SAS Visual Analytics: Get Your Mobile BI Design Going

sas va mobile bi tiny

During the middle of the year, I like to re-read the analysts predictions to figure out who know what they are talking about and who was just talking. For the Business Intelligence sector several folks [and vendors] were saying that Mobile BI was going to start driving the market this year. [Read more in my Mobile BI Is Arriving Soon… It Could Happen! post.]

What many noted was that more people were “bring your own device to work” (BYOD) and this was especially true of the Executive crowd. I’m not so sure – maybe because I don’t hang around with enough executives – but I know that everyone loves their tablets!  Many have found that you can do more than play Angry Birds with them!

How Will Your Data Look on a Mobile Device?

Rather it’s the wave of the future or just a passing fad,  if you are designing information for the mobile BI users then this change applies to you!  There’s a simple reason – what will your fancy report look like on a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty tablet? Cramped? Sliding off the page? Not ready for prime time?  

While I don’t know how big your desktop screen might be, I do know that an iPad is only 9 in. tall and an Nexus 8 [uses Android ] is around 4″ tall. Consider how much space difference there is for elements and how different your design might look on each.  [Here’s a device comparison article from]. 

You are going to have to think about information delivery on mobile devices differently. If your company wants users to consume data through a Web Browser, how will that look versus how it might look in a native application?  For example SAS Visual Analytics has an iPad application and one for the Android as well. This screenshot shows a dashboard on each device.  [Update Aug 19 2013: The latest Android app supports devices 10″ or larger.]

sas visual analytics mobile bi

Things to Consider for Mobile BI Design

The different sizes do present a design challenge!  SAS Visual Analytics offers some help with the layout. When you start the new design, there are three different layout options.  This is helpful because as you complete the report, you can click on each button to see how your design will look in the various devices.  If you know you are designing for an iPad, then just click the middle button and design away!

sas visual analytics mobile bi

How to Add “Angry Birds” Touch

A few of the analyst reports indicated that tablet users wanted a different “report experience” than desktop users. This means the onus is on you to make the reports more interactive or what I jokingly refer to as the “Angry Birds” touch. So you are lucky that SAS Visual Analytics supports the gestures by default now it’s up to you to add some pizazz aka interactivity.  

Adding Interactivity

To add interactivity to your dashboard, you can use filtering and brushing.  After creating your layout in the SAS Visual Analytics Designer, you can easily add interactions using the Interaction View. In the following example, I’ve set up the same chart three different ways to help you understand what the user will see.  The top-left chart called Orders (YTD) interacts with the bottom two charts.  The top-right chart shows what is looks like with nothing  selected – just for your reference.

When I click on the EMEA region sales for Motorcycles the interaction does two things.  The bottom left chart has a filter – it removes all data except EMEA Motorcycle sales.  The bottom-right chart uses brushing; it draws a circle around the plot points. [Click chart for a larger view.]

sas analytics mobile bi


I think it’s cool and I can see how either method might be better depending on the situation.  It’s useful to know how one segment fits within the entire population (brushing) but also useful to see just the data you are interested in reviewing (filtering).  I’ll let you decide what works best for your data.


Caveats for Filtering

One thing I noticed about the filtered view is that is changed the axis of the graph. [This is the same behavior seen with the SAS 9.4 BI Dashboard last week.]   Update: There is a feature on the Properties tab that allows you to set the X Axis to minimum level to 0.  So if you would prefer the axis not to change then you are in luck.  

I noticed that it used the circle, but if you check the chart above – EMEA was represented by triangles.  I didn’t see a way to force it to use the triangles.  However I was able to force it to keep my colors – the default behavior was to use the first color available.

sas visual analytics mobile example


Another Cool Feature – Report Level Colors

It kept the color because I had set up a report wide design scheme, which worked out really nicely for this example.  By assigning each region a color, all of the visualizations that were grouped by region maintained the color.  This makes it easier for the users when making comparisons.

sas visual analytics report level


Check It Out Yourself

If you download the Apple iPad Mobile BI app, then try the visualization called Interactions.  It demonstrates how easy it is to play with the charts and data – you can use gestures, drill-down, and see the filtering.  Just from playing with the demo I think you’ll get some cool ideas for your data.


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