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Mullins Group Consulting, LLC President Keith - Interview                    Published in BI Expert Magazine


Quick Tip Use Dashboards to Think Ahead, Not Just Review the Past

by Scott Wallask, Managing Editor, BI Expert • November 21, 2011 Through integration with SAP NetWeaver BW, companies can use SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards to monitor BI processes in real time, thereby flagging any problems for immediate improvement. 

For many companies, dashboards serve as a rear-view mirror to monitor BI data and business processes after they are completed. That approach works well, but Keith Mullins, president at Mullins Group Consulting, LLC, suggests what he calls a more optimized idea: Using SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (formerly Xcelsius) ahead of business cycles to help plan BI strategies. It’s a line of attack that has worked for his clients.

For example, a forward-thinking retailer might embed a dashboard in a transactional portal so that a user looking up orders can monitor the activity of the company’s top five customers and ensure on-time delivery of their items. This monitoring isn’t the result of the dashboard design itself, but rather how someone uses the dashboard.

True, you can review on-time delivery after the fact in dashboards, but at that point, it’s hard to quickly improve any procedures if something goes wrong because you don’t immediately know what triggered the setback. By monitoring processes in real time, you can see problems coming and dig into their root causes rapidly. “If you can’t have that, you can be decoupled because you’re going to find a problem, but won’t know the root cause,” Mullins said.

This so-called closed loop of information is just a fancy way of saying a company can track its key performance indicators (KPI) to determine in real time if those indicators are on target or need to be adjusted. By drilling down on data within the same provider, and drilling through from provider to provider — in this case, by using dashboards with SAP NetWeaver BW — companies can more easily identify root causes and make appropriate revisions.

Companies have three ways to integrate SAP NetWeaver BW and SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards:

  • A direct connection with BI Consumer Services (BICS). BICS provides the means of directly connecting a BEx query to a dashboard. BICS offers a tight integration with the SAP stack and a nice real-time flow of information, Mullins said.
  • Query as a Web Service (QaaWS). QaaWS allows end users to create universe queries and publish them as Web services. QaaWs is more flexible than BICS, and you don’t need to run SAP to use it as long as you run SAP BusinessObjects, Mullins said.
  • SAP BusinessObjects Live Office. This tool provides access to BI data directly within the Microsoft Office suite.

Which integration option is the best for you? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer, as your choice depends on your specific circumstances. However, Mullins offers the following advice:

  • If your company is currently integrating SAP NetWeaver BW and non-SAP data, SAP BusinessObjects Live Office is the most mature integration option. It embeds live data in Microsoft Excel, which is intuitive to the dashboard integration builder. Users who want access to their dashboards from Microsoft Office products (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook) also easily understand the SAP BusinessObjects Live Office interface. These benefits notwithstanding, keep an eye open to future improvements you can make using either QaaWS or BICS. 
  • If your company is an SAP shop and plans future integration, choose BICS, which is the future direction of SAP for BusinessObjects BI 4.0 (a 64-bit platform).
  • If your company is not an SAP shop, select QaaWS because it doesn’t require an SAP footprint to use it.

Whatever approach you take, remember to use dashboards to chase root causes of problems, not symptoms, Mullins said. And keep your goals simple: The bottom line for any company is to consider future cash flow.

For example, what if modeling capabilities enabled by a dashboard slider adjust interrelated KPIs? By using the dashboard to change the value of one KPI to see how it affects the performance of the rest of the KPIs, you gain foresight on achieving business objectives, delivering a glimpse into future performance.

“A lot of people aren’t using [dashboards] that way,” Mullins said.