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Ride the Visualization Wave of the Future

by Dr. Ralf Rath | SAPinsider

April 1, 2012

For decision makers searching through vast amounts of data for actionable, meaningful information that contains the appropriate level of detail and context, the SAP Visual Business interface can be a powerful tool. This interactive user interface technology enables users to visualize both SAP and non-SAP data from various sources on a single screen, allowing users to navigate intuitively through business data and manipulate the level of detail in which the information is displayed.
 

The key challenge for decision makers is not that we don’t have enough data — it’s that we have too much data. In fact, many users experience information overload with data scattered in and around multiple systems. Adding to the complexity, decision makers also have access to data sources that were not readily available to executives 10 years ago, such as radio frequency identification (RFID), GPS, the Internet, back-end ERP systems, and more. All of these data sources have great potential for aiding decision makers, but putting order to the chaos can be very difficult.

So, how can we turn vast amounts of data into actionable information that contains the appropriate level of detail and context, and is easily accessible?

The Wave of the Future: Visualization

Companies should consider the importance of visualization to decision makers who need business applications that provide easy access to meaningful and actionable data in context. Modern business workers are accustomed to using graphic-rich applications and technology in their personal lives. As they become more dependent on this technology to perform their everyday tasks, business users are expecting nothing less than the same level of interaction from the tools that are available to them in their work environment.

The combination of visualization and business applications is an inevitable trend in the IT world, and business success will depend on the availability of a state-of-the-art user experience.

SAP Visual Business: Graphical Access to Data

The SAP Visual Business interface is an interactive user interface (UI) technology that enables users to visualize both SAP and non-SAP data  from various sources on a single screen. SAP Visual Business graphically displays any combination of content in various ways, including as a geographic information system (GIS), a 3D model, or in the form of analytics. The visual relationship to reality allows users to navigate intuitively through business data, manipulating the level of detail in which the information is displayed by zooming in or out.

SAP Visual Business is unique because it can both display information and transact with back-end systems while providing a graphical representation of data. The solution includes all data together with all of the interactions needed to control the situation. The SAP Visual Business technology connects various internal and external systems with rapid configuration through a strong connection to the SAP back-end systems. Users can find all information for their tasks in one application, without logging in to other systems or using the Internet. Users can also control data and processes within this tool, making SAP Visual Business the central application through which users can interact with business data. It is a welcome alternative to the classical work mode of running multiple applications to find information.

In addition, SAP Visual Business is a toolbox that allows the rapid building of interactive graphics. Web service-based integration enables customers to visualize and combine enterprise data with geographical or 3D real-world scenes. This approach results in low-cost configuration and fast adaptation of individual business scenarios. Customers can also maximize their SAP investment using SAP Visual Business; users can quickly understand SAP data relevant to them without detailed explanations on fields, tabs, and tables. And applications built with SAP Visual Business can be integrated in standard SAP user interface technologies.

Most importantly, SAP Visual Business enables business transformation by providing a visualization layer across internal systems and external data sources. Combining disparate data within a single view enhances the user experience and gives decision makers the ability to make more informed decisions faster.

In Practice: SAP Visual Business Used with SAP Transportation Management

SAP Visual Business was first released with SAP Transportation Management 8.0. Using the solution with SAP Transportation Management allows logistics processes to be visualized on a map (see Figure 1) and provides an alternative starting point for transportation planning and optimization.

Figure 1 — By first integrating SAP Visual Business with SAP Transportation Management 8.0, logistics processes can be displayed on a map; shown here is a planning scenario between Chicago and Munich with different cargo shipment processes

The Planning Process

The classical UI of SAP Transportation Management displays different objects in three different tables. The relationship between these objects is shown in different columns in each table (see Figure 2). With SAP Visual Business, all objects and their relations are mapped visually. Different icons represent the type of object, and colors show the planning status of these objects. Now the user can easily use context menus and detail windows to get more information and start the planning process.1 The entire planning process is supported graphically.

 

Figure 2 — The classical UI of SAP Transportation Management; the map can be easily added in another area to graphically show the selected items in the tables

Production Control Center

In a production control center, business data related to the production process is available. Figure 3 shows the different statuses of the various production lines displayed in SAP Visual Business; raw materials and semi-finished materials are displayed in this example. Using the zoom feature, a user can view more or less information. If a user zooms to the detail level, shown in Figure 4, one production line will be displayed, showing orders, resources, and stock situations. By clicking one of the symbols, the user can view more information and interact with the data. In this way, an order can be replanned by dragging and dropping it to another machine or production line. This information is provided in near real time.

 

Figure 3 — Production control center in SAP Visual Business; the icons at each production line show the raw and semi-finished material and the status of the resources

 

 

Figure 4 — Detail level of a production control center giving users more insight into the orders, stocks, and resource situation; the detail dialogs show different KPIs and how they are evolving

Additional Use Cases

SAP Transportation Management is not the only application that benefits from the SAP Visual Business interface. Decision makers can use SAP Visual Business to visualize scenarios in other SAP applications and create a graphical interaction for their own benefit and understanding. There is a broad range of use cases for SAP Visual Business; for example:

  • Customer service analysts are able to see alternate shipping locations for a customer at order entry.
  • Plant engineers can navigate directly to a machine that needs repair and see if any other machines in the area are due for maintenance.
  • Replenishment managers can project the distribution centers and in-transit vehicles that are in the path of a hurricane.
  • Marketing managers can view accounts and regions responding to promotions or price changes for better customer service.

 

Note: SAP Visual Business comes integrated in some standard applications. In these applications, the license is integrated in the standard application license. For individual solutions, SAP can set up custom development projects.


Order from Chaos

SAP Visual Business holds many potential benefits for companies. By gathering data and displaying it in a highly visual, intuitive way, the application helps decision makers break through the information overload and quickly gain access to essential data. In turn, they will be able to make better decisions faster to ensure the continued success of the business. Visualization is truly the future of business applications, and SAP Visual Business can help you ride the wave. For more information about SAP Visual Business, contact visualbusiness@sap.com

     

Dr. Ralf Rath (ralf.rath@sap.com) has over 25 years of experience in IT. At SAP, he is responsible for SAP Visual Business. Prior to joining SAP, Ralf was Chief Development Architect and Manager at ReARC and intelligent views GmbH, focusing on the topics of user interface and visualization. In 2002, Ralf was honored with the German Educational Software Award, “digita.”

1 In version 8.1 of SAP Transportation Management, drag and drop functionality is supported so the user can plan directly on the map; for example, different objects on the map can be linked and combined. [back]

2 SAP delivers a Microsoft Windows runtime for Vista and Windows 7; other runtimes that support other platforms and devices are in planning. [back]

3 3D visualizations are also possible, such as an image of a warehouse displaying different levels. [back]

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