Review: Crystal Xcelsius
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by Eric Landes
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Creating Executive Dashboards

When creating a report, I am normally looking for a few things.  Since we don't always have programmers developing reports, we look for ease of use for power user type users.  I also look for the ability to get data from different data sources.  Finally, I need to be able to integrate the reports easily into our corporate portal. 

Flexibility with Data Sources

Xcelsius is created to work with Excel.  The Workgroup version introduces the ability to also utilize Web Services as a data source.  So the user can utilize existing Excel spreadsheets, or, if they have the Workgroup version, they can utilize a Web Service as the basis for their reports.  In this way, I could envision organizations putting up some custom web services for users to access internal organization data rather than giving those users direct access to a database.

But even if the main direct data source is an Excel spreadsheet, keep in mind that Excel can access a wide variety of data sources.  So you could potentially utilize an OLAP data source, a web service, a database, or simply data entered in an excel spreadsheet.  All these can be accomplished from your standard Excel environment.  In the image below, you can see the different sources available.

Figure 1:  Screen Capture of Data Sources Menu

Since the basis of Xcelsius is its utilization of Excel data, I suppose I shouldn't be disappointed with how a user sources data.  For me, I'd prefer to be able to directly use SQL Statements or even MDX queries.  But I don't know how that would work when the focus of the product is marketed to end-users, rather than IT types.  However, in my opinion, that's a bit of a downside.

Creating a Report

To start out creating a report, the assistance Crystal has is easy to use.  When initially opening the application, there are links on the side to quick start tutorials.  Three main tutorials walk you through initially creating Digital Dashboard, Creating a Map Bound data viewer, and creating a "What-If" presentation.  These tutorials quickly show you the concepts of how to define ranges in your charts, titles for the axes, and formatting.  The dashboard tutorial goes through putting in parameters to make the dashboard dynamic for the users.  These are readable, understandable tutorials that get you started quickly.  There are not really any advanced tutorials in the application; there may be at the Xcelsius web site, though.

Xcelsius gives the user the ability to add a Chart or Charts, Parameters, Input Values, and more.  See Figure 2 for a screen shot of the components available in the WorkGroup version.  Creating the reports is all drag and drop from here.  This allows the non-programmers to create interactive reports by dropping drop-down boxes, Radio Buttons and more.  Each object can be "bound" to something in an Excel sheet range or from your web service.

Figure 2:  Components Toolbox

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