Review: Xcelsius And Xcelsius Workgroup - InformationWeek

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2/7/2006
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Review: Xcelsius And Xcelsius Workgroup

The Business Objects' tools work with Microsoft Excel and allow the creation not just of presentations, but also dashboard and portal content with KPIs. Our review looks at the products' strengths and weaknesses.

Excel and the Analytic Workbench

Xcelsius uses the Excel infrastructure to make the design of dashboards and presentations more straightforward. Consider that information that has been brought into a spreadsheet has already been sorted, filtered, laid out, and finished with formulas and calculations. Xcelsius takes advantage of this by reading the Excel data into its own model file, which contains additional info on data sources, formatting and features that have been added to a model.

Xcelsius then uses the familiar Excel layout to act as a dialog in filling in a presentation's design details. Users drag and drop pie charts, line charts, and up to 11 other chart types onto Analytic Workbench's design canvas. The user then fills in the info required to display the chart with simple clicks. Nothing extraordinary there.

What is extraordinary is that all the charts elements are potentially active as drill-down buttons. Click on a piece of a pie chart, and data can be displayed in a line chart showing the breakout of the pie value as a series of monthly values or major customer orders or whatever else makes up the underlying data. Drill-down data can reside in a separate book in the spreadsheet, or as close as an adjacent row of values.

Doing what-if analysis and creating alerts is just as easy. Xcelsius provides a whole collection of slider controls -- which look like the slider controls you might see on an audio amp -- gauges, dials, process bars, spinners and LED displays that can act as input to drive what-if analyses or alerts that flag values outside a normal range. The key here is that Xcelsius is able to feed new values into spreadsheet cells based on users' settings, and then dynamically redisplay the data. This is where Xcelsius really shines -- automatically rescaling charts and keeping up with sliders as fast as users change the slider input. It provides real-time results.

Xcelsius also can display to maps, provide traditional Web-input forms, and allow extensive size-customization of components -- charts, sliders, gauges, maps and more. In addition, the appearance of chart data and text can easily be altered in the Analytics Workbench. Another encouraging trend is the availability of Xcelsius add-ons, including maps and other components. There are also a number of third-party VARs specializing in BI with Xcelsius. Additionally, Xcelsius has a very rich, detailed "getting started" application that co-runs with the Analytic Workbench, making it simple to get up to speed very quickly in the technology's basics.

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