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BusinessObjects BI Decision Tree

May 21st, 2012 1 comment

UPDATE 10/5/2012:  Things have continued to evolve since May and therefore this post has been updated based on the latest roadmap information coming from SAP together with, as always, some of my own thoughts and opinions.

The good news, bad news about the SAP BusinessObjects product suite is that although there is a lot of best-of-breed functionality there, it can sometimes be a challenge to know what tool to use in every situation.

As a result, I did some research, leveraged some pre-existing content from SDN and came out with this updated BI Decision Tree.

BI Decision Tree

I have updated this decision tree to include the two recent product announcements

  • SAP Visual Intelligence
  • SAP Predictive Analysis

This chart is not meant to be a definitive guide to selecting the right tool because there are always additional factors to consider, but by and large this will get you there most of the time.

Click on Chart to Enlarge

10/5/2012 CLARIFICATION:  If you are doing Business Intelligence of SAP BW, you should be always look at using Analysis for Office for OLAP Analysis within Excel and Analysis for OLAP for OLAP analysis over the web.  These solutions are premium alternatives to the legacy BEx Analyzer for Excel and BEx Web respectively.  Personally I prefer Analysis for Office for all my BEx Analysis just because I prefer the performance and interface of Excel to the one delivered on the web.

Analysis for Application Design (Code named Zen) is still under development and will be the premium alternative for Web Application Designer.  Here is the official SAP SOD for dashboarding.  So glad Miko pushed for this webinar!

WebIntelligence Rocks

Since I discovered Business Intelligence using Crystal Reports and consider it my “first love”, this admission hurts.  I had this blog 90% written when it hit me.  Does anyone even use Analysis for OLAP?  Why put it on the chart? Everyone uses WebIntelligence for connecting to OLAP data.

Today,WebIntelligence provides OLAP connectivity through the semantic layer and the WebIntelligence user interface is OLAP aware with a grown up OLAP look & feel.  It can feel like a native OLAP tool instead of a relational tool that just flattens OLAP data.

10/5/2012: WebIntelligence is not a native OLAP tool so there are limitations.  If you are using SAP BW, only Analysis for Office and Analysis for OLAP are native OLAP tools and will give the full richness of an OLAP experience.  Some capabilities that are not supported by WebIntelligence are:

  • The ability switch hierarchies without “refreshing” the report
  • Ranking data at a given hierarchy level

The End of Analysis for OLAP?

SAP customers that I’ve worked with are using WebIntelligence to do their formatted reporting and Analysis for Office to keep their finance users happy.  I see some Crystal Reports, but WebIntelligence came a long way in BusinessObjects v4.0 with formatted reporting.

Did you see any Analysis for OLAP sessions at Sapphire this year?  I didn’t think so.  And typically session content is driven by customer interest.

It’s a lonely time for Analysis for OLAP (a.k.a. OLAP Intelligence, OLAP Analysis, Seagate Analysis – boy I’m feeling old).

10/5/2012: I’ve received some feedback from folks saying that Analysis for OLAP is alive and well and has parity functionality with Analysis for Office.  Well, it’s not quite parity when it comes to all the shortcuts and right-clicks, but if you can’t use Analysis for Office, then it does get the job done.  

Your Thoughts

Please let me know your thoughts on this topic.

Do you find it pretty easy to help customers know what tools to use when?

«Good BI»

 

First Release of “Pioneer” for Microsoft Office

October 14th, 2010 No comments

If you are an SAP Customer who has been looking to see how long it will take SAP to fulfill their commitments to the roadmap, you now have your first installment.

SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, Edition for Microsoft Office

During all the roadmap presentations, the product was referred to as Pioneer, but it is now being released under the name: SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office.  (I was hoping for a slightly longer name myself).  What’s great about this product is that you can use it today.  It does NOT require an upgrade to your BusinessObjects Enterprise Infrastructure and it will not interfere with the use of LiveOffice.  It is a completely stand-alone install.

In some future release, I would expect this plug-in to become part of the larger LiveOffice Suite by SAP BusinessObjects.  You will notice that the name indicates that the solution is for Microsoft Office and that’s true.  You can also use the plug-in from within Powerpoint for example.

Advanced Analysis in Powerpoint

BEx and Excel

Excel has long been the primary delivery platform for SAP BW content.  My initial impression of this release was extremely positive.  The navigation panel is extremely intuitive and much easier to use than previous incarnations.  This product using the underlying BICS interface which means that the solution is extremely fast and there a promises of connectivity to Microsoft Analysis Services and Oracle Essbase in the future.

Some of the main highlights (besides a much easier to use tool) are:

  • Runs with all existing SAP BW Cubes and Queries
  • Native Support for BW  Authorizations
  • Native Support for Hierarchies, Multiple Hierarchies, Structures
  • Built-in predictive services
  • Support for “formula mode”

Let me talk about that last feature for a minute.

Formula Mode

You can convert all cells of a crosstab into formulas with one step. This deletes the crosstab object and defines every row in the table as a Microsoft Excel formula. The result values called from the server with the formula are still displayed in the table. The formula of the selected cell is displayed in the formula bar. In formula mode, you can edit the analysis table using Microsoft Excel formatting and formula functions and make further calculations using the existing data.

In formula mode, you can use all Microsoft Excel formatting functions. With the deletion of the design item, the individual formatting of the data will not be overwritten by the standard formatting in the crosstab the next time you update this data. This is great if you want to layout financial data in a specific way.  There are however a few restrictions when using this mode.

Converting to formula mode has the following consequences:

  • Navigation using Drag & Drop is no longer possible.
  • The context menu is not available.
  • The number format in the cells is set to standard.
  • You cannot switch back to analysis mode. To do this, you have to re-open the workbook.

Take A Look

If you have a significant investment in SAP BW, then you should definately have a look at this latest release.  For more information, I also suggest to look to the SAP Developer Network:
http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/boc/analysis

«Good BI»

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0

October 8th, 2010 8 comments

SAP is closing in on their release date of the next major release of BusinessObjects… and as with any release, marketing want to get the name just right.  We’ve seen quite a few changes over the years.

Evolution of A Name

Remember all those changes in Windows naming? Windows 3.1, Windows 95, then Windows XP?  Now finally it’s back to numbers with Windows 7?  There’s probably someone out there that’s written a book about how to name your next software release.  🙂

Here’s a look at where we’ve come from in the last 7 years of BusinessObjects Product Names… starting back in 2003 with the combination of BusinessObjects 6 and Crystal Enterprise 10 into the new XI… Xtreme Insight!

BusinessObjects Product Names

The More Things Change

… the more they stay the same.  It is so true… and the upcoming release will include some additional name changes.  Here are some names on the horizon.

XI Product Name 4.0 Product Name
SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Platform
Crystal Reports SAP Crystal Reports
SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence
SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius Enterprise SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards
SAP BusinessObjects Voyager SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for OLAP
(Advanced Analysis, Pioneer*) SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for MS Office
SAP BusinessObjects Explorer SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

For more information on the whys check out Jon Reed’s blog post.

It’s amazing how some product names take on a life of their own even before the product is released.  Pioneer is a great example.  It is the first release of the legacy SAP BEx Web Analyzer and SAP BEx Analyzer for Excel.  Pioneer was simply the code name for this yet to be release product.  We can now retire that code name and begin using the actual product name, SAP BusinessObjects Analysis.

Xcelsius

Some name changes like Xcelsius were introduced even before a major new release. Earlier this summer, I had someone call me to ask me about SAP Crystal Dashboard Design.  I’d never heard of it. It wasn’t until I googled it that I discovered that we weren’t offering a new product.  SAP had just renamed some Xcelsius packages.  SAP Dashboard Design and SAP Presentation Design had formally been known as Xcelsius Engage and Xcelsius Present, respectively.

Thinking back, Xcelsius has also been through a number of changes:  Xcelsius 4.5, Crystal Xcelsius 4.5, Xcelsius 2008…  It will be interesting to see if the Xcelsius Designer, aka Xcelsius 2008 keeps it’s name and becomes Xcelsius 2010.

Don’t Wait… Start Today

Did you know that SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Excel has already been released?  Yep!  The plug-in for Excel is completely stand-alone and can be used without interfering with your existing BusinessObjects XI 3.1 environment.  If you have SAP and want to get the best possible connectivity within Excel without waiting for your entire environment to be upgraded, you can.  Today.

«Good BI»

BusinessObjects XI 3.1 Features

October 22nd, 2008 38 comments

I haven’t seen a lot of information available that talks about what’s new in the release of the latest version, BusinessObjects XI 3.1, so I thought I would point out some of the highlights I’ve come across.  You may also want read the complete What’s New in BusinessObjects XI 3.1 guide from the website.

Release Highlights

BusinessObjects XI 3.1 is a release that is focused on bringing parity to our platform support for both Java and .NET.  In BusinessObjects XI 3.0 we did not provide a .NET version of our standard BI portal, InfoView.  In BusinessObjects XI 3.1 we have released a native .NET portal which has near parity with the Java version.  I say near parity, because there are a few things missing, namely:

  • Encyclopedia
  • Dashboard Builder
  • Voyager
  • BI Mobile
  • Polestar

For companies who find comfort in an all Microsoft World, this release will be welcomed.  BusinessObjects XI 3.1 has added support for Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Sharepoint Portal Server 2007.  (There is also Microsoft Active Directory Forest Support as well!)  If you are using the SAP Integration Kit, this is also now available on the .NET platform.

Web Application Container Service

One of the way in which BusinessObjects has been able to balance both rich feature sets and cross platform compatibility is through the introduction of a new server to the BusinessObjects Platform.  This service is called the WACS, Web Application Container Service, and is a java container.  What this allows BusinessObjects to do is to run existing java applications through the BusinessObjects framework.

Let me explain how this will work in practice.  The BusinessObjects Administration Console, the CMC, is written in Java.  Instead of rewritting this application in .NET, BusinessObjects simply added the WACS to the BusinessObjects service bus and will execute application via this service.  The beauty of this solution is that the .NET administrator never has to worry about it.  BusinessObjects manages everything.

What other Applications can use the WACS?

Besides the CMC, there are a number of other applications that could within the WACS.  This includes:

  • Interactive DHTML Viewer for WebIntelligence
  • Query as a Web Service (for supporting Xcelsius)
  • LiveOffice

There is an important document that covers what is supported and what is not supported within the WACS framework.  In theory all native java-based aspects of the BusinessObjects application suite could be run through the WACS but the question is whether or not it is officially supported.  This document is called:  Web Application Container Server (WACS): Supported and Unsupported Features for BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1and it explains the details.  You can download it here.

Additional Platform Enhancements

BusinessObjects XI 3.1 supports IPv6 100% across the product suite (except for Desktop Intelligence).  They have also added their first native 64-bit architecture.  Since BusinessObjects XIr2 SP3, the platform has been able to run on 64-bit operating systems however the platform still runs as a 32-bit application.  The first native 64-bit release is an the HP-UX IA-64 Itanium hardware.

Life Cycle Manager

Life Cycle Manager, LCM for short, s a web-based utility that allows the administrator to:

  • Promote BI content from one system to another (without affecting the dependencies of the content)
  • Manage dependencies of BI content
  • Manage different versions of BI content
  • Roll back (yahoo!) promoted BI content

This tool does not install with the platform, but is a separate install.

“So isn’t that what the Import Wizard is for?”, you may be asking?  Well, certainly the import wizard has been used to provide this type of functionality in the past – especially with the introduction of BIAR files in BusinessObjects XI; however I think you’ll see from the list of features in LCM, it is better to have a specialized tool for the LCM process.

Life Cycle Manager provides a number of features over the Import Wizard (besides rollback) including:

  • Granular control over the objects selected (yes, we trust you)
  • Scheduling Promotions Jobs (a job is a collection of BI content or InfoObjects to be precise)
  • Integrated Version Control (via Subversion)
  • Database connection overrides and mapping (Tired of changing database connection strings?)
  • Auditing
  • The ability to “preview” to changes before committing them
  • Rollback, Did I mention rollback?

There is a new LCM Job server which has been added to the platform to manage the promotion process.

Have you ever created a BIAR file and realized you missed a file?  Now with LCM you can save your Promotion job and use it to generate a BIAR file.  If you find that something is missing, you can simply open up the promotion job , select the missing objects and regenerate the BIAR file.

BIAR ≠ BIAR

When is a BIAR file not a BIAR file?  Well, with the LCM tool, the BIAR files which are generated by the LCM tool are LCMBIAR files.  As the name indicates, the LCMBIAR files are NOT compatible with the BIAR files used with the Import Wizard.  Bummer.

Voyager

Voyager was the other biggie.  A lot of work was put into providing interface enhancements and increased performance.  This is probably the last release before the eagerly anticipated release of “Pioneer” in 2009, which will combine Voyager’s intuitive user interface with the powerful OLAP capabilities of the BEx OLAP tools.

Voyager now has a number of new visualizations including Box-Plot, Scatter, Bubble and Radar charts.    There are also a number of features that were in OLAP Intelligence, which were missing in earlier versions of Voyager, namely, Exception highlighting, URL Linking to other BI Content and Favorite Groups.

Have you ever made a mistake when building a Voyager workspace?  Well, now you have full undo/redo capabilities.  After being so used to the undo/redo capabilities in WebIntelligence, I always found the missing feature extremely annoying and I’m sure other did to.

Fly Over Of Additional Features

Rather than talk about additional features in detail, I thought I would briefly mention some of them here and perhaps in the future I can blog about them in detail if there is interest.

Semantic Layer -Support for BEGIN_SQL, Prompt support for codes AND descriptions.

Crystal Reports – Dual Monitor support, flash printing to PDF.

WebIntelligence -Support for Extension Points, Auto-Save, RelativeValue(), Multi-Pass Bursting

SAP Integration – SNC for BusinessObjects Universes (Prior to XI 3.1, this was only available for Crystal Reports), Improve Prompt Support for Hierarchy and Hierarchy Node dependencies.

Dashboard Builder – Printing, Interportlet Communication

Summary

There are some good things that have come out in this latest release.  This release is also the latest ‘reset point’ for BusinessObjects XI 3.X maintenance, so you can expect fix packs for XI 3.0 to no longer be released.

Hope you found this information useful.  I’ve tried to keep it short and sweet.

«Good BI»

Common Questions about Connectivity with SAP

July 23rd, 2008 18 comments

Now that SAP has clearly and unambiguously stated that BusinessObjects is the new face of BI for SAP, we have many customers who want more information about connectivity with SAP and are surprised when we recommend that they connect to an existing BW Query instead of to the entire Infocube.

Why is connecting to SAP BI/BW Queries a best practice?

There are several reasons for connecting via SAP BW Queries:

  • Performance – The BW OLAP Engine performs its processing against the query cube. In the event, you connect an external analysis tool directly to an InfoCube, a query cube consisting of all the characteristics and key figures in that InfoCube is generated on the fly in order to handle the request processing. This process adds significantly to the processing time of the request made by the end-user when compared to reporting against a pre-defined BW Query.
  • Capabilities – There are several capabilities exposed via the interface to BW Queries that are not exposed when connecting directly to the cube such as calculated and restricted key figures to name a few.
  • Flexibility – The BW Query Designer offers an extension to the data modeling environment in which changes are relatively easy to make as compared to the effort required to change an InfoCube.

Is this required across all the reporting tools? (WebI, Voyager, Crystal Reports)

Its mostly applicable to WebI and Voyager. There’s more flexibility with Crystal since it has more connectivity interfaces to SAP and it is not designed to be an ad-hoc reporting and analysis tool. Xcelsius will typically be built against scheduled content since most dashboard data is usually only updated every 24 hours.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this different approaches to SAP Connectivity?

Advantages of BW Query – The BW Query can take advantage of Query capabilities such as CKF and RKF. The BI Team can also provide better control over how much data user can request.

Advantages of InfoCube – The BI Team can expose entire dataset to user without additional work from BI team

Disadvantages of BW Query – Using BW Queries requires additional work from BI team to setup queries specifically around areas of the business, e.g. marketing, sales, etc. It limits amount of information available to user for a given query. That being said, the adhoc report designer can combine multiple queries within a single report. In addition a well defined BW Query can serve as the data sources for multiple reports. (whereas traditionally in SAP BW, we saw 1 query = 1 report)

Disadvantages of InfoCube -Users can get lost in the large amount of data available to them. There is a lack of CKF and RKF, which will lead to users creating more filters and calculations at the report level. These efforts will likely be duplicated across multiple reports. Duplication leads to duplicate work and the potential for different answers based on different formulas (i.e., no “single source of the truth” for those formulas)

Performance of BW Query – Better. Because of the constraint on information available to the end-user, the query design can test a subset of data and guarantee a certain level of performance.

Performance of InfoCube – Vulnerable. Because the entire cube is visible, there is no what to know what combinations of information the user might pick. Without specific controls over the type and amount of data returned, it is impossible to determine who long the query might run.

Flexibility of BW Query – The BW Query is more flexibility in regards to exposing “processed” data (CKF and RKF). It also provides flexibility when it comes to making changes to underlying data because not every change to the InfoCube will impact a BW Query.

Flexibility of InfoCube – The Infocube is the most flexible with regards to the data exposed.

What data structures in SAP are supported within BusinessObjects?

WebIntelligence/Voyager supports: Standard and Transactional InfoCubes, Remote InfoCube (not recommended due to performance), MultiCube, MultiProvider.

Crystal Reports supports: Standard and Transactional InfoCubes, Remote InfoCube (not recommended due to performance), MultiCube, MultiProvider, ODS, R/3 Infosets, ABAP Queries, ABAP Functions. ABAP Data Clusters, Transparent Tables, Pool Tables, Cluster Tables, zTables, InfoViews

Conclusion

It’s been exciting to see how quickly SAP customers have been able to unlock the data that they have in their Business Warehouse to a whole new groups of users.  Users can now create their own reports from scratch using the WebIntelligence interface.  Executive users and front-line contributors can have their personalized data delivered directly to the desktop.

I can’t wait to see what will unfold within our next generation of tools.