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BI has always been about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. But as data volumes grow and timeframes for making decisions shorten, the importance of at-a-glance visualization of complex analytics has never been more vital.

This was the backdrop for the first-ever ASUG Developer Wars that took place at this year's ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference last week in Orlando.

Guidelines for the ASUG Developer Wars were straightforward. Using data from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, a nonprofit organization that collects, stores and distributes food to more than 500 partner agencies throughout Central Florida, Dev War teams consisting of 4 – 6 members had just two days to turn mountains of data into innovative and pragmatic analytic visuals that provided actionable insight into pressing business challenges and real-time answers to key business questions.

Tools at the teams’ disposal included SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 Analytics, including SAP Crystal Reports, Dashboards (formerly Xcelsius), SAP Visual Intelligence, and SAP Web Intelligence. No pre-built components were allowed, and all work was conducted onsite in rooms dedicated to the ASUG Developer Wars.

Teams were judged on criteria including analytical functionality, design, ease of use, performance, expandability, and effectiveness in answering real-world business questions.

The competition was fast furious and fun, and while there are many complex aspects of an integrated, comprehensive BI system, given the time and resource constraints of the ASUG Developer Wars, emphasis for the contest was placed on data visualization -- which, not incidentally, is an increasingly vital component of BI:

  • According to a recent Business Intelligence market study conducted by Dresner Advisory Services, 88% of BI dashboard users rank visualization tools as important, very important or critical.

  • Respondents to InformationWeek’s “2012 BI and Information Management Trends” survey, give advanced visualization capabilities a ranking of 3.6 in importance on a scale of 1 - 5 (1 = not important, 5 = very important), behind only advanced analytics (3.7) and exception management (3.6).

  • And TDWI’s forecast for the future of data visualization tools and technologies is remarkably positive, ranking visualization as having the “strongest potential growth among options for big data analytics” in its “Big Data Analytics” report.

  • In its 2012 “Picture This: Self-Service BI Through Data Discovery and Visualization” report, Aberdeen cites “increasing or changing demand for management information is the number one pressure driving analytics projects at organizations that are employing visual discovery tools.”

For its part in the 2012 ASUG Developer Wars, the Optimal Optimizers team constructed an interactive dashboard that served the immediate operational and performance management needs of the Second Harvest Food Bank while concurrently demonstrating how the analytic visualizations presented were also relevant to all businesses with distributed operations.

The Optimizers’ dashboard featured analytic visualizations that answered key questions for C-level executives, board members and regional and operational managers alike.

For example, visualization of year-to-year data comparisons enabled executives and board members to easily identify trends and statistically significant variances that confirmed or revealed gaps in the alignment of corporate strategy and business operations.

For regional and operational managers, intuitive, geographical-based analytic visualizations of expenses by region answered questions such as: Are expenses in line with the number and density of customers/region? Another metric visualized in the dashboard provided clear comparison of transportation expense per pound per region, identifying business issues in need of immediate attention such as: Why is the cost of transporting 1 pound of product per mile 350% higher in region X than in region Y?

Read ASUG press release: ASUG Names Champion of First Annual Developer Wars