August 25, 2014 Leave a comment
Just recently I published a blog about the following topic on sap.com
The blog of Raphael Branger
August 14, 2014 Leave a comment
In my previous post I introduced the SUCCESS model of Rolf Hichert. In this post I’d like to introduce you to the subject of IBCS – the International Business Communication Standards. IBCS’ aim is to “foster the level of understanding in reports and presentations” (Source: IBCS). Currently, IBCS consists of two main parts:
Notation of meaning
The part “Notation of meaning” describes basically the semantics of a standardized business communication language. It covers all aspects of meaning in the context of business communication and suggests an appropriate notation.
Design of components
The part “Design of components” covers rather the syntactical aspects of a standardized business communication language. It describes the basic report elements and specific rules to use them for the design of objects such as tables and charts. Several objects and additional elements make up complete pages. Although this part should not consider aspects of meaning, but only define the “grammar” of a unified communication language, some overlap to the “Notation of meaning” (semantics) is inevitable. (Source: IBCS)
IBCS and SUCCESS are closely related, therefore I will start with some explenations about how the two topics are positioned against each other. First of all SUCCESS and IBCS can be looked at from a time perspective. Clearly, SUCCESS was developed first:
From this point of view IBCS is a refinement of certain aspects of SUCCESS (namely the Unify part in SUCCESS). This refinement can be seen in the following perspective too:
SUCCESS provides only generic guidelines without concrete implementation details, e.g. the following one:
This guideline just tells you: If you visualize this year’s revenue with blue in chart number 1, you should also use blue in chart number 2. But the guideline doesn’t tell you to always use blue. If you wish to take brown for current revenue, it’s OK. Just use brown whenever you visualize current revenue. This and many of the other guidelines (some of them are mentioned in my previous blog post) in SUCCESS I therefore attribute to what I call “common sense” or data visualization basic recommendations. Now IBCS comes into play. Whereas SUCCESS is rather generic IBCS defines the details and writes them down. As indicated above IBCS does this in mainly two parts:
- the notation of meaning clearly defines which elements have which meaning:
This way business communication should be simplified through standardization the same way as you are used to it with geographical maps for example. Blue always means water, north is always at the top of the map etc. This “semantic layer” is something which differentiates IBCS from other data visualization and information design concepts. Most if not all of them focus on generic recommendations only. In contrast, IBCS wants to harmonize the visualizations in a business context and make them therefore easier to understand.
- the second aspect of IBCS is the design of components
Let’s have a look at the SUCCESS guidline first, e.g. for chart design:
IBCS gives you much more information, e.g. regarding legends:
You can look at IBCS and SUCCESS from a third perspective too:
In this perspective IBCS is the solid base with all the detailed rules to consider for efficient data visualizations in business communications. Yet the IBCS rules are hard to digest (as every other industry standard…) SUCCESS can be seen as an implementation methodology of them (as IBCS and SUCCESS are mostly congurent to each other). SUCCESS is an acronym of seven verbs – if you act on them, you’ll see that implementing IBCS is pretty straight forward.
IBCS is work in progress and it is open-source (based on the Creative Commons BY-SA license). Its further development is orchestrated by the IBCS Association which again is run by HICHERT + PARTNER. Simply create a login on ibcs-a.org and start to add your own ideas to further refine and extend the standard.
If you want to learn more about IBCS, SUCCESS and how it can be implemented, join me during the BOAK conference this autumn. It takes place on Tuesday, September 16th in Zurich / Switzerland. In the data visualization track (sessions E1 to E4) you’ll find several sessions dedicated to IBCS. Jürgen Faisst, CEO of HICHERT + PARTNER will elaborate on the goals of IBCS. My friend Lars Schubert will demonstrate how you can apply IBCS using the IBCS certified software “graphomate” as part of SAP Design Studio or SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards. I myself will present together with a customer showing how we implemented an IBCS oriented design in Web Intelligence. The day after I will teach these best practices during a one day workshop. A sneak peek on the Webi reports you can find on my Hichert Certified Consultant page. Looking forward to seeing you during the BOAK conference!
What do you think about IBCS and the semantic layer? Do you think it is worth the effort to harmonize data visualizations in a business context? Just add a comment now!
July 26, 2014 1 Comment
It is already for more than three years that I’m engaged with the topic of business information design. It was during a regular Crystal Reports project. We were about to finalize the IT concept phase and the project was on track. Crystal Reports was already selected as the tool to go forward with. When suddenly something happened: The sponsor of the project, the company’s CFO, asked us if we can implement what he called a “Hichert chart”. I found that Hichert is a German business information design specialist and at first sight he had some weird ideas regarding chart design. So weird we couldn’t really implment them with Crystal Reports and – long story short – we couldn’t finish the project as the CFO’s requirement regarding Hichert charts was too strong. Not even other tools within the BusinessObjects portfolio were able to fullfil it. So the customer finally chose an Excel based solution…
Of course I was annoyed but at as well curious. How powerful this Hichert stuff must be in order to turn a project upside down? This was the start of my journey into business information design. According to Wikipedia this field is about the following:
“Information design is the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it. The term has come to be used specifically for graphic design for displaying information effectively, rather than just attractively or for artistic expression.” (Source)
In this and future blog posts I’d like to illustrate how you can achieve this more efficient understanding of data and information in the context of Business Intelligence.
There is already a lot of helpful content available, let me name just a few sources I use in my daily work:
For this article I’d like to introduce the SUCCESS model of Hichert. SUCCESS is an acronym for the following verbs:
Say – Unify – Condense – Check – Enable – Simplify – Structure
Every verb corresponds to a collection or category of design guidelines. Most of these guidelines are commonly accepted best-practices – and you find them as recommendations not only with Hichert but with many of the above people. The only difference with SUCCESS is, that the recommendations are put into about 120 concrete, numbered and illustrated guidelines of “Dos & Don’ts” regarding information design. This very structured approach makes it very easy to get started with the topic. You can find everything summarized on the SUCCESS poster:
You can download your own copy here.
Let me briefly explain what each category is about:
Say: This is about having a message to tell or in general about meaningful content in your reports and dashboards. A good example is the following guideline:
Another important, yet pretty easy to implment guideline tackles the matter of having a clear title concept which enables the reader to quicker grasp what he or she is looking at:
Unify: This category of guidelines is about the statement “what looks the same should mean the same” and the other way round. The following guideline shows suggestions how you might unify the look of tables and charts – for now the important part is not yet what the chart or table looks like but that charts and tables always follow the same design pattern.
Condense: Condense is about increasing the information density on a given report or dashboard page / screen. A few simple but powerful guidelines:
Check: This category is about ensuring quality. One topic for example is to choose an appropriate chart type and the usage of propre scales:
Choose appropriate chart type (Source & Copyright: HICHERT+PARTNER)
Enable: The guidelines in the Enable category are not about information design itself but how to best introduce the guidelines of the other categories into an organization:
Simplify: This category brings together a lot of guidelines which are all about avoiding noise and other distracting elements in the report and dashboard design:
Structure: Similar to the Say category, Structure is more about the content itself than its visual representation. The guidelines here describe how to group data:
Most of the above shown guidelines can be implemented straight away with most BI tools including SAP’s Web Intelligence and Crystal Reports. During my upcoming blog posts I’d like to look more closesly at several further aspects both from technical as well as conceptual perspective. This will also answer the question why we had troubles implementing “Hichert charts” in the customer project mentioned at the beginning.
In the meanwhile I’m happy to get your feedback what you think about SUCCESS and to learn about your experience regarding information design in the context of Business Intelligence.
June 4, 2014 2 Comments
Obviously the multitude of BOBJ client tools is still a hot topic – both for SAP as well as its customers. From SAP’s side we’re hearing now about their decision to consolidate BOBJ / BI client tools. There are a lot of rumours during the currently held SAPPHIRENOW conference like the following:
There was a Google hangout session last week with Steven Lucas, President of Platform Solutions at SAP. In this article I will summarize some key points from this talk and add my own thoughts.
Have a look at the video at about 23:00. Steven mentions that there are currently 21 BI client tools in the BOBJ/SAP portfolio. That’s why SAP already took the decision: “We are going to consolidate our BI tools”. In addition Steven mentions that they won’t deprecate core technologies like Webi or Crystal, but maybe integrate niche solutions like Explorer into Lumira. I personally like the statement about “feature preservation, not tool preservation”.
Although there are good reasons why SAP should consolidate their BI client tool portfolio I’d like to point out where I see the root cause of the problem: Definitely the number of different tools is not the real issue. I often use the comparison with the automotive industry. Just have a look how many models certain car manufacturer have in their portfolio:
Different cars for different purposes. Different tools for different purposes. But what’s different between the shown car portfolio and SAP’s BI client portfolio? All the cars share some basic functionality like four wheels, a steering wheel, head lights etc. For the BI client portfolio we still lack some basic functionality to be included in every tool more or less in the same way: One main issue is the missing homogenity in terms of data access. For relational data the Universe might be seen as a common base. But not even 10 years after Crystal Reports was bought by BusinessObjects, and not even in the new Crystal Reports for Enterprise version which was built from scratch we see equality of how you can connect to datasource compared to e.g. Web Intelligence. The same with BW connectivity. When I was at the sapInsider conference BI2014 two weeks ago at Nice / France, I had to learn once again from Ingo Hilgefort that Web Intelligence lacks some basic functionality like Zero Suppression even now having BICS based direct connectivity to BW. The same with HANA connectivity where Crystal supports HANA connectivity using an OLAP connection but Webi doesn’t. The same with Web Services connectivity and I cut continue the list for a while. From an architectural perspective I just ask: Why?
Another commonly cited issue is the charting library. Still there is nothing like common charting capabilities, the different tools still differ quite heavily in terms of what they provide as chart types and options, not to talk about the missing option to plugin a custom charting extension to all BI tools but only specific ones.
To sum up this first part: SAP’s job isn’t done by simply reducing the number of tools. They need to make sure that the remaining tools share some commonly expected features. Don’t let data connectivity or charting options be the differentiator between the different client tools.
I already wrote certain blog posts about BOBJ tool selection. Whereas the later posts were tool agnostic, the first one was very concrete. In this article I outlined some major differences (especially short comings) between the tools. On this background let me formulate my personal wish list for the future BOBJ tool consolidation:
How do you rate my wishlist? How does your wish list looks like? I’m looking forward to reading your comments soon!
[Update June 12th 2014] The guys from EVTechnology wrote an excellent blog regarding their findings from SAPPHIRENOW. There you can find the following screenshot:
Not too far away from my wishlist though ;-)
In addition Tammy Powlas documented an interesting webcast regarding Crystal Reports for HANA. I just hope that at least the HANA direct connectivity will be added the same way to Web Intelligence…
April 21, 2014 1 Comment
My workmate Christoph Gnodtke wrote an excellent blog about how to identify SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence reports which are impacted by various calculation changes in newer BO versions. What I would like to point out here is that not only BO 4.x migrations are concerend but also “simple” service / support package upgrades e.g. from XI 3.1 SP2 to SP6. In my current customer case we’ve found many many reports which obviously were created in a wrong way, namely that the table structure contains the merged dimension (e.g. [Merged Country]) where as the cells within the row use a variable containing e.g. a Where operator using the original dimension ([Query1].[Country]). In our case the business requirement would have been to use the merged dimension here as well. As outlined here, in former BO support package levels a bug resulted in the effect, that the just mentioned example still showed what the business expected. Now (e.g. in XI 3.1 SP6) that the bug is fixed, the reports start to show wrong values. Although the software 360Eyes doesn’t solve the problem, it at least helps to identify concerned reports. Unfortunately we still need to look into every single report and compare between the version running on the XI 3.1 SP2 environment and the SP6 environment. In order to speed up this process we use 360Cast. This software provides similar features like BO Publications e.g. for report scheduling and bursting. The main advantage namely in the case of report testing are two fold (compared to BO out of the box features):
After all, also 360Cast doesn’t solve the initial problem. But at least we don’t need to run every report (identified by 360Eyes earlier) on its own but can automate the refresh process and we can easily rerun reports (e.g. with different prompts by simply modifying the values in the Excel list).
March 27, 2014 1 Comment
A BI Picture Book is a structured collection of “pictures” aka screenshots of features illustrating one or multiple products. It describes and illustrates the available options in a compact and easy to handle manual. It should help the user to identify what options they have in a given BI front end application.
Referring to scenario A and B above, in an ideal world one would create a BI Picture Book during the initial tool selection process (scenario B). In this context, the BI Picture Book helps to illustrate the available features of the different tools under consideration. Some (or all) of these tools will become “strategic” and therefore the preferred tools to be used during subsequent BI projects. In the same way, the corresponding parts of the original BI Picture Book will also be included in the “daily business” BI Picture Book, which only contains the available options regarding the strategic tool set.
One main characteristic of a BI Picture Book is that we compare feature (or requirement) categories one after another and not a tool (with all its different features) after another tool. This helps to clarify specific differences between the tools for each category.
Based on the previously described structure, the BI Picture Book should contain notes which highlight unique features of one tool compared to the rest of available (or evaluated) tools, e.g. a specific chart type which is only available in one tool. On the other hand, one should highlight limitations regarding specific features that are initially “not obvious”, e.g. in cases where the color palette of charts cannot be customized. Another example is to specifically highlight a tool which does not contain an Excel export (because end users might assume that there is an Excel export for every imaginable BI tool, so that they think they do not have to specify this).
Building a BI Picture Book is primarily about taking screenshots and arranging them in a structured manner, e.g. following the seven feature categories introduced above. As with every other project, certain points need to be planned and clarified before you start:
After having answered these questions, you can start: Take whatever screen capture program you like and start taking the screenshots. Use either a tool like Microsoft Powerpoint or Word to collect and layout the screenshot in a meaningful way. Keep an eye on the point that the BI Picture Books’ main characteristic is about comparing a specific feature over multiple tools. Therefore, put the screenshots of a given feature for multiple tools side by side on the same page or slide.
The subsequent paragraphs will illustrate how a concrete BI Picture Book might look. Screenshots are taken from various SAP Business Intelligence front end tools.
Content options are difficult to illustrate using screenshots regarding scenario A). For scenario B) we can, for example, compare the different available data connectivity options:
For navigation options outside of information, products typically screenshots of a BI portal are to be taken. This can be either based on a vendor specific portal or your company’s intranet site (or both if end users have a choice and need to decide which one to use).
On the other hand, a tool provides navigation and selection features inside information products. We usually take screenshots for at least the following elements:
Some of these elements are illustrated as follows:
The drill-down example, in particular, shows that it is not enough for an end user to simply specify “we need drill-down functionality” as a requirement. End users need to specify requirements in alignment with the different options of drill-down available.
We suggest taking screenshots for the following elements:
Make sure you list all important features and highlight the unique ones as well as limitations that are not obvious. This helps end users to compare the different options. In some cases, it is important to shed more light on the settings of features such as charts. By way of example, specify if it is possible to change the colors of a pie chart?
Next up are functional options, for example export. It is quite simple to find the available options and therefore it is easy for end users to choose from the existing options. It is useless, for example, if you let someone define that he wants a PowerPoint export from a front end tool, if it does not exist. Of course this would be nice, but it is simply not part of the catalog.
Another category of functions is printing. Usually it is not precise enough if an end user specifies he needs to print a document. Giving them a picture book, they can easily find out the available printing options. The BI Picture Book should clarify points such as if you can mix landscape and portrait page mode or choose «Fit to page». Below is our list of typical functions which could be integrated into the BI Picture Book:
An up-to-date topic which falls into the category of delivery options is mobile-device compatibility. This is becoming increasingly important at a time when all information should be available independent of the end users geographical location. Depending on the BI vendor and the BI tool itself, mobile devices support can differ considerably. Some serve the information products 1:1 to mobile devices. Others transform existing information products into specific mobile versions, which might have quite a different look and feel compared to the original information product.
As with content options, it is somehow difficult to visualize security options using screenshots in a meaningful way. Try to focus on the comparison aspect between different tools and highlight unique features and limitations that are not obvious. The following example illustrates the available access rights for two different tools. One tool can simply restrict the export functionality in general, whereas the other tool can control the different export formats.
It is hard to illustrate this category using screenshots. Yet, as indicated in a previous paragraph, you can try to find other illustrations to guide your end users in specifying qualitative requirements.
As with my other blog posts this article doesn’t aim to be a complete list of something. A BI Picture Book is neither the only way to define BI specific requirements nor is it enought to define a complete BI front end tool strategy. It shows you a particular idea and it is up to you to apply it in your organization in combination with other appropriate methods.
Please share your experience – I’m looking forward to reading your comment just below!
March 23, 2014 5 Comments
(Thanks to my co-author Alexander van’t Wout for supporting me writing this blog post!)
Imagine a sales conversation at your local car dealer. After some small talk you are going to tell the salesperson about your interest in buying a brand new car. Nothing easier than this you might think. But suddenly you are confused. The friendly salesperson asks you if you would please write down exactly what you want and draw a sketch of what you have in mind. As if this was not funny enough he hands a sketch board over to you with a blank sheet of paper on it.
This is how many Business Intelligence (BI) experts deal with their customers today. End users are often left alone to «design» their requirements. A car is a «commercial off-the-shelf product» and therefore very similar to a BI toolset, which is «off-the-shelf software». A common characteristic of both product types is the standardization of features, and therefore a limited set of features. On one hand, this might limit your flexibility; on the other hand, it simplifies the process of requirements’ definition drastically because you do not need to consider each and every detail to build a system.
We can distinguish two major scenarios where a business user community needs to specify requirements for BI front end tools: scenario A) is an organizational environment where the business intelligence software suite is already predefined. This means that for a regular project the project team is not free to choose from all available tools on the market, but only within the limited frame of what is usually called strategic vendors. In most organizations this means no choice at all. Typically, most organizations limit themselves to one or two strategic BI vendors, whereas every vendor provides a suite of tools and therefore provides a choice to project teams.
Scenario B) takes place when a company is about to choose their strategic BI vendors, or when it is about to define a front-end tool strategy based on a given toolset available. The difference to scenario A) is that there are no concrete requirements or previous use cases to do this. Decisions involving, for example, choosing strategic BI vendors, or building a front end tool strategy usually have to be derived from corporate requirements, which may mean some high-level requirements that are influenced by end users only in an indirect way.
In Scenario A, the main task is to map requirements to concrete features and specify detailed requirements (which take into consideration the chosen features). In scenario B, the main task is to get to know multiple tools and multiple tool suites of different BI vendors and make them comparable in an easy and quick way. For both cases, the authors suggest the visual approach of BI Picture Books as an analogy to a car catalog. In subsequent paragraphs, “end user” is used as a synonym for the party who is in charge of defining requirements for the BI front end tools.
As outlined in the introduction, working with business intelligence software is working with off-the-shelf software nowadays. This means that not all imaginable requirements are allowed anymore. In particular in scenario A) end users cannot have all they want, but their requirements need to be aligned with the available features of a given tool set. Still, the first step is collecting business requirements to compare with the technical features of the standard software. This process can be very frustrating for the business user after s/he has noted his requirements on a blank sheet of paper and tried to picture himself using a solution that fits his needs. The necessary negotiations regarding the technical feasibility are more likely a surrender of the business user’s initial requirements.
Therefore, the question that arises is, how could we show the end user in advance which options are available and therefore feasible as a solution to his requirements? To answer this question, we take a look at the automotive sector again.
Today, modern car manufacturers provide web-based car configurators, where customers can “build” their own car. The customers have to walk through several steps, e.g. choosing the color, the wheels, the engine and accessories. We can learn two things from such car configurators: First, guide the end user defining the necessary (and feasible) requirements. Second, provide visual support to the end user showing what different available options look like.
To «build» a BI front end solution we identified seven crucial categories which need to be addressed during the requirements’ engineering process. This corresponds to scenario A above. For scenario B one can still use the same categories, but instead of defining requirements along the lines of these categories you can structure the available features and thus make the comparison of the different tools much easier. The following sections will outline the seven categories in more detail:
Using these seven categories to either structure your end user requirements (scenario A) or structure and therefore compare the available features of multiple tools in an evaluation process (scenario B), you will be able to catch at least 80% of typical BI front end requirements. Depending on the concrete project, you will most probably have to extend the list with your own items. Still, the basic principle of guiding end users whilst defining requirements remains the same.
Another way of structuring the requirements using the seven categories is to outline dependencies. Similar to web based car configurators, there are certain requirements in a given category which have a direct impact on the allowed (or needed) requirements in another category, e.g. defining a delivery channel using mobile devices will most probably have an impact on the desired (or available) layout options, as well as certain security options. In such a case, one needs to cycle back or forwards in the categories and adjust previously defined requirements. In sum, the typical procedure will be to run through the seven categories in an iterative way starting with a rough idea of requirements in the first round and refining requirements (also considering newly discovered dependencies) in subsequent rounds.
However, there is one question left: What does a non-technical user understand by these categories? A simple feature list is usually not enough, in particular for people whose daily business is not building a BI front end solution. The authors suggest building and using a visual catalog of available options, just like the car-configurator. We call this a BI Picture Book. (More about this in part 2)
January 7, 2014 Leave a comment
After some more “theoretical” blog posts back in 2013 I’d like to start the new year with a short technical contribution. As some of you may know I’m trying to upgrade the BO XI 3.1 SP2.7 environment of one of our major customers to XI 3.1 SP6. This is sort of a painful experience as we are working on it since more than 12 months now. Still, there is some light at the horizon as back in December Fixpack 6.3 was released which contains an important bug fix. Not to mention that the bug wasn’t yet there in SP2.7 but was introduced somewhen between SP3 and SP6. The issue is referenced in the SAP KB1897777 and it seems to be fixed now.
What is our situation? We have Webi reports containing containing multiple queries and merged dimensions. If we use dimensions from two different queries in the same table, variables as well as filters containing “IsNull” functions do not work properly.
Here we are with the report in XI 3.1 SP2.7:
Now the result in SP6 (prior to Fixpack 6.3):
… and finally how it looks like with Fixpack 6.3 applied:
The tricky part was to detect this error (the above screenshots are very simplified tables for debugging purposes). Obviously even our business users didn’t caught this at first sight. Therefore I’m glad if I can contribute that you double check this if you are on a lower version than Fixpack 6.3. On the other hand: Please let me know if you find other (newly introduced) bugs in FP6.3…
And by the way: Happy New Year and lot’s of fun in the Business Intelligence world ;-)
November 7, 2013 4 Comments
Finally – I’m blogging again. Time flew by and “my life as a BI consultant” kept me busy with migrations from Oracle to Teradata or from BO XI 3.1 SP2 to SP6. Or maybe you’ve also heard about our BusinessObjects Arbeitskreis (can be translated as “workshop”), I’d call this the “only BOBJ dedicated conference in Europe”: www.boak.ch It was a pleasure to build and execute an interesting agenda for our participants as well as welcoming great people like Jason Rose, Mani Srini, Saurabh Abhyankar, Mico Yuk or Carsten Bange. I also had the pleasure to do the closing key note during BOAK. It was around BOBJ front-end Tool Selection. I used this opportunity to further develop a generic yet simple method how to approach the frontend tool selection. The basic idea I formulated already in my last blog post back in April 2013. But I agree with some of the comment writers that this first rule of thumb was maybe to specific to be applied in all situations. Therefore let me share what I think is a more generic approach – by the way you can use this of course for other BI vendors and not only SAP BusinessObjects (the following illustrations are just examples – the listed and selected tools don’t have any concrete meaning!):
PART A: Preparation
Step 1: List all available BI front-ends
The first thing to do is to get an overview what BI front-end tools are available in general from a specific BI vendor. As I’m a big fan of working interactively with people, e.g. gathering in front of a whiteboard or flipchart, I suggest you write down product names to sticky notes and post them on the flipchart:
Step 2: Divide tools into “in scope” and “out of scope”
Depending on your environments you can do a first, yet very rough tool selection and divide the intially listed tools (see step 1) into two groups:
“Out of Scope”: This is maybe easier to start with: If you don’t have SAP BW as a source, you can eliminate all tools working with BW only. Or if your security policy prohibits the use of Flash, maybe Explorer or Xcelsius are out of scope a priori.
“In scope”: All the tools which are not out of scope.
PART B: Build a working hypothesis
Step 3: Select the tool which covers most of your requirements
This step assumes that you have quite a clear understanding of your business needs to be solved with a BI solution. I’m fully aware that this is often not the case. But to keep the basic process for tool selection as simple as possible I won’t go into details about how to find the “right” requirements. Not yet, but maybe in a further blog post.
Anyway, let’s represent the total amount of requirements symbolically as a circle. Now think about which tool has the broadest coverage of your requirements. Take the sticky note and put it onto the circle. Please be aware that this is only a “working hypothesis” – trust your gut feeling – you can always revise your tool choice later on in the process.
Step 4: Select the tool which covers most of your left over requirements
Repeat step 3 and think about the tool which might cover most of your left over requirements and put the corresponding sticky note into the circle.
PART C: Validate your working hypothesis
Nothing is more annoying than “strategies” which exist only on paper but cannot be transformed into reality. Keep in mind that you’ve just built what I call a working hypothesis. Now you should validate it and test against the reality. It will either prove your gut feeling regarding tool selection was right or wrong.
So far you have selected two tools. They represent a selection hierarchy. For any given or new requirement (or group of requirements) you should now do a hands-on test. Always start with the first chosen tool: How well can you implement the requirement? Does the implementation fullfil your expectations? What do your end users think about it? Do they like it? For now I leave it up to you to define the “success criteria” to decide in which case a prototypic implementation passes the hands-on test and when not. Anyway, if the implementation passes the hands-on test, you should go with tool #1 for this kind of requirement now and in future situations.
If the implementation fails the hands-on test for tool #1, go forward to tool #2 and do a hands-on test again with this one. Hopefully your prototypic implementation now passes the test and you can define to go with tool #2 for this kind of requirement now and in future situations.
What happens if a prototypic implementation fails the second hands-on test too? There are three alternatives:
I’m fully aware that the outlined process is simplistic. That’s why you might not be able to use it “as is” in your current frontend tool selection project. But it shows the basic idea (namely to build a tool selection hierarchy and validate it with hands-on tests) on how to narrow down the number of useful tools in a given context – and it is your job to apply respectively adapt it to your environment. Let me know what you think about it – and how it works in your environment!
April 17, 2013 40 Comments
What is the right SAP BusinessObjects frontend for a given situation? A question I’m asked nearly every day. When I was confronted first with this topic a few years ago the taken approach was a highly sophisticated Excel spreadsheet in order to assess all available BOBJ tools based on a feature list. The only problem was: At the bottom line there was never a clear winner. Next approach were the famous decision trees like the following:
Not bad as a first guess. And in an ideal world where the basic functionality would be the same for all BOBJ tools such a tree could work indeed. But given the situation that even today – nearly ten year after the aquisition of Crystal by BO – support for universes is still not exactly the same in Webi, Crystal Reports and Xcelsius (aka Dashboards) and especilly the maturity of a tool or a sub component of it is vastly different, there is no clever way to tell you which tool to use for which purpose.
Although you can’t give a distinct answer to the question “which tool to use for what”, I’m convinced that the following rule of thumb will be valid in most situations and for a majority of organisations – the only assumption is that there is no limitation out of licensing. That means I assume you have a license for all or at least the most important frontend tools. The idea behind this rule is that a priority rating is more helpful than a feature or use case driven decision tree.
Here is my rule of thumb:
Let me share some thoughts about this priority list:
Why should we start with Web Intelligence? There are various reasons for this:
Still, Web Intelligence has some short comings. That’s why you should evaluate Crystal Reports in a second instance:
But before you choose Crystal Reports remember there are two versions of Crystal Reports: The legacy Crystal Reports 2011 and Crystal Reports for Enterprise. The first one is mature and stable, but does not contain new features introduced only to CR4Ent. On the other hand, CR4Ent is a de facto “1.x” product regarding its code maturity. For now I simply cannot recommend to use it as your major reporting tool without intensive testing of your own use cases in your environment. On the other hand – depending on your situation – the legacy Crystal Reports does not support UNX universes at all nor does it support UNV universes as you’d expect it coming from Webi.
What about all the other tools? I call them “niche tools”. This is due to the fact that all of them have quite a narrow scope of application compared to the “generalists” Webi and Crystal, let me name a few:
This doesn’t mean that these tools are not valuable in the context of specific requirements. But assuming that there is a value in reducing the number of used and supported tools to a minimum, these tools should be chosen only after having evaluated Webi and Crystal beforehand. According to my experience chances are quite high that your requirements can be covered by one of these two tools.
What is your experience with tool selection? Would you agree with my rule of thumb? Anything I missed? Looking forward to reading your comments!