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SAP Business Objects 4.0

Introduction

SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 (SAP BO 4.0) is the long awaited, with SAP Business Intelligence / SAP Business Warehouse integrated, version of BusinessObjects. With the acquisition of BusinessObjects by SAP in 2007, customers were having a lot of questions about the future of the then market-leading Business Intelligence solution.Depending on the side you are (were) on, these questions will have a different viewing angle on this newly released version. This document will try to give answers to the 2 most probably main concerns:

  • What has changed for existing BusinessObjects users and will SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 stay as open as before ?
  • Will current SAP BEx Analyzer and SAP Business Warehouse users finally be able to take full advantage of the integration of BusinessObjects with SAP and finally get a state-of-the-art BI front end solution ?

Both questions will be answered in this Insight based on our first experiences with the new SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 suite and analyzed for both, different, target user-audiences.The document will shine its light on topics such as the new server environment, the changed semantic layer tool, the changed user interface, the integration of SAP data and much more.The purpose of the Insight is to give readers a better understanding regarding the potential choice for or the continuation with BusinessObjects as their Business Intelligence reporting toolset.

BusinessObjects’ history continued

BusinessObjects has a long history of providing its customers with easy drag and drop reporting on multiple and heterogeneous sources. Many customers have chosen the product for excelling in this functionality in the past. Currently the largest part of SAP’s BusinessObjects customer base is still made up of those historical customers, which are not necessarily SAP users.Neglecting these users would be a big mistake, and a mistake SAP explicitly promised not to make at the time of the acquisition in 2007. Therefore SAP has clearly invested in enhancing the BO solution with access to SAP specific sources and connections without touching the basic philosophy of BusinessObjects : offering easy to use, drag and drop capabilities in creating reports and analysis.

Basic functionality in all different products remains the same. The drag and drop functionality within Web Intelligence has not been touched.Even the newly introduced Information designer, which replaces the Universe designer tool, will keep all basic functionality and remains as open as before. In addition, the tools now have their own connectors towards the SAP system, giving them a competitive advantage in connecting to SAP BW.

SAP has clearly chosen for improvements without neglecting the current customer base. Therefor BusinessObjects’ main functionality remains the same throughout all applications and stays as open as before, in order to provide reporting on all popular external sources. The current version is a natural evolution and upgrade out of the SAP BusinessObjects XI versions: enriched features, a better user experience and a better integration with SAP sources.

BusinessObjects and SAP: a strong marriage

SAP has clearly understood that the integration of both tools had the highest priority when acquiring BusinessObjects. For most users, over the past years, the progress on integration was unclear, and no real advantage showed up in the new releases of BusinessObjects, especially not for existing SAP BW Users. This "stand-still” was discouraging for both the SAP/BW users and the existing BusinessObjects users: what would the future bring ?

Meanwhile SAP has refurbished BusinessObjects to make room for some new family members to be part of the BusinessObjects toolset, without touching the kernel of the tool. SAP BusinessObjects is now by default integrated with SAP and can make use of the SAP connections with no extra manipulations on the system. SAP has even introduced a new connection type within the Information Designer to have an optimized connection that no other reporting tool has : the Business Intelligence Connection Server (BICS).This connection type can be used in Universes to create WebI reports, Crystal reports and within Analysis for cube analysis.

With any previous version of BusinessObjects it was still a hassle to connect SAP as a source and to be able to inherit the SAP Security within BusinessObjects. SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 has overcome this hurdle by delivering the integration kit within the core of the program. This means that all implementations will need some extra resources (disk-space and memory) from the system to have BusinessObjects running, even when you do not have SAP implemented at your site. For non-SAP customers that do have BusinessObjects this should not be seen as a disadvantage: over the years BusinessObjects has added several new connections and connection types into their core, demanding a comparable extra amount of disk space or memory. Having a connection ready to serve each type of report with direct SAP data is the real advantage of the marriage between SAP and BusinessObjects, delivered in this 4.0 release.

SAP BusinessObjects Analysis

Introducing SAP BusinessObjects Analysis within the SAP BusinessObjects toolset offers users the possibility to analyze cubes. For the first time, in this more than 15 years old Business Intelligence solution, this delivers a real multi-dimensional OLAP experience to the user community. The SAP BusinessObjects Analysis tool is a tool that is typically used by Analysts to get a better comprehensive view on the data.SAP BusinessObjects has made sure that the Analysis tool is not the end-point: the result of an analysis can be used as a source within Interactive analysis. This source will then finally result in a report, that can be widely spread within the company.

Figure 1: The new OLAP tool in SAP BusinessObjects 4: SAP BusinessObjects Analysis


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The BusinessObjects Analysis is a new module that is the result of the integration of SAP BEx Analyzer and BusinessObjects Voyager. The tool is offered in 2 versions : an online, web-enabled analysis tool that is integrated within the complete product suite of SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 and an add-on for Microsoft Excel, to have the results directly within your spreadsheets. The MS Excel add-in is the real successor of the BEx Analyzer offering a richer feature set.

The most important difference between the two versions is the ability to connect to OLAP sources other than SAP. The MS Excel add-in is only capable of connecting to an SAP BW data-source and performing analysis on SAP BW cubes or queries. In the online Analysis tool, analysts can connect to OLAP cubes from various sources ; currently SAP BW cubes and queries and Microsoft Analysis Services Cubes. Oracle Essbase-cubes are probably to follow in a next version update/service pack.

Figure2 : The Analysis toolbar in MS Excel 2010


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Within SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, analysts can search and browse for their data in a very intuitive way, as is expected from any OLAP tool. SAP offers the possibilities to add extra calculations and add ‘conditional formatting’ to create dashboard like analysis.As a result analysts can execute their analysis much faster and explore the cube to find the root cause of a problem or opportunity in the data.

Figure 3 : Conditional formatting in SAP BusinessObjects Analysis: create a dashboard like analysis


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Often an Analysis is the end point within a company: whenever you want to analyze some figures or results coming from a certain process, you get to dig into the OLAP cube. But what happens when you have already created that analysis and now you want to spread it to the responsible within your company? SAP BusinessObjects offers you the capability to create WebI reports on Analysis views. These analysis views are in fact saved analysis that can serve for more and better styled company reports. After all, you cannot give an OLAP analysis to just anyone in your company; a lot of people will get overwhelmed by the figures and the rich capabilities the interface offers. Analysis is the tool for searching in depth answers and Web Intelligence reports serve people with a stylish document on the historic figures.

Figure 4: Save your analysis in a view and use the result as a source in WebI


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SAP Web Intelligence - Interactive Analysis

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence has been renamed to "Interactive Analysis” in the SAP BusinessObjects Interactive Launchpad.The tool is still the flagship of the suite. The core of the application has remained the same, but some interesting improvements have been made.

In the previous XI version any formatting had to be done via a separate menu in the sidebar. In the new BusinessObjects 4.0 version, all of these commands are now available on the top-menu. According to SAP and all communications they do around BusinessObjects 4.0, these commands and tasks are mentioned in a Ribbon like interface, similar to the one Microsoft has added to its Office programs starting 2007. Saying that it resembles the Microsoft Ribbon interface goes maybe a bit too far, but SAP has added an interesting grouping of commands in the upper side of the reporting screen; all features that belong together are now shown in a grouping menu. The complete menu structure, including the formatting part, is now available on the top of the screen. All interfaces for changing properties of tables, charts and other report objects have been redesigned to make them more intuitive to handle, resulting in a faster adaption of the report elements, towards the desired changes. The ribbon is also consistently present in all modules, including SAP Business Objects Data Services 4.0, the ETL & data quality-layer.

Figure 5: the new SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 toolbar


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One of the main improvements SAP has made within SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 is the introduction of a new charting engine.The new charting engine offers you a new and wide variety of charts including new charts like bubble charts, cloud tags and heat maps. This finally brings SAP BusinessObjects back into the picture for people that need astonishing charts to show up on their reports. Interactivity on the charts to make them more "flashy” is still reserved for the SAP BusinessObjects Dashboarding module (former Xcelsius), but the experience gets close to it. SAP BusinessObjects’ Interactive Analysis is still focused on printing reports and not only on analyzing information on-screen.

Figure 6: example of new charting possibilities SAP BusinessObjects 4.0


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On the report level some more features from the "wish list” have been added: from now on, it will be possible to hide cells, columns and rows whenever they are empty or equal the outcome of a formula.This adds in functionality that has already been available for many years within the Crystal Reports tool. Connecting reports together to create a hyperlinked drill down has become much easier. In previous versions, you had to know how those reports should be linked together, whereas now there are wizards and buttons available that guide you through the linking process.

Figure 7: new hiding capabilities in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 Webintelligence


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In SAP BusinessObjects XI 3 2 main new topics were introduced: the input control and the tracking changes. "Input control” lets you enable quick filtering on your report via the sidebar. The quick filtering is an extra advantage for allowing extended analysis of a single report and use the same report for a broader audience. Quick filters show up in the sidebar and are more visible to the end-user than filters within the report itself: filters in the report are most of the time invisible, which may lead to end-users being confused. Also launched within the XI 3 version was the "track changes”: this feature enables end-users to see the difference between 2 runs of a report in a default way; improved figures are shown in green, poorer results are shown in red. This comes in handy to track the changes when updating your data and to explain differences.These 2 new features are also part of the 4.0 release and potentially interesting features for existing customers to upgrade to the latest release.

Figure 8: Input Controls and Tracking changes enabled in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 report


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On the query panel, the "data preview” for Web Intelligence has been added: now you are able to see a basic result of your query before launching the report itself. The data preview is already a big step forward and will prevent running just any query on the database: the end-user can make a first evaluation of the data thanks to the sample data from this feature. Whenever the data preview is not used, it can be replaced by the "scope of analysis”. "Scope of analysis” offers you the possibility to automatically add extra objects to the query in order to get increased drilling performance. Scope of analysis will show as many levels of the hierarchy as requested and will include them in the query. This is especially useful when the hierarchies are not known by the end-users. On the report itself, the query time of the different data providers and the number of rows fetched can be visualized. By adding these features, problem solving on slow reports will become a little bit easier.

Figure 9: example of the data preview in the Query Panel of SAP BusinessObjects 4.0


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With the release of BusinessObjects 4.0, SAP has come another step closer to having all functionality available in the web version of its reporting tool that was offered previously in the full client or DeskI (Desk Intelligence) version. To offer a better lay-out of your reports, SAP has added the ability to fit your reports on an exact number of pages, both down and across; this is something that report users have had on their wish list for a very, very long time. In summary, WebI has become a very complete solution to fulfill analysis on data coming from both SAP and non-SAP sources.

SAP Information Designer

The SAP BusinessObjects Information Designer is a new module that is replacing BusinessObjects Universe designer. The information Designer will break up the Universe Designer into multiple layers:

  • A connection layer, where your connection to the source is saved
  • A data foundation, which visualizes the data model with the tables and their links
  • A business layer where the database fields are translated into business terms

One of the main advantages of the new module to build the semantic layer is the possibility to create ‘Universes’ on multiple data-sources.Within one data-model, you can eg. combine data coming from a MS SQL Server database with data coming from an Oracle database, whereas before this was only possible on the report level.By offering this possibility now within the semantic layer, SAP BusinessObjects is trying to use as much as possible the power of the backend of the server: or the database, or the calculation engine.Before it was the java applet and the reporting process that had to cover the multi-source requests. This functionality has been added, by integrating more of the data federator possibilities into the semantic layer tool. Adding the ability to integrate multiple sources in the semantic layers offers the possibility to have more reports with integrated data. Integrated data will finally result in having a better understanding of your business.

Splitting up the capabilities of the designer into multiple layers offers the ability to create multiple business layers on top of one data-model. Since the requirements of different departments for the same data may differ, SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 now enables the designer to create a separate business layer, with different definitions or more complex calculations on the same data-model.

The Translation manager is still a separate tool within the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 toolset, whereas a translation could be seen as a different business layer of your "universe”. The reason why the Translation manager is still a separate tool is that you can translate much more than just a "universe”: your custom Access Levels, Server Groups, categories … can all be translated, offering a customized interface for your different language groups based on the same backend items.

The introduction of this tool, asks the most adaption in methodology for experienced BusinessObjects users. All elements of the Universe Designer are integrated within the Information Designer, but creating a universe is quite different compared to before. Every different layer has to be saved to the repository before you can use it in the next layer, or before it can be published into the repository.

SAP has taken care of the backwards compatibility of this tool: all universes created in any previous version will run on the server and will be editable in the information design tool.

Figure 10: View on the business layer in Information Designer SAP BusinessObjects 4.0


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SAP BusinessObjects Server

The architecture of the SAP BusinessObjects server has not been changed. SAP is continuing the development based on the architecture that has been introduced in the BusinessObjects XI versions. However with every new release, SAP BusinessObjects changes the lay-out for the end-users, which makes it rather confusing. The front-end interface for accessing your reports in the portal has been renamed as well and is from now on known as the BI Launchpad. The SAP BusinessObjects BI Launchpad is replacing the interface that was previously known as Infoview.

Figure 11: Standard view on the BI Launchpad of SAP BusinessObjects 4.0


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Within the new BI Launchpad, the interface created by SAP BusinessObjects is very powerful and lets users easily find their appropriate documents. The interface is, as before, fully customizable. This means that the main dashboard that shows up at the start of the program, can be replaced by a view on a report, or a report folder. The BI Launchpad is meant to be the start of the user interface, but can be replaced by the folder view via the preferences.

In the back-end, the "servers” are still organized the same way as before: each application will have its own special set of services running to execute the requests. Next to the application specific services, some adaptive services are running and are shared across the different applications. The core services are still present and will enable you to run SAP BusinessObjects on your machine. Some new applications have been introduced (e.g. Advanced Analysis), which will use the Adaptive processing service to process the requests. This means that no special changes have been made to the core architecture and that SAP continues to extend SAP BusinessObjects on a proven and stable base.

Figure 12: SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 Central Management Console


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Figure 13: Server overview in CMC of SAP BusinessObjects 4.0


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Within the authentication module, SAP authentication has become a default one. It is fully integrated: whenever a connection to a BW Cube or query has been set-up (via Advanced Analysis or the Information Designer), the authentication will use these access parameters within the authentication. All other authentications mode (Enterprise, LDAP and Windows Active Directory) are still available and can be used as before.

Towards Security the new version does not add any new things: the complete security is still object centric. Within BusinessObjects XI 3, Access Levels were launched to be able to create profiles. These profiles will help administrators to secure the environment with predefined "roles”.Whenever a new role has to be added, the appropriate access level can be adapted or a new one can be created. All new items that are added to the Central Management Console, are available within the security structure.

Monitoring your BusinessObjects server has always been hard to do. SAP BusinessObjects 4 has added a new module to the Central Management Console to monitor your processes on the server and take the appropriate actions when necessary.The monitoring tool provides administrators with a dashboard on server performance: it shows how many processes are running, how many users are connected and how many jobs are pending for scheduled documents. Next to this dashboard, the administrator can visualize almost any parameter regarding the services and the processes on the metrics tab. This way, administrators will be able to execute a root cause analysis for performance problems on the servers, based on the monitored metrics.

Figure 14: SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 - Monitoring dashboard in the Central Management Console


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Conclusion

SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 is answering both needs that currently exist in either the SAP or Business Objects user community : a closer integration with all SAP modules and yet an open environment that is able to connect to any desired database source, also for non SAP users. SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 is able to convince existing users to invest in this new version: the changes in WebI and the OLAP offered through Interactive Analysis make this version very complete and worthy successor of the Full client reporter or DeskI-releases.

The changes to the creation tool for building the semantic layer are a logical evolution in the current Business Intelligence landscape : by splitting the different components (connection, modeling and translation), BusinessObjects is offering an answer to the more complex analysis that companies need today. The ability to offer multiple connections in one semantic model is revolutionary and opens up unseen capabilities in integrating data coming from different sources.

An improved and consistent user experience and more intuitive handling within the different tools will enable all companies to shift more of the reporting towards the business departments, using SAP BusinessObjects 4.0. By simple drag and drop capabilities, the ability to connect to the result of more complex analysis and directly to cubes, the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 toolset will enable more end users and business departments to create their reports themselves, without any intervention of the IT-department.

With SAP BusinessObjects 4.0, SAP has a powerful reporting tool to satisfy both SAP and non-SAP customers. For SAP customers, the integration between their existing tools and the ability to connect directly to SAP sources were two of the most important things to have. Non SAP customers can be reassured that the BusinessObjects tools remain as open as before. The added extra analyzing capabilities (connecting to multi sources, cube analysis, …) and the enrichment with extra features make SAP BusinessObjects one of the leading tools in business intelligence for the years to come, for all users, SAP or non-SAP.

Thursday, September 22, 2011