Life After Flash: Upgrading Your Xcelsius Dashboards to HTML
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
For more than a decade, I’ve worked with mining operations to build dashboards which plug into their Fleet Management Systems. Dashboards are a vital tool for managing operations, displaying crucial information such as current shift tonnes (vs. plan), on-shift operator abuse management and loading tool performance metrics. Dashboard requirements vary considerably according to different sites' business priorities, meaning each dashboard needs to be tailored to the operation at hand.
Mines running fleet management systems installed alongside SAP BusinessObjects have traditionally used the predominantly flash-based SAP Dashboards. Formerly known as Xcelsius, this flexible tool plugs directly into a mine's existing Business Intelligence (BI) system, avoiding the need to purchase an entire new system.
In July 2017, however, Adobe announced that Flash would no longer be supported after 2020. Most popular browsers have since begun to phase out Flash support, with Microsoft announcing it will remove Flash from Windows entirely by the end of 2020. Consequently, SAP have started to encourage customers to migrate from Dashboards to their Lumira Designer & Discovery bundle. Whilst these tools are very useful, we don’t believe that right now they do not meet the specific needs of most mine sites (i.e. the need for rapid prototyping by a non-coder, deployment and integration with multiple data sources).
This raises an important question: how can sites using BusinessObjects continue dashboarding in the post-Flash age?
Should sites replace SAP Dashboards?
Many sites running BusinessObjects will be asking whether they will need to find an alternative to Dashboards. There are many factors to consider before migrating to a new dashboarding product:
Availability of visualisation components such as charts and drill downs
Compatibility of output with modern requirements such as HTML5
Ease of migration from Dashboards
Ease of use (is it straightforward for a non-coder to build and modify dashboards?)
Versatility (can the desired goal be achieved without 'hacks'?)
Based on these criteria, we reviewed various dashboarding products on the market to consider which (if any) would be a suitable replacement for Dashboards.
Tableau: A fantastic product, with one major caveat: sites running BusinessObjects for reporting would also need to host Tableau for dashboarding, which would complicate the process and significantly increase costs. A good option for sites not running BusinessObjects.
MS PowerBI: A very impressive suite of tools, and potentially a full replacement for running BusinessObjects. However, for complex databases with no access to write summary views of tables, BusinessObjects wins hands-down for ease of reporting.
SAP Lumira Designer & Discovery: As mentioned above, we just don't see this as a viable replacement for Dashboards. With no upgrade path to the new tools provided by SAP, it would make any migration of existing dashboards time-consuming and costly.
These products are all impressive, and Tableau and MS PowerBI are great options for sites not using BusinessObjects. However, for sites that do use BusinessObjects and do not wish to adopt a new BI platform, we do not believe there is a viable replacement for Dashboards at this time.
Adapting SAP Dashboards for the modern age
Fortunately, all is not lost. In December 2017, SAP released the Service Pack 5 update for Dashboards. Surprisingly - and encouragingly - native support for HTML export has been introduced as a core product.
To explore whether this new update could fully compensate for the loss of Flash, we held a round-table session with several SAP BI Consultants to review some typical mining dashboards built in Dashboards. Our aim was to find out whether it was possible to convert current dashboards using the now native HTML export.
We found that most dashboards using commonly employed ‘components’ for mining business applications, such as charts and scorecards with alerts, could be exported as HTML. There were some limitations when exporting the native Dashboards components, such as chart components and outputs. However, inexpensive third-party add-ons can easily overcome these limitations (see getdVeloping.)
Based on current availability, we believe that SAP Dashboards (with third-party extensions) is still the right choice for mine sites already running BusinessObjects and wishing to build their own dashboards. Why?
Using the HTML export coupled with third-party add-ons essentially ensures that you can continue to use Dashboards for many years to come
The site will already have BusinessObjects installed, so there is no need for extra installation (which would mean higher costs and require more server resources and training)
SAP Dashboards fully leverages existing universes as data providers. This means that dashboards can easily be built without an in-depth knowledge of databases or freehand SQL
Underlying tables and views will stay the same as the OEM set-up, meaning support for underlying data will be retained
We will continue to monitor the BI industry and the latest tools, but for now, this is our advice for mining operations in the situation described. For sites that don’t use BusinessObjects, we would certainly recommend taking a look at MS PowerBI or Tableau.
Any questions? Feel free to contact us here!