According to Whatis.com, “business intelligence (BI) is a broad category of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing and providing access to data to help enterprise users make better business decisions” (Rossetti, 2006, Business Management Definitions section, ¶ 1). As one of the fastest growing components of the information technology industry, BI tools are used by organizations around the world to efficiently and effectively manage company and industry-wide information on sales, profits, competitors and more (Ante & McGregor, 2006). Business Objects, a global BI software company, recently created Xcelsius 2008, an application that utilizes both Microsoft Excel and Flash Player to create dashboards, user interfaces that integrate data from multiple sources and present the data in interactive, easy-to-follow ways (Gonzalez, 2006).Xcelsius 2008 is, however, one of countless data management tools. So one may ask, “How would a business owner decide what software to use to make presentations about profitability or revenue?” The answer to that question often lies in the demos, tutorials and downloads available on the web.
On the Business Objects’ website, there are a series of Xcelsius 2008 dashboards that give potential clients the opportunity to test the functionality and front-end usability of products. In this paper, we will review three of those demos – Competitor Comparison, Profitability Analysis and Projected World Sales Model. We will also discuss the following: 1.) instructions, if any, provided for the dashboard demos, 2.) user ability to perform instructions, 3.) what the user learned, and 4.
) user evaluation of the dashboards as effective BI tools.As stated earlier, there are links for all of the Xcelsius dashboards on the Business Objects’ website. While there are no tutorials or step-by-step instructions for using the tools, there is an overview which describes how each dashboard can manipulate data. The user can download to his/her personal computer all of the dashboards (which are interactive) in several formats including Microsoft Word (.doc), Microsoft PowerPoint (.ppt), Abode Acrobat (.
pdf) and Flash (.swf). Additionally, the user can use his/her mouse to left-click on the images next to each dashboard to launch an interactive demo from the web. Of the three dashboards studied – Competitor Comparison, Profitability Analysis and Projected World Sales Model – only one, Competitor Comparison, provides the user with any instructions on how to display the desired data. Competitor Comparison contains three interactive icons that allow the user to review the income statements, growth and market share of several companies.
These interactive icons contain the instructions for analysis of all options. Instructions for the income statement portion are “Select the Income Statement category from the drop-down menu and mouse over the bar chart to review details;” instructions for the growth portion are “Use the check box to select the companies you would like to view on the comparison graph;” and instructions for market share are “Select Quarter from the radio button at the bottom and mouse over the pie chart to view details.”Despite the lack of instructions, if a user is familiar with the use of a mouse and standard point-and-click operations on any personal computer, it is easy to manipulate and change the presentation of data in each of the dashboards. Otherwise, the user might experience some difficulty manipulating the information. For example, on the Competitor Comparison dashboard, if a user clicks the I/S tab at the top of the dashboard, a bar graph displays the revenue for four quarters for five individual companies and the entire industry.
The user can move the mouse over the bar of a company and a balloon appears indicating the revenue for that particular company. At the same time, a sidebar on the left side of the dashboard displays the revenue, costs and net income of the company selected by the user (via the mouse). The user can also place the mouse on the bar for the entire industry, and the sidebar to the left will reflect the entire industry’s revenue, costs and net income.
If the user clicks on the Market Share tab, a pie chart appears, displaying the market share for each company. The user can click on a particular section of the pie chart, and that company’s total revenue, costs and net income are displayed. If the user clicks on the Growth tab, bar graphs for revenue and growth for the entire industry and individual companies appear. The user can manipulate the data on this tab by selecting a particular country (or the entire industry). On all three tabs (I/S, Market Share and Growth), the user can select data for specific time periods, i.e., by quarters, by year, etc.
On the Profitability Analysis dashboard, there are two point-and-click icons – Graph and Table – that provide two different methods of displaying a company’s income statement information. One looks like an actual income statement (prepared by an accountant), and the other displays a graphical link between gross sales, costs, profit, taxes, etc. Additionally, there are interactive icons at the bottom of the dashboard that allow the user to change the growth rate of sales and costs’ percentage of sales. Those changes allow the user to estimate associated changes in company profits.The Projected World Sales Model allows the user to compare a group of countries’ percentage of world sales. This dashboard contains the functionality displayed in both the Competitor Comparison and Profitability Analysis – including a pie chart the user can mouse over to display each country’s percentage of sales, and interactive button for Market Presence that displays both line and bar graphs for each country, and another interactive button for Trends that shows sales trends by country.In testing each of the dashboards, the user learned that there are many ways to display data.
Users can present information via a variety of formats, like Microsoft PowerPoint and Flash; and within each format there are multiple ways of displaying the data, like pie charts, line and bar graphs. Additionally, unique icons can be added and made interactive, providing the user with the ability to manipulate data to suit his/her business needs. There is, however, one suggestion for improvement. Demo creators should not assume user familiarity with point-and-click operations. Detailed steps should be provided for each of the demos.
In conclusion, I would recommend the use of all three of the dashboards as efficient and effective BI tools. Firstly, research indicates that Xcelsius 2008 has SQL and XML capabilities (Business Objects, 2008). These allow users to utilize the web to take information stored in company databases and back-end applications like UNIX and make it available to individual computers and monitors via a network (Business Objects, 2008). Xcelsius 2008 also has URL capabilities, which allow users to connect to specific addresses on the Internet/World Wide Web (Business Objects, 2008). Secondly, the SQL, URL and XML features of Xcelsius 2008 allow users access to real-time data. So, a business executive could present current information that may have critical implications for a company’s survival. Thirdly, testing each of the three demos shows that Xcelsius 2008’s compatibility with easily accessible applications like Microsoft PowerPoint makes it easy for users to easily deliver quality presentations.
Users can take complex data and convert it into graphs and charts, and make projections about sales and profits via an interface that is interactive and visually appealing. Ultimately, Xcelsius 2008 makes it easier for users to make better business decisions – whether through more accurate predictions about profit, or greater understanding of overall company costs, or having immediate access to real-time statistics – by taking large amounts of quantitative information and making it easy for managers, executives, shareholders and others to understand and utilize that data.ReferencesAnte, S. & McGregor, J. (2006). Giving the boss the big picture: A dashboard pulls upeverything the CEO needs to run the show. Business Week. Retrieved May 12, 1008, from http://www.
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