I have been following SAP Lumira since the debut as SAP Visual Intelligence at SAP TechEd in 2012. I remember sitting in various SAP TechEd sessions in Las Vegas last year hearing SAP Product Managers tell the audience to expect three to four week feature release cycles. At that time, I was both shocked and skeptical. I thought that what I was hearing was almost impossible from a global business intelligence vendor the size of SAP. One year later, that is exactly what SAP is doing.

I bought SAP Lumira Professional after the Sapphire conference in May. Since then I have already received a few updates. No sooner do I install v1.12 and a few weeks later v1.13 is released with 1.14 right behind it. These rapid releases are truly amazing. Now to be totally blunt, SAP does have a lot of catching up to do in the Data Discovery space where SAP Lumira plays. SAP Lumira is nowhere near a Tableau or Tibco Spotfire offering today. However, SAP Lumira does have many more data visualization types than Microsoft’s Power View. With the latest SAP Lumira 1.12 and 1.13 releases, SAP has made improvements worth coverage. Here are a few of my review notes from a BI Professional perspective.

Upon launching the latest and greatest SAP Lumira v1.13, I noticed the Welcome screen had been enhanced with links to sample content, videos and other resources. I was pleased with the nicer user interface and delightful new branding. The development path steps were visually displayed and linked to the related screens for a quick and easy jump start.

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There were more data sources available in this version than in previous versions including – Excel, CSV, SAP HANA, SAP Business Objects Universe, JDBC and ODBC SQL Queries, IBM DB2, Grrenplum, PostgreSQL, Apache Hadoop, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Netezza, SAP Hana, SAP ERP, SAP R/3, Sybase and Teradata. For my review, I wanted to test a Big Data set to see how SAP Lumira would perform. I used the Hortonworks Hadoop Sandbox NYSE Stock data set and a Hive connection to load the data. To connect and query Big Data with Hive, you need to install the drivers. Other options for connecting and querying Big Data are described on the SAP + Hortonworks partnership page.

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Once I had the Big Data loaded, I used the SAP Lumira Prepare features to add a Time hierarchy for Calendar date time based intelligence and analysis. The Prepare functional area felt like a less robust Microsoft Power Query for imported data manipulation. To create a Time hierarchy, I selected the gear icon on the Calendar Date attribute and Create Time Hierarchy. Instantly SAP Lumira generated a drill capable hierarchy including Year, Quarter, Month and Date. I did not test how easy it would be to create a custom Calendar or a classic 4-4-5. Most of the BI tools I review do not have great wizards or tools for those classic BI time analysis scenarios. The Prepare screen also had features for data cleansing including data type conversions, geospatial data types, filters, sorts, appends, merges, show or hide a field, calculated fields with a library of data formatting and logic functions.

Now that my Big Data was cleansed and prepared, I was ready to get to the fun part…visually exploring the data to look for patterns and trends. To begin visualizing a data set in SAP Lumira, you use the Visual features. To create create visualizations, you simply drag fields onto the user interface and choose a visualization type. This experience was still a bit clunky and limited in comparison to the other BI tools I review. Tableau and Microsoft Power View have far nicer drag-and-drop visualization build experiences and much better filtering capabilities.

I was impressed by the plethora of data visualization types available in SAP Lumira 1.13. These include but are not limited to Column (Bar), Line, Pie, Area, Stacked, Dual Axis, Combination, Donut, Scatter, Bubble, Tree Maps, Heat Maps, Geospatial Maps, Radar, Box Plots, Word Clouds, Waterfall, Parallel Coordinate, Funnel Charts and Grids. I did not see a way to overlay visualizations or control the axes but the most popular viz types were indeed there. I also liked the visualization brushing features. I was able to visually select a subset of data on any of my views to narrow my focus on and dig deeper into the details.

One of the Data Discovery features that I like to test is the plotting capability to visualize big data sets. This is where a lot of BI tools fall down or fail altogether. Why do I care about this capability? We live in a big data world! A decent, modern Data Discovery tool should be capable of helping you visually analyze big data sets. For example, Excel does a horrible job of visualizing large data sets and suffers from a condition called over-plotting. Microsoft Power View can only render 1000 points and then starts to randomly sample for rendering the visualization; SAP Lumira used to have that same 1000 point limit limit. Now with SAP Lumira 1.13, it can render up to 10,000 points. 10,000 is much better than 1000 but it totally pales in comparison to Tableau that can render 60 million points as recently shown by Allen Walker.

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A wonderful feature that I stumbled upon was basic, out-of-the-box SAP Lumira Predictive Calculations. By choosing the down arrow on a measure displayed with a date range I was able to choose a Forecast or Linear Regression Predictive Calculation type to add to my visualization along with specifying how many periods forward I wanted to predict. There is also another snap-in product for SAP Lumira called SAP Predictive Analysis.

SAP Predictive Analysis is far more robust with regards to predictive features than base SAP Lumira. SAP Predictive Analysis supports use of predictive algorithms from open source R and SAP Hana. This offering is closer to a Tibco Spotfire TERR type solution and will allow you to get quite sophisticated in your visual predictive analysis. SAP Predictive Analysis builds upon the data acquisition and data manipulation functionality from SAP Lumira and adds predictive features into it. I don’t know if SAP might add KXEN Predictive features into future releases of SAP Predictive Analysis but predictive does appear to be an area where SAP has some core strengths that they could better leverage.

 

Each time I created a visualization, I could optionally save it to a collection for usage in a SAP Lumira story board a.k.a. a dashboard. Available visualizations for story boards were displayed as thumbnails at the bottom of the SAP Lumira user interface. To create an SAP Lumira story board you use the Compose features. The Compose functional area of SAP Lumira allows you to select a layout, drag views onto the story board layout sections, and add filters, text boxes and images. There is an option to immediately preview your work – switching between authoring and viewing during the development process. When you are happy with your story board, you can create a new one to add to the story or you can share it.

In my opinion, the story board feature was the most needed SAP Lumira improvement for this solution to be taken seriously as a Data Discovery player. The build experience for me was awkward and frustrating – it reminded me of Microsoft’s PerformancePoint dashboards but PerformancePoint is actually much better. In SAP Lumira 1.13, although there is now some basic capability to lay out a dashboard…it is extremely limited. You can’t overlap visuals. Filters were not usable with my larger data set. You can’t control colors. There is no grid display logic or conditional formatting. There were no drill through actions, parameters or integration with web sites, apps or non-SAP portals like SharePoint that is a common dashboard requirement in my client dashboard projects. Labels were difficult. I have seen a post by the excellent Tim Elliiott on extending SAP Lumira but it looked like a JavaScript programming type project. The story board area of the SAP Lumira offering needs a lot of improvement.

After a story board is built with SAP Lumira v1.13, there are a few different ways to share it. You can export the file for another SAP Lumira desktop user to import or you can publish the dataset to SAP HANA, SAP Business Objects Explorer, Streamworks or SAP Lumira Cloud. You can also email the visualization as a Portable Network Graphics (.png) image. The biggest gap here is NO export to Excel – the #1 request for almost all BI projects and dashboard tools! The other huge gap was rendering the story board when published to SAP Lumira Cloud.

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In my review, I chose to publish to the SAP Lumira Cloud. Since I had a larger data set, it did take a few minutes to complete the transfer of both the SAP Lumira views and dataset created in the SAP Lumira desktop to the SAP Lumira Cloud. When it did finish uploading, I saw both my views file and dataset in the My Items list. Immediately I wanted to see how my dashboard looked in a web browser but I could not find any way to see it up there!?! After searching help, Google and all the usual places, I learned that the SAP Lumira views built in the desktop version DO NOT render in SAP Lumira Cloud right now but they do render in an SAP Mobile BI app. Odd…

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*** UPDATE with v 1.14 you can now see your views in the SAP Lumira Cloud. They must have listened to me. ; ) ***

So what does render in the in SAP Lumira Cloud? Exploring a bit more I discovered that a different authoring and exploration view of my uploaded Hadoop data set was available. This SAP Lumira Cloud authoring environment did not have as many bells and whistles as the SAP Lumira desktop version but it did render the big data views extremely fast when I recreated them on the cloud.

Bottom line, SAP Lumira 1.13 has come a loooong way from where it was only a mere few months ago with the rapid, couple week release cycles. It is a good stride forward for SAP who historically has had the worst customer satisfaction performance in BI analyst surveys and the most difficult BI tools to implement. In my opinion, SAP Lumira is something to keep an eye on but most likely it won’t fulfill real world dashboard, Data Discovery or analytic needs yet.