SAP BusinessObjects BI4 – Some foibles uncovered

As I work closer to the new release of the BusinessObjects enterprise platform (BI4 ) and associated reporting tools I am frequently discovering idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies across the tool set.

BI4 has been marketed as a Unified and Integrated suite of tools but I am seeing a lack of consistencies across the reporting tool set.

This blog will start by focusing on the areas of connectivity and use of the various semantic layer options and I will revisit this content as I discover more or are rightfully corrected by the wider BOBJ user communities.

  • Explorer
    • You can only build information spaces on Excel data or a UNX style universe.
  • UNX Universe
    • With regard to SAP BW a UNX universe can only be built over an InfoCube and NOT a BEx query.
    • The workflow to build a UNX over a Cube takes a while to get your head around as you need to create a relational connections to a MultiDimensional source, and then a Data Layer and Business Layer on top.
  • OLAP Connection
    • OLAP connections can be considered another term for the BICS connector.
    • You can create an OLAP connection in the CMC or in the Information Design Tool (IDT) that points to a BW System, Cube or query.  However, when a user selects any of those 3 different OLAP Connections they will always need to select a BEx query.
    • In Summary  “Think BICS, See BEx”
  • Live Office
    • My testing so far suggests that when you build a data set in Excel using the Query Panel from Live Office you can only see UNV universes.
    • This suggests Live Office does not support the new UNX universe.

A concern I have is that in an environment where SAP BW is the primary data source organisations will need multiple different styles of semantic layers, UNX,UNV,BICS to allow use of all the reporting tools available in BI4.

So the challenge is how do organisations ensure the use of common business definitions and business rules over such an estate?  Your thoughts are appreciated…….

Discovering what user’s really want….

During 2011 I have seen hunch I have had for some time play out about how all too often IT lead projects focus on tools they have available rather than the end users information needs for today and the future. In my opinion project teams delivering high quality Business Intelligence solutions need to ensure they stay focused on not only innovative technical wizardry behind the scenes but the needs of the user to do their job more efficiently.

All too often I see business analysts stopping short in the requirements gathering process when they have identified what information is needed by a user and can “Mock Up” a columnar layout in Excel.  However I suggest there is more to it than that.

  • We need to start by identifying what the information need really is
  • Identify what location are the users going to interact with the information
  • Identify what  medium or device are they going to be using PC, tablet (iPad), Smartphone (android)
  • How often do they need the information
  • Dig deep into what are the users ultimately going to do with the information

The answer to the final question always proves to be most enlightening.  When challenged as to what users actually do with the information it can often uncover a very different need to a columnar report refreshed on a desktop PC in a office environment.

I have used the model above a number of times with customers to help them understand the user’s needs and found they were themselves surprised with the resulting tool selection.

I have seen a “Right tool for the right job” approach to BI tools selection could include the traditional offerings from SAP but expanded into the new SAP BusinessObjects technologies some years ago.

So when using the model above you might end up identifying the BEx tools from SAP are appropriate today but depending on the user’s location of use this might change to SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI on the iPad that comes with the newest BusinessObjects platform release BI4.0.

So can I urge you to start with the user and let their needs define what tools the project uses to meet their information needs.

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 – Revolution or Evolution for the Business User?

As the hype following the delayed launch of the latest BI and EIM solutions from SAP drops away it’s probably a good time to focus on the new innovations and technologies being launched and how they can impact a business user.

For those of you who are not close to the life story of SAP BusinessObjects, the BI 4.0 release due this summer is the first platform release sine the acquisition of BusinessObjects by SAP. Up until this point it could be suggested that SAP NetWeaver could be considered one of the many supported reporting databases but with BI4.0 this view is about to change.

The launch keynote from SAP Senior Executive Steve Lucas focused on the SAP vision for Business Analytics interspersed with encouragement to use social media that formed the data stream for a real-time Dashboard which determined whose tie got cut off. Maybe the comedy was lost in translation but watch the replay to see who had to buy a new tie – http://businessanalytics.sapvirtualevents.com/login.aspx.

So what does this mean for the business users of the technologies? The answer can be split into three sections.

What does it mean for ‘classic’ SAP BusinessObjects customers?

  • Standardized look and feel across front-end tools in the style of a Microsoft Ribbon Bar – If you had “fun” moving from Office 2003 – 2007 and finding that all important icon prepare for that treat again.
  • New chart engine in Web Intelligence – If you follow data visualisation influencers like Stephen Few you will not be jumping for joy to see an exploded 3D pie chart but there are a number of new chart types including Scatter charts, Bubble charts, Box plot, Heat map and Tree map. Additionally there is enhanced controls for formatting and interactivity.
  • Revamp of InfoView – BI launch pad will replace InfoView and has revamped user interface with additional options for customization. Additionally as evidence of the road to integration with NetWeaver you can integrate Business Explorer Web applications with BI launch pad.
  • Designer has a new name and great new functionality – The information design tool is the new design environment for creating and publishing SAP BusinessObjects universes and connections. The significant enhancement is to embed Data Federator within the tool allowing multisource universes. There has been some twitter noise around this new future harking back to the good old days of Crystal Business Views, but this only appears a valid comparison on the surface. Additional new features include:
    • Dimensional universes that support OLAP dimensions and hierarchies
    • Design environment that facilitates designer teamwork and universe resource sharing
    • Security editor for universe data and metadata

So in summary Revolution or Evolution? Evolution.

What does it mean for SAP NetWeaver customers embarking on SAP BusinessObjects?

  • Direct access to BEx queries as a data source for WebI via BICS. This should address the challenge of universe proliferation in and integrated NetWeaver BOBJ landscape.
  • Build queries and perform analysis on data organized hierarchically using analysis dimensions, hierarchies, levels, attributes, named sets and calculated members using the +/- selector familiar to BEx users also with the ability to select data members from a hierarchical display.

So in summary Revolution or Evolution? Evolution.

New product innovations

  • Drive into Mobile BI with the productionisation of Exploration Views and a new innovation of Web Intelligence on the iPad.
  • SAP BusinessObjects Advanced Analysis, Web edition is the successor to SAP BusinessObjects Voyager and one of the premium alternatives to SAP BEx Analyzer. One to watch maybe as the publically stated roadmap is the Web edition to be consumed by Web Intelligence in approximately 12 months.

So in summary Revolution or Evolution? Evolution.

Summary

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 will bring a much needed evolution to SAP Business Analytics and with BusinessObjects XIr2 ceasing telephone support in July 2011 it is a migration well worth considering.

(I wrote the content above in the summer of 2011 whist working at Bluefin Solutions and they have kindly aggreed for me to update it and use it in my personal blog)

 

Mobile BI for the iPad – Game changer or just keeping on the field

In the summer of 2011 SAP released a new Business Intelligence (BI) application for the iPad on Apple iTunes, SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI application for iPad. The supporting server infrastructure is has been released ar part of the SAP BusinessObjects BI4.0 platform . Feedback thus far has been very positive, but the initial question of support for other tablet devices has been address and versions for the Blackberry and Andriod devices are planned for early 2012.

The Mobile BI application facilitates access to instances of corporate Web Intelligence reports from an iPad both online and offline with automated prompting when new content becomes available to the user. Essentially SAP has written a device specific application (for the iPad initially with others to follow) that connects to the corporate SAP BusinessObjects landscape for authentication and renders a standard WebI report in a structured display format.

It could be cynical to say that SAP has developed the application following the traction seen and marketing hype around competitor/complementary technologies including Roambi and Microstrategy. SAP had to do something in the Mobility space to drive adoption of BI outside of the enterprise firewall and the iPad is great a place to start.

I see Mobile BI for the iPad predominantly adding value to management and information workers so they can stay up-to-date and make decisions using their trusted BI information whilst out of the office. The scope for sales and field service staff to provide the right customer, product, and work order information where and when it’s needed is huge. Imagine having all the customer information you need at your fingertips in one place before you have that all important meeting without the need to boot up a laptop, find a 3G signal, log onto the VPN and refresh a suite of BI queries.

The immediate value add of SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI for organisations is the ability to access the trusted corporate BI content users engage with regularly on their desktop but then navigate and analyse the information without a need for additional training, it’s a iPad app remember

Is SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI a game changer? No, but I certainly see it forming part of a wider BI strategy and with such simple usability aiding the perennial challenge of driving user adoption.

(I wrote the content above in the summer of 2011 whist working at Bluefin Solutions and they have kindly aggreed for me to update it and use it in my personal blog)

A fresh start and location for 2012

We’ll the time has come to commit myself in 2012 to regular blogging around all things Business Intelligecne (BI) and in the world of Data Visualisation.

I have found so many other peoples blogs a great encouragement to get started and to keep in mind anything I write is my personal musing and not on behalf of any organisation, employer or partner company.