Knowing How Crystal Xcelsius Works - dummies

Knowing How Crystal Xcelsius Works

By Michael Alexander

In a nutshell, Crystal Xcelsius imports a snapshot of your Excel file, allows you to build a visual model by tying components to your data, compiles your final dashboard to a Flash SWF file, and then publishes your final dashboard to a chosen format. SWF (often pronounced swiff) is the vector-based graphics format designed to run in the Macromedia Flash Player.

Crystal Xcelsius is designed to work only with Excel XLS files. Therefore, you can’t import other types of files such as text files (txt, csv, dbf) or Access MDB files. The good news, however, is that Excel spreadsheets of any size can be used in Crystal Xcelsius. Just keep in mind that the amount of data that is being moved and changed in your visualization can affect the performance of your dashboard.

When you install Crystal Xcelsius, it gives you the option to install the Macromedia Flash Plugin/Player. If you haven’t elected to install this and if you don’t already have Macromedia Flash Player installed on your computer, you won’t be able to use Crystal Xcelsius properly.

The three versions of Crystal Xcelsius are

  • Standard: The Standard version is designed for those who are looking to get started with interactive visual analytics. It provides the basic features of Crystal Xcelsius.
  • Professional: The Professional version is designed for large organizations that require dashboards that contain many layers of information.
  • Workgroup: The Workgroup version is designed for environments where connections to live data are essential.

Thecomponents that are available to you depend on the version of Crystal Xcelsius you’re using.

Importing data

All Crystal Xcelsius dashboards start with an Excel spreadsheet that typically contains data that has already gone through some analysis, massaging, and shaping. Crystal Xcelsius takes a snapshot of the Excel spreadsheet and imports that snapshot into memory. After the data is in memory, Crystal Xcelsius disconnects from the Excel spreadsheet.

This method of separating the data from the actual spreadsheet ensures two things. First, your final dashboard is a standalone object, independent of the location or status of the original spreadsheet. Second, it ensures that the size of your final dashboard is as small as possible, making for easy distribution.

Building the visual model

After the data you’re using is in memory, you can start building yourvisual model. The visual model is essentially your dashboard in design mode. Much like a PowerPoint slide, your visual model starts off as a blank canvas on which you can add components. Components are those elements that give your dashboard its utility and purpose: charts, gauges, menus, tables, and so on. The idea is to add individual components to your visual model, tying each component to the data that you import.

Compiling and publishing the dashboard

After you’re happy with the functionality and look of your visual model, Crystal Xcelsius is ready to compile it.

First, Crystal Xcelsius compiles your visual model to a SWF file format. Compiling to a SWF file format ensures that your final dashboard plays back smoothly on any screen size and across multiple platforms. In addition, this ensures that your dashboard file size is small so as to not inundate your users with gigantic 40MB files.

After your visual model has been compiled to a SWF file, it is then published to a format of your choice. You can choose to publish your dashboard to PowerPoint, Outlook, an HTML Web page, an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, or a Macromedia Flash file. At this point, your dashboard is ready to share!