAP Design Studio in the future and migration tools to bring Xcelsius Dashboards into Design Studio.  So why aren’t companies adopting SAP Design Studio now at the start the journey rather than holding off?


My musings are:

  • People are holding off as the data visualisation and dashboard space is moving very fast, just look what SAP Lumira has achieved in a similar time frame to Design studio.
  • People aren’t even evaluating Design Studio as unless you are hooked into a SAP User group (UKISUG, ASUG) there is little marketing or education as to the future for dashboards and they just don’t know about its importance.
  • People are evaluating Design Studio and identify it requires a developer with specialist skills with they do not have internally and would need to  engage with a central IT function or consultancy providers
  • People are evaluating Design Studio but it is seen as too complicated to use with its reliance on Java code and Custom Style Sheets (css).
  • People are evaluating Design Studio but it is seen as still too juvenile to adopt as core functionality needed is missing.
  • Users would rather have something on their desk than can build and deliver themselves rather than endure a dashboard project delivered by the IT department
  • You have to ask yourself why products like Decision Point from Antivia are coming to market? Is SAP Design Studio seen as too difficult for the existing developers in the SAP dashboard space by software companies and they want to offer a alternative solution?


When oh When will Design studio be as easy to use as SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius)?
Is that the right question?  Is that the plan by SAP? I’m not so sure. I would draw a parallel with Dashboards and Design Studio with Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence.



dsCrystal Reports didn’t get easier to develop content in when Web Intelligence was bought to market, it still today does what it does very well and is a core analytic tool for SAP. However, in my opinion moving from Dashboards (Xcelsius) to Design Studio could be seen as the reverse, the more complex tool is being released to replace the simpler tool. The diagram below shows my understanding of the content creators for the SAP Analytic tools in BI4.



Screenshot 2014-03-19 10.29.55There are still lots of technologies in the hands of the Business User but we see here that the future technology recommended to author “Dashboards”  has moved from being one used by Business Users to now an IT function.  ( “What is a dashboard really” http://thinkingbi.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/what-is-a-dashboard-really/)


Real life feedback

Reaching out to end users who have tried Design Studio gave some interesting feedback. Thanks Alex for the comments below as someone who has tried Design Studio against BW and the Universe.
“What left me very disappointed was the amount of code required to make things happen when stuff like this seems so simple in WEBI for example. Creating a Navigation URL took 6 lines of code! Then what annoyed me even more was the fact that the link only worked if you clicked on the last column of the crosstab?”
“My Boss loved the output I hated the input! Nevertheless I pursued and tried to create more applications with his requirements, I then hit an even bigger stumbling block, line chart, Data retrieval failed. Upon investigation of this by turning on the trace and watching the logs it was limiting the amount of data it could retrieve. I found the answer myself in the documentation saying it is (universe connectivity) limited to 5000 rows or 50000 cells. I am not trying to show this much data I was trying to show a count of Incidents by Year and Month”

What about business user created dashboard style visualisations?

At this time I see multiple technologies used by business users to deliver a “Dashboard” including:

  • MS Excel
  • Dashboards (Xcelsius)
  • Exploration Views in Explorer
  • Web Intelligence
  • Web Intelligence delivered to the mobile device


What will business users use to create dashboard style visualisations in the mid-term?

Below is clear advice from SAP on what technology they encourage to be used.

9figExhibit A

My personal hunch is that business users will still use the core technologies they are used to in the short to medium term and only branch out Design Studio if it gets easier to use.

Is there another option?

Its again early days but I think some companies may well start investigating SAP Lumira storyboards published to the newly released native HANA platform application SAP Lumira Server.   Yes you will need HANA and integration to the BOE Platform is planned but only as a side car.

SAP Lumira Server 1.15 is now Generally Available (GA)!  http://scn.sap.com/community/lumira/blog/2014/03/10/sap-lumira-server-115-is-now-generally-available-ga

SAP Lumira Server Frequently Ask Questions  http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-53181

My conclusion

Please remember before commenting below too harshly that I am coming from the perspective of the Agnostic SAP BO Enterprise customer shown in Exhibit A above.

The public roadmaps state that the goto tool for designing dashboards going forward will be Design Studio following a convergence with SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) Follow up questions to the Dashboarding Statement of Direction. As Design Studio currently, and I understand long term, will require the use of java coding for developing content this tool will surely sit most commonly within an IT development function, not with business users where SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) is commonly used today.

Where then is the business user’s dashboard development tool to allow them to create content themselves?  There are of lots of options to create dashboard style visualisations with the Business Objects stack already including Web Intelligence, Exploration Views and Lumira but which one will fit this need in the future?

Time to peer into your crystal ball and choose a “horse to back”

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14 Comments

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  1. Jeroen van der A

    Hi Andrew,

    very interesting post! Although i do not agree with everything you said i think it is very thought provoking and well thought out.

    Wat i have seen is that companies have waited with the first couple of versions (1.0 and 1.1) as they still lacked a lot of options that they needed. Version 1.2 brought new possibilities to the table and the roadmap for 1.3 the roadmap indicates we can expect that the number of options keeps increasing in a fast pace.

    now in 2014 I’ve noticed that at least in the Netherlands there are a lot of companies looking at or already starting to implement design studio.

    I do think the new lumira server has great new options with the story boards. Lumira is great for users that want to build their own story and publish it. For other applications, especially where the KPI’s are centrally managed or that authorization is a factor you need a lot of flexibility. That’s were the tradeoff flexibility vs complexity starts.

    in your assertion that the user wants to build himself something fast is correct. However once the dashboard he produced becomes popular and people start to ask for extra features that user will have the responsibility to maintain a dashboard. If it is just a dashboard that quickly was put together, chances are he will have a lot of challenges on his plate.

    Furthermore i think that asserting that you need specialist skills to build a design studio application is not necessarily true in all cases. I’ve seen analysts after one workshop builiding their first apps in the same afternoon. It is true however that when the complexity of the requirements increase and the layout must be exactly according to specification that you need more specialist skills to be able to fullfill them. I think however that is the same with any tool you would use.

    My personal opinion is that there is a place for design studio but also for lumira.  I also fully expect that more and more companies will adopt design studio in the coming year.

    best regards,

    Jeroen

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    1. Andrew Fox Post author

      Hi Jeroen,

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, I’m glad you found the blog thought provoking.  I was hoping for discussion, debate and that people would share opinions, thats what’s great about SCN.

      It’s good to hear that Design Studio is being adopted in the Netherlands and agree with your comments with regard to dashboard enhancements and maintenance.

      Cheers

      Andrew

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  2. Dallas Marks

    Andrew,

    This is an important conversation to have. Thanks for writing.

    I think there are several angles to look at the future of dashboards. One of them is adoption from the BI Platform’s perspective. Design Studio, like Explorer, is currently an add-on to the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform. While this is probably more “agile” for SAP to deliver, it’s more difficult for customers to install and maintain (See my related blog post, Please integrate the integrated BI platform). I’ve seen a lot of customer XI 3.1 environments that do not use Explorer. I’ve also worked with many XI 3.1 customers that never adopted Lifecycle Manager, which was introduced as an add-on in XI 3.1 before becoming integrated in BI 4.0. Instead, these customers continued to use the Import Wizard instead of gaining experience with something that’s now an integral part of the BI 4 platform. While certainly not the only barrier to adoption, integration of the Design Studio server components into the core platform would certainly eliminate an important one.

    One of the ironies of Design Studio adoption is the contingent of “real developers” that vocally dismissed Xcelsius/Dashboards due to its design-time dependence on Microsoft Excel. Perhaps these “real developers” will be lured back by Design Studio’s embrace of web technologies like Javascript and CSS. But I believe the business users that consume dashboards have learned from some lengthy IT-led dashboard projects that it’s better to build something that is “close enough” now rather than wait. This explains why many vendors- not just SAP- are putting more effort behind business user oriented data visualization tools like SAP Lumira.

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    1. Andrew Fox Post author

      Hi Dallas,

      Great insight from installation and maintenance perspective I hadn’t considered this when writing this blog.

      I can absolutely see large enterprises with onshore/offshore development teams adopting Design Studio for centrally authored reporting applications that are rolled out as part of large business process change projects.

      My feeling is that SAP Lumira will be the go forward tool for business user dashboard style visualisations just as fast as SAP can get it ready but alas it’s not there yet in terms of content sharing, security, governance and dare I say it integration with BI4.

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  3. Peter Chen

    Thanks, Andrew.  A very valid topic to be raised and thanks for raising it. 

    I had been a beta tester for Design studio and had been watching it closely for the past 2 years: We are closing in on the 2-year anniversary of the famous SOD…

    Dallas has a great angle on platform integration.  The same can be said on the component “integration” for developers.

    DS Programming model is great…SDK is powerful…total control by the dashboard developers is also lovely.  BIAL needs to be enriched to handle loops and Arrays….

    Those things should be done and are being done.  However, to push people away from the addiction of Xcelsius, it comes down to out-of-the-box Configurable components. 

    There needs to be a major push of releasing standard components, monthly if not weekly.  If Jeroen and Michael Howles can do it, why not SAP ?

    I don’t understand why SAP’s SDK samples are not also directly released as standard components… Even if for no other reason, just to show DS has a big list of standard components……in Marketing, perception is reality, right ?

    Even for a big fan like myself, I am debating whether to push the organization onto the DS band wagon, knowing a ton of Xcelsius components are not available in DS…..

    Until we get parity in the component list between Xcelsius and Design studio, I am afraid the design studio train will move slowly…

    Thanks again for the great blog and always enjoyed reading your work.

    Peter

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    1. Vineet Gupta

      The same is true for Design Studio as a replacement for BEx WAD for SAP BW users. Lack of pre-built components in Design Studio is the single biggest deterrent to Design Studio adoption. I will need to spend a lot more effort to achieve equivalent results in Design Studio vs BEx WAD.

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  4. RAJAN Patel

    Nice post Andrew.

    I am currently working on Design Studio (Dashboard) Project in our company in Bay Area (California). We are going with Design Studio as our standard Dashboard tool and avoiding Dashboard Designer since SAP is investing Heavily in Design Studio and sooner or later(hopefully sooner 🙂 ) it is going to have all the rich components library.

    @Andrew I think one of the biggest reason for Companies not adapting Design Studio would be lot of investment in Dashboard Design Tool. But I think companies who have not invested lot in Dashboard Design Tool yet it will make sense to go with Design Studio since this the future direction for SAP as well, plus it has to offer better integration with BW and HANA.

    @Jeroen as you mentioned I think both Design Studio and Lumira are not competing each other, rather each has different use case.

    @Dallas I agree that BOE integration of Design Studio should have been out of the box with  latest release of BOE 4.1 SP2. We are currently facing issues deploying BI add on for Design Studio 🙁 which is holding us back from very first deployment of DS to enterprise.

    Here are my thoughts on placements of tools.

    Design Studio –

    I think it should be IT driven and used for publishing standard enterprise wide dashboards. Since it provides lot more flexibility and ability to create complex dashboards this should be the SAP’s “The Dashboard Tool”. I don’t see this being used by regular business users nor analyst.

    SAP Lumira –

    The way I see Lumira is more of Analysis tool with some Dashboarding capabilities. This tool is very user friendly and easy to use. Business user can quickly connect to dataset and visualize data in no time and can share it (soon with BOE). Although I don’t see this being primarily used for true Dashboard.

    I think it won’t be fair to criticize either Design Studio or SAP Lumira since both tools are fairly new.

    Given that if Design Studio and Lumira get more of following it would be really great.


    1. Out of the Box Components (SDK is great but should only be used for special cases only and not for some of the common components).

    2. Flexibility to Manipulation of data at tool level (specially for Design Studio).

    In general for SAP BI Suite this is what I envision. With one single Enterprise Platform Deployment.

    Reporting Analysis/Exploration Dashboard
    WEBI Lumira / Explorer (1 tool) Design Studio
    Analysis for Office

    And single Mobile app for all tools. (which is currently avaialble)

    Sorry my post got little long!!!

    Thanks,

    Rajan

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  5. Mustafa Bensan

    Hi Andrew,

    You’ve raised some very valid and interesting points.  I’d like to provide my own feedback as well.

    I think that Design Studio is a tool with great potential but is still in its early days.  Here in Australia, while there may be customers experimenting with Design Studio, I haven’t seen any production implementations as yet.  In fact, during a conversation with a national account manager at one of the big consultancies, his opinion was that it would take another two years before we saw any real traction in the uptake of Design Studio.

    So, here are my thoughts on aspects influencing the adoption of Design Studio and the path for dashboard development in future:

    There is still room for improvement in the basics

    While Design Studio 1.2 SP01 is an improvement over prior versions, producing sophisticated applications still requires jumping through hoops.  This is further hindered by current limitations in the following areas:

    1) Standard components and functionality

    Going by the numerous posts on this forum, it is clear that there are many minor issues and bugs with the standard components around functionality and presentation.  While these issues may seem trivial individually, collectively they diminish the user experience and force the implementation of workarounds;

    2) SDK component development

    The Design Studio SDK has the potential to facilitate truly exceptional innovation which complements the standard functionality.  At this stage though, in my opinion, unfortunately there are genuine bugs and functionality limitations that prevent such innovation, thereby restricting custom component development to relatively basic use cases.  In some situations there are “workarounds” but frankly, these only make the components look unprofessional and unpolished in the eyes of customers and impact credibility.

    While the Design Studio roadmap shows that many feature improvements are on the way, I think it’s important to get the basics right first by building a robust foundation that addresses the above issues.  Adding new features isn’t enough if the fundamentals aren’t solidified first, or at least in parallel.

    Measures of the rate of Design Studio adoption

    Going forward, I think an indicator of the rate of Design Studio adoption could be the number of commercially packaged 3rd-party SDK components that are launched in the market.  Presumably, the greater the install base for Design Studio, the greater the opportunity for developing add-on components.  That being said, it could also be argued that the introduction of innovative new SDK components that make it easier for business users to develop dashboards could also accelerate the adoption of Design Studio.  At the time of writing, I am aware of only two third-party SDK components available on the SAP Store.  It will be interesting to watch how this space evolves in future.

    Which tools is Design Studio really replacing?

    The SCN page for Design Studio describes Design Studio as “the brand new long awaited successor to BEx Web & BEx Web Application Designer”.  Additionally, the Statement of Direction for Dashboards, corresponding Roadmap and other SAP communications talk about the eventual convergence of Dashboards (Xcelcius) with Design Studio. 

    I think the former statement will certainly eventuate in practice, as BEx WAD and Design Studio represent similar development paradigms.  Regarding the latter though, in my opinion a true and complete convergence between Dashboards (Xcelsius) and Design Studio will never be possible as they represent a completely different development paradigm and target audience.  At this stage I think it’s worth elaborating a little more on this point.

    The key disruptive innovation of the original Xcelsius product that led to its success and widespread adoption was the integration of Excel as the “programming layer” behind an easy-to-use drag and drop UI designer.  It is this innovation that addressed the gap in a dashboarding tool that targeted the “mythical ‘business user'” that you refer to.  There is certainly a school of thought that says having Excel as a programming engine for Dashboards (Xcelsius) is not a good practice and that to the extent possible, most of the calculations and business logic should be performed in the backend and not the presentation layer.  The “contingent of ‘real developers'” that Dallas Marks refers to probably falls within this school.  It is also for this reason, I think, that the Excel integration has been de-emphasized in Dashboards (Xcelsius) by introducing direct data binding from components to data sources without the need for the Excel layer.

    At the risk of being controversial, in my view, there is no real successor to Dashboards (Xcelsius) in the product roadmap.  Design Studio is clearly aimed at IT or Power Users for developing “professionally authored dashboards”, as communicated by SAP.  While Dashboards (Xcelsius) will continue to be supported and to an extent enhanced for the foreseeable future, it seems to me that this is a product that is being phased out, with Design Studio being an alternative but not really a direct replacement.  So this still leaves the question of “What is the future of Dashboards created by the mythical ‘Business User’?”

    My Conclusion

    As I mentioned in my opening, I think Design Studio is a product with tremendous potential.  I’m sure SAP is well aware of the existing fundamental issues based on customer and partner feedback.  I would hope that SAP focuses efforts on quickly addressing these issues, as summarized in my points above, thereby reducing the technical barriers to innovation that is capable of extending Design Studio beyond IT to the business user.

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    1. Andrew Fox Post author

      Thanks for taking the time for such a full reply Mustafa.  I completely agree with your comment “there is no real successor to Dashboards (Xcelsius) in the product roadmap.  Design Studio is clearly aimed at IT or Power Users for developing “professionally authored dashboards”

      Today at BI2014 Lumira was keynoted and the new inforgraphic potential was presented.  To me this is another example of where the innovation $$ is going.

      Andrew

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  6. Ahmed Sherif

    Hi Andrew,

    Great post as usual. 

    I feel similar to you that the lack of adoption of studio compared tot hat of Dashboards is related to the difficulty of use (at least earlier on) with Non-BW/Non-HANA data as well as the need for enterprise to run Studio.  One of the main benefits of Dashboards is the ability to throw in some data and begin building dashboards right away (offline).  It’s really difficult to do that with Studio.

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    1. Andrew Fox Post author

      Hi Ahmed,

      Thanks for leaving a comment, and yep for the mythical end user Design Studio is really quite tough.  Certainly not “Non coding required” as promoted by SAP.

      it definitely has a place, but not in the hands of End Users IMHO.

      Andrew

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      1. Ahmed Sherif

        Agreed and I feel that if it is going to succeed it needs to make it into the hands of end-users.  Dashboards (xcelsius) brought many users into the BI space by creating that medium for business and IT to connect.  If this does not become the case in the next couple of years with Studio, I feel that the tool will get left behind and on the shelf.

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