SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 - Not just another pretty face

Even though SAP released BusinessObjects 4.0 almost 2 years ago, many clients made the wise decision to wait and avoid the initial growing pains that are common in a major software release. However, in recent months we have helped a number of our higher education clients implement or upgrade to SAP BusinessObjects 4.0.

While every version of software has its unique personality, (i.e. sometimes it is annoying, other times it is delightful), so far, we've been pretty impressed with the new platform. I am not going to go into a blow-by-blow of what's new because other's have already done a fine job of summarizing – particularly Boris Evelson's post back in 2011. However, from a higher education perspective we have seen these two features as key reasons to consider an upgrade sooner rather than later:

Webi Data Visualization brought into the modern Era
SAP took a lot of heat in the market prior to this release for the sub-par visualizations available within Web Intelligence. With 4.0, while not surpassing other visualization tool leaders (Spotfire and Tableau to name a few), Web Intelligence now has a charting engine that you would not be ashamed to show to your cabinet. Charts are highly configurable allowing fine grain control over practically every aspect of the chart object: titles, axes, color and shapes of bars and lines, etc. Additionally, SAP has finally introduced chart types that have been sorely missing for many years in Webi including: heat and tree maps, box charts, radar charts, bubble charts, and tag clouds.

We have found the box chart visualization to be very helpful when comparing student cohort GPAs or academic program enrollments. Lining up the categories on a single access you can visualize the quartiles from one category to the next and easily spot any outliers.

The "3-D" aspects of the bubble chart provide our clients with interesting ways of looking at course success data. In one visualization, we looked at passing rate (x-axis) vs. success rate (y-axis) vs. enrollment by division. We were quickly able to identify an under performing division with a large enrollment compared to its peers. We could then drill-down to lower levels of the hierarchy (all the way to course section) to identify where students were having their biggest challenge.

Dynamic Chart/Table Linking
Chart and table linking enable users to filter the content of a table or chart by clicking on another table or a chart. We used this technique to enhance the end user experience in our bubble chart analysis that we described above. On a report page, we displayed a bubble chart and an associated cross-tab of Term, Division, Enrollment, Success Rate, and Pass Rate. Users could then analyze how the various divisions performed from one term to the next, i.e. was this just one time that a particular division was under performing or was this a trend? We have found that this type of simple, ad-hoc interface really engages end users and encourages everyone at all skill-levels to perform some level of analysis.

Updating and Improving your Visualizations
What kinds of charting and visualizations improvements have been on your wish list? Do any of these seem like a solution to presentation issues you've faced with Webi or your existing Business Intelligence tool? We would be interested in hearing more about what you are doing so post a comment below. Or, if you are interested in learning more about SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 and what ASR Analytics is doing and what could help your campus efficiently and effectively migrate to the latest version, feel free to contact us.