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Xcelsius vs. Tableau: The Facebook waterfall

Right now, Tableau is the most exciting tool for Visual Analytics. I found a Tableau-Dashboard with a waterfall chart of facebook financials data since 2007 on DataRemixed. A perfect opportunity for a comparison with SAP BO Dashboards (Xcelsius) powered by graphomate.

One example of Tableau-Public, which came fluttering to me via Twitter, attracted my attention: Ben Jones has visualized facebooks revenue and net profits since 2007 with an interactive dashboard on his Blog DataRemixed:


A beautiful interactive Dashboard which works in every browser! Using the sliders or the line charts beneath the Waterfall, the year to be presented can be selected and, according to the selected facebook financial data, the waterfall changes.
Kudos: technologically up-to-date. It seems that it is not easy to realize a waterfall dashboard in Tableau but this is common for many BI-tools. SAP BO Dashboards has only just conceded waterfall charts with the Feature Pack 3 – more rough than ready.

Remarkable is that the value axes in both charts starts with Zero and is not, for a change, cutoff. A rather seldom picture in the BI-Tool landscape: Most BI-Tools scale in a wild fashion and simply cut the value axes.

Unfortunately, from a professional point of view I have one major and three minor points ofcriticism:

  • The greatest flaw: The waterfall uses for each year the whole room which is available. It scales automatically! Therefore small values appear to be as big as considerable bigger values and the visual comparison does not work anymore.
    In addition, the line charts are scaled in another fashion and can therefore not be compared with the waterfall charts.
  • I would adjust the waterfall chart vertically. Horizontal category axes I use for time representations to show trends.
  • The colors in the elements of the waterfall – a “feature” of Tableau: the intensity of the color visualizes the amount of the value to be depicted – which is unnecessary as the height of the column represents the value.
  • I lack context to do justice to the visualization-mantra of Edward Tufte “above all else, always show comparisons”.
    There is no possibility to compare the individual postions of the revenue and netprofits of each year.

Interesting: The drawline for the costs points in the negative quadrant. For the gentle observer the following question arises: are costs negative? Good question which I will go further into in one of my next blog posts.

It is easier to criticize than to make it better – nevertheless I tried it with SAP BO Dashboards (Xcelsius) and our graphomate Add-On.

For all of those who cannot see the following interactive Flash-Film – hello dear iPad-user! – here is the interactive Dashboard in full scale and here a picture:

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How do I do it differently?

  • I show two waterfalls for two chosen years as well as the absolute and percental deviations between the two years.
  • All columns and bars are visual comparable! They are scaled identically and even the size of the charts is uniform.
  • The column charts instead of line charts are used to select the years to be illustrated.
  • A column for the costs is not necessary as the distance between revenue and profit depicts the costs.
  • The development of the user data of other social media giants adds additional context.

The purpose of dashboards is the fast und correct communication of information in order to show coherences and patterns. Automatic scaling of diagrams which use all the space available prevent this! Therefore, please attend to the CHECK-rule of the SUCCESS-concept by Rolf Hichert. This is one of the most important challenge in Dashboard-Design.

My messages:

  • For the communication of business figures most of the Visual-Analytics-Tools are not applicable out-of-the-box. Their focal point is the analysis of Data not the presentation of information.
  • Facebook has developed nicely in the four years. So fine indeed that they allow themselves to supply the CEP Mr. Zuckerberg approximately 700 T$ for private flights – because of safety aspects. Do tell!

Thanks to Björn Rick who has supported me in a great way with the design and the realization of the graphomate-Dashboard.

UPDATE 10.04.2012: Robert Mundigl, the man behind the blog clearly and simply and a highly recommended tableau expert wrote a reply to this post: a must read – in english!

Happy Easter!


PS: on April 18, 2012 SAP hosts a web presentation (in english) concerning the “future” of SAP BO Dashboards (Xcelsius)- Sign in here.


This file is licenced under the Creative Commons-Licence.

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