ORLANDO—At the SAPPHIRE conference, leaders from SAP beat the loudest drums about their latest offerings in cloud computing, mobile applications and the performance of the HANA in-memory database. But an underlying theme of this year’s customer event is the rising value of data visualizations to present actionable insights to business decision-makers.
That these cloud, mobile and in-memory computing resources are designed to enable new, better and more responsive visualizations is a necessary and welcome development, attendees said.
At the show, SAP unveiled its SAP Visual Intelligence tool for users of its BusinessObjects Explorer on the HANA platform. The desktop visualization application lets users manipulate data from corporate and personal sources and create charts, maps and graphs without any programming knowledge. But SAP was not the only software company showing such tools. Companies like Tableau Software, which makes interactive data visualization applications, Netbase, which offers natural language processing of social media data, and Roambi by MeLLmo, which specializes in business intelligence visualizations for iOS devices, hosted busy exhibit hall booths.
In one of many presentations to highlight the use of visualizations, Keith Bowles, director of business intelligence (BI) at Peabody Energy, said an essential goal of his group is to provide key performance indicators to executives via mobile devices like iPads.
The goal, Bowles said, is for the St. Louis-based coal mining company to make business intelligence a self-service system, and to increase the output of his company’s Business Objects system without increasing staff count. Visual alerts about business operations draw the attention of executives. “Analysts want the raw data, but up the chain, the executives want the style of red and green boxes” to alert them to something urgent, he said.
Those red and green box alerts morph into many forms, with executive dashboards for mobile devices topping the list.
Business intelligence needs to get easier to access, said Matthew Cordner, director of business process integration at Bell Helicopter, who participated in a BI panel discussion. “Drillable dashboards can take the place of reports,” he said, by letting users quickly find meaning in data patterns.
Jeffrey W. Robinson, global business intelligence IT manager at 3M Company, said visualizations he’s deploying enable executives to see daily sales reports graphically represented, sliced by geography and business unit. The visualizations, delivered on mobile devices, enable users to drill down into the data. Robinson said he was excited to evaluate SAP’s Visual Intelligence offering because it could make more complex analytics available to more users.
In addition to executive dashboards, sessions at SAPPHIRE highlighted other use cases for visualizations.
Analysts at Hydro One, a major utility in Ontario, used a HANA-driven system to yield predictive analytics applications, and then rendered the results in visualizations using weather data, as well as data about unplanned power outages, customer service calls and crew locations. The result of the work: the company could redistribute the scheduling of is crews to improve response times and power restoration in zones that needed improvement, said Carol Arneson, a principal of SAP’s Performance Insight Optimization team serving the utility industry.
Visualizations can be embedded in the manufacturing industry. In September, SAP purchased Right Hemisphere to bring 3-D visualizations to manufacturing and repair processes. In one demonstration, Mark Landrosh, a solution manager for SAP Visual Enterprise, showed how the user of an ERP product lifecycle management system can isolate the parts of a jet, such as clicking on the many parts of a landing gear including nuts and bolts. Clicking on the visualization of a part yields a three-dimensional image, with associated data, repair and assembly instructions.