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Getting the most out of BusinessObjects

I often get asked about getting the most out of BusinessObjects, so I thought I would take a few moments to mention an often overlooked factor is being successful with BusinessObjects.

What do companies need to do to make their investment in BusinessObjects pay off?

There are the obvious things such as creating a Center of Excellence around BusinessObjects and enforce adherence to those standard processes, procedures and development standards. There is the need for education to make sure that people know how to use the tool and getting help from consultants when appropriate… but there is one additional factor that I think is critical to success.

Embrace the SDK. Yes, that’s right – leverage the BusinessObjects SDK to allow the software to work for you in a way that makes everyone’s lives easier. You can always develop best practices, processes and procedures on paper, but the best way to enforce them is by building SDK support around those standards.

AT&T Embraced the SDK

One outstanding example is at AT&T. They needed to be able to support over 50,000 end users (and this number continues to grow) and hundreds of report developers with minimal support staff. The team realized that the only way to make sure that the system enforced those standards was to leverage the SDK.

Their business requirements included:

  • Create an application for the migration, tracking, and versioning of Crystal Reports between Development, QC, and Production.
  • Assign roles to users to perform different functions in the Report Development Life Cycle
  • Enforce AT&T standards such as exact placement of logos, headers, and footers
  • Historical versioning to go back to previous versions should a bug be introduced. Used as information on how many times the report has been checked-in, migrated to QC, and migrated to Production.
  • Results in a clean easily maintainable system

This lead them to the following technical requirements:

  • Track the creation and modifications of reports through a checkin/check-out process in the development environment
    • Developers can only save reports to their own user folder in Enterprise preventing any changes in naming or multiple versions.
  • Roles assigned to the Users
    • Developer: New Reports, Check-In, Check-Out, Transport to QC
    • Tester: Approving / Denying Reports, Documenting Defects
    • Release/Change Manager: Approving migrations to Production when all necessary items have been accounted for
    • Administrator: Full control of the tool, adding users to above roles
  • Prevent any modifications to the reports that could be introduced through the migration between environments in the Crystal Reports Designer.
    • Automatically set the dB location on reports through the RDC
    • Saves the report to the exact location with correct naming
    • No accidental clicking/moving/changing/deleting of objects on reports
  • Provide specific templates of reports for a developer to use which contain the standard AT&T Logo, headers, footers, font (size, face, style) and location already set for new report development

As you can see, there were some pretty extensive requirements and in order to achieve these goals, either one of two things would have to happen.

  1. Nag Business Objects until they capitulate and put these capabilities into the software natively.
  2. Embrace the SDK and build it yourself.

The team at AT&T did the later with remarkable results which they shared with other BusinessObjects Users during the INSIGHT 2006 conference. Click here to download the entire presentation.

Now, one could argue that Business Objects should provide this capability out of the box, but the reality is that no BI software company will be able to provide an Enterprise Business Intelligence solution that will meet all of your requirements 100%. What IS important is that the solution provide an extensive SDK which will allow you to customize your environment to meet your companies needs.

When talking with companies about BusinessObjects I like to talk about the rich history that BusinessObjects has around SDK and developer support. Our communities might not be as reach as Microsoft or BEA, but we have recently made some great strides forward with our launch of the Diamond Developer Site.

Carl Ganz BookAnother great resource is a book written by Carl Ganz, Jr. called Pro Crystal Enterprise/Business Objects XI Programming. This is an excellent resource for learning about software development – specifically for the BOE platform. For me, the only problem with the book is that I wish it included samples written in Java; however all the samples are very clearly detailed and Carl does a great job at stepping the developer through the core components of the SDK. I highly recommend this book.

As I come across good sample of the SDK in action I will make these available on my blog. I also recommend that you begin to troll through many of the samples on the Diamond Developer Site.

I truly believe that the best and most successful Enterprise Business Intelligence implementations take advantage of the SDK to customize the software works so that it works more efficiently for the organization and ultimately for the administrators and end-users. In the meantime, we’ll continue to push the development team at Business Objects to add more and more features into the products.

Happy SDKing.

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