It never ceases to amaze me how science and technology can sometimes come so handy. I don’t consider myself a rocket scientist or anything close to it… but rather a curious spirit with a healthy appetite for knowledge and discovery.
Talking about discovery, I recently stumbled upon her at a party– a beautiful and elegant woman that somehow made my mind spin and brought back the memory of the experiment I had been undertaking some hours before.
I had been evaluating SAP’s new Lumira, SP13 and SP14, the new kid on the block in data visualization (or to be more precise, the kid with the newest name) and – to the delight of many – absolutely free of charge. Also, to the delight of data discovery fanatics, SAP has been promoting lately several open contests including the Big Data Geek Challenge that promised a $10,000 grand prize for the best presentation of data results.
But before the story continues, let’s first understand what SAP Lumira is.
SAP Lumira (presumably derived from a hybrid of the Latin and Spanish words for ‘bright light’ and ‘look’) is the result of a smart name change of the former SAP’s Visual Intelligence and came to light in May this year. Why is it a smart name change? For starters, from an SEO point of view any search engine will have less trouble finding information on Lumira than on Visual Intelligence. Moreover, from a pure mnemonic perspective, one word always sticks better in my sometimes forgetful mind than something as random as “v” intelligence (everything is ‘intelligent’ these days anyway!). Just take a look at the following graph that demonstrates the level of interest over time for both terms!
SAP Lumira allows the visualization of any amount of data coming from on-premise sources in various formats while at the same time offers native support for SAP HANA and the option to publish your work on the SAP Lumira Cloud . That can come really handy when working collaboratively with colleagues on a project where everybody’s comments are key to coming up with the best possible outcome.
Unwrapping Lumira’s box was a simple and easy experience: SAP is currently offering a free trial version that allows a hassle-free download and installation in barely 5 minutes. It arrives with a dummy-safe video tutorial and a set of sample graphs that make you want to dive into your dirty data as quick as possible. First impression? Give it to me (baby, uh huh, uh huh)!
Talking about dirty – one of Lumira’s advantages is that it allows you to visualize disorganized, large and cluttered data in beautiful and easy ways. I tried different options, from a 10,000 row movie database that Lumira swallowed without making noise, to a list of people’s names in different countries around the world. The latter would end up being a lot more useful as I was about to find out…
I quickly imported and started to toy with an excel file from the National Institute of Statistics that presented the most frequently used names in different geographies according to gender. While not hyper intuitive, importing the file was straight-forward. Neither was it hard to normalize the data and display it using different creative patterns and fun methods: from slick bars, to doughnut graphs, to heat maps to—my personal favorite—geography maps that can be customized according to the geographical features that you define .
And that’s not all – you can also use your own HTML5 extensions to build more custom-like visualizations with beautiful and simple colors. Why is this cool? Lumira is built with HTML5, which is becoming a new standard, and it is allowing you to do things that were previously impossible . At the same time, according to McKinsey, Big Data promises to be one of the IT-enabled business trends with the largest economic impact and the highest diffusion rate in the market. Analysts agree that BI/Analytics cloud adoption in the small and medium size business sector will grow 20% YoY in the years to come and that additional venture capital funding and M&A activities are expected in visual discovery, predictive analytics and text/rich media analytics. Don't confuse SAP Lumira with Big Data in-memory analysis, but rather bear in mind that its purpose is for visualization of big data. SAP seems to be backing the right horse with a tool that should capture significant interest among the hungry data-geek crowd.
A representation of a geographical distribution of the data sampled along with an image aligned to the topic of study
Below you can see the heat map built from this trial showing the frequency of female names according to region (Americas). The higher the frequency and consistency of names in a country, the bigger the square is:
Hovering over the boxes with the mouse provides additional information and allows an improved user experience by making it easy to dive through the data and interpret it accurately all at the drop of a hat.
Hey, but what about her, you may be thinking – what happened to the elegant woman? Sorry, I got sidetracked with some of my favorite features.
Well, back to the scene, that night I was sipping cocktails on a roof top with some friends under San Francisco’s late summer night sky when I heard the sound of heels clicking from behind me. I turned back and there she was: her hair plunging over her shoulders, with eyes framed by long lashes, gracefully swinging her hips wrapped in a tight black silky dress that was tied up around the neck. Her lilac lips seemed as if they wanted to say something but I wasn’t sure what that something was. There was only a way to find out.
I interrupted her silence and asked her with a shy but friendly voice:
“Hello, what’s your name? You look familiar and… , I think I’ve seen you on TV, or on stage, or maybe in a movie… right?”
“Why would I tell you? Take a guess,” she responded with a soft and subtle Spanish accent.
“At least tell me where you are from,” I smiled back.
“I’m from Colombia, do you know where it is?” she asked playfully with a very distinct accent.
“Wait a second,” the big Lumira map from a few hours ago rushed back to my mind, as if brought like a gift from heaven… “Hmm, I bet your name is Carolina,” I thought to myself (she didn’t come across as a Sandra),
“Carolina!” I repeated with increased confidence.
She looked into my eyes and rubbed her chin. Her head tilted to the side as she spoke, “Wow, yes, how in the world do you know that?!”
At first I scoffed, but then shrugged my shoulders and tried to conceal the cheeky smile on my face.
“It’s a long and interesting story,” I said, hoping that ‘long and interesting’ would pique her interest more than an explanation involving my passion for customizable data sets. “Come with me, I’ll buy you a drink and tell you all about it. “
So,… is everything perfect with Lumira? Well almost! To be honest, although it was extremely useful to structure data and visualize it in such a way that I was able to extract facts and memorize them literally in the blink of an eye (and helped me connect with somebody very special while it gave me even more ideas on how I can improve decision making) I did find some glitches that hopefully will be fixed very soon: Minor stuff, really. Like the fact that the multilingual installation experience mixed languages…Si, es la truth!
Launching several iterations of this solution in very quick release cycles, almost as if they were following a LEAN agile approach and testing with the crowd gives a great sense of confidence towards a more innovative approach. It will likely be possible to nail it down faster and come up with an even better platform for data visualization from this sweet tool (the best one ever made?). Despite the small stuff mentioned above, I love the agile approach and reaching out to the public with many quick iterations of the same product and the easiness of use. It demonstrates a bold change of attitude towards leaner software development and a step further to get distanced from the old days of long release cycles and slow decision making.