Wishlist for SAP BOBJ tool consolidation

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:

JayneTool roadmap

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:

  • Merge Crystal Reports into Web Intelligence: I know, according to Steven’s statement above this won’t gonna happen as Crystal is considered a core technology. Still, give this thought a chance. There isn’t that much missing between Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence from a feature perspective. Conditional formatting, interactive alerts, some more export formats, hierarchical grouping for relational data and a more powerful formula language. Being a Crystal Reports consultant for more than 12 years I’m not really happy with this thought in a first instance as I really like the tool. But if imagine how I could leverage certain Crystal Reports features with the powerful capabilities of Webi, it sounds very promising to me.
  • Merge BO Dashboards / Xcelsius “visuals” and input controls into Web Intelligence, Design Studio and Lumira: Stop the thinking that “a dashboard” is a matter of the tool. From a business perspective a dashboard has more important elements than just to be fancy and highly interactive. Depending on the business requirements you can build a dashboard in many tools including Design Studio (more app style dashboards), Lumira (more the ad-hoc kind of dashboard) and Webi (if you want to have more sophisticated data  capabilities and the fully fletched platform support like scheduling / publishing, control user actions with rights etc.) So please share the visual components we find in BO Dashboards today to various tools like Webi, Design Studio and Lumira.
  • Merge Explorer and Lumira – and think about the “feature preservation”. Don’t forget to add the “Export to Webi” somehow to Lumira.
  • Merge LiveOffice into BO Analysis, Edition for Office. LiveOffice is still very powerful, but I think we don’t need two separate add-ons.
  • Merge Analysis OLAP into – I’m not sure, as I’m not very used to this tool. Regarding the BW connectivity issues I’d like to see the Analysis OLAP capabilities in Webi. And / or you can add an OLAP grid / control to Design Studio.
  • Merge the predictive tools like Infinite Insight and Predictive Analysis into one joint tool.

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:

SAP-BI-Platform-Simplification-500

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…

 

The bug paradox: When fixing the bug leads to wrong reports

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):

  1. Report selection for a schedule job can be done using good old BO categories. That means you can assign e.g. a test category to all reports you want to test in one single run. In our customer case we use categories for each data mart. In 360Cast, instead of choosing every single report individually, we just choose to select all reports of this test category.
    CategorySelection
    In order to run all these reports with one single click there is just one thing missing: Providing all the necessary prompt values, often the same values for the same prompts (like Year) over many reports. This is where the second advantage comes into play:
  2. To provide prompt values 360Cast accepts both manual input values (where a value can be applied to a all prompts with the same name) but also values from an Excel sheet (or even from an SQL query). We usually use the Excel alternative. Based on this we can easily vary input parameters for different test purporses by simply using another Excel sheet. In addition we can specify the export format and the recipients, e.g. by providing an email address.
    PromptSettingMapping
    (The values in the drop down menues correspond to the columns in the underlying Excel spreadsheet)

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).

BI Picture Books (BI specific requirements engineering – part 2)

Part 1 of this article you’ll find here.

Illustrate available options using a BI Picture Book

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.

Figure2

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).

How to build a BI Picture Book

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:

  • What is the primary purpose of the BI Picture Book? This refers to either scenario A) requirements engineering or scenario B), creating a front end tool strategy.
  • Which BI tool vendors are to be taken into consideration? Which concrete tools of these vendors are to be integrated into the BI Picture Book? For scenario A) this is defined by the available strategically defined BI toolset. For scenario B) it depends on the procedure for evaluating and selecting tools for your front end tool strategy.
  • Once you know which tools you want to take screenshots of you need to define which software version to use. Depending on the release cycle of the BI vendor, the software version can make quite a difference regarding available features. Therefore a BI Picture Book is mostly specific to a certain version.
  • For cars, there are tuning shops which provide extra features not offered by the car manufacturer. Similarly, in the BI world, there are many add-on providers who extend the available features of BI products. If such add-ons are already in place, it is important to include their features in the BI Picture Book. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t forget to label features from add-on products specifically as they might be charged additionally.
  • Do not show options which are not applicable in practice, e.g. system wide customizations on a multi-tenant BI platform. An example is customizing the look and feel of the BI portal by modifying the portal’s CSS style sheet. Although, in theory, this option might exist, depending on your organizational and technical setup, to changing the style sheet might not be allowed because many other stakeholders would be affected.

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.

1. Content Options

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:

Figure4

Connectivity Options in Crystal Reports

Figure3

Connectivity Options in SAP Lumira

2. Navigation & Selection 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).

Figure5

SAP BusinessObjects BI Launchpad

On the other hand, a tool provides navigation and selection features inside information products. We usually take screenshots for at least the following elements:

  • Parameter & Prompts
  • Input Controls
  • Groups / Hierarchy View and Navigation
  • Drill Down features
  • Tabs

Some of these elements are illustrated as follows:

Figure6

Prompts in SAP BusinessObjects WebIntelligence

Figure7

Selectors in SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (aka Xcelsius)

Figure9

Drill-Down in Web Intelligence

Figure8

Drill-Down in Crystal Reports

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.

3. Layout Options

Figure10

Excerpt of Chart Picture Book for some SAP BusinessObjects front end tools

We suggest taking screenshots for the following elements:

  • Charts
  • Tables
  • Cross tables
  • Speedometers
  • Maps
  • Conditional formatting

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?

4. Functional Options

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.

Figure11

Different export formats for different tools

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:

  • Export formats
  • Printing options
  • Alerts
  • MS Office Integration
  • Commentary features
  • Multi-language support
  • Search options

 

5. Delivery Options

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.

Figure13

Crystal Reports document being viewed on a desktop and on an iPad

Figure12

Web Intelligence document being viewed on a desktop and on an iPad

6. Security Options

Figure14

Different security options for Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence documents

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.

7. Qualitative Options

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.

Final Words

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!

The Generic BI front-end Tool Selection Process

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:

Step01

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.

Step02

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.

Step03

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.

Step04

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.

Step05

What happens if a prototypic implementation fails the second hands-on test too? There are three alternatives:

  • If you fail the second hands-on test for let’s say <10% of requirements, you should think about a specific solution for these obviously very special requirements: Mabye you simply continue to solve these requirements “manually” in Excel? Maybe you need to buy a niche tool for it? Just find a pragmatic solution case wise.
  • If you fail the second hands-on test for let’s say <30% of requirements, you should think about adding a third tool to your tool selection hierarchy.
  • If you fail the second hands-on test for let’s say <60% of requirements, you should definitely revise your working hypothesis and play through another tool selection hierarchy.

Closing Notes

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!

The Rule of Thumb for BOBJ Tool Selection

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:

BO-Tool-DecisionTree

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:

  1. Try it with Web Intelligence
  2. If Webi didn’t work, try it with Crystal Reports
  3. If Crystal Reports didn’t work, try it with one of the “niche” tools

Let me share some thoughts about this priority list:

Why should we start with Web Intelligence? There are various reasons for this:

  • From a features perspective Web Intelligence provides the most widest range in the BOBJ tool suite. You can use Webi for creating classical standard reports, you can use it for dashboard like applications (think about Input Controls and the ease of use regarding drilling – e.g. compared to Xcelsius…), you can use it for self-service reporting, you can use it as a data pump using XLSX export or interface to other applications using BI Web Services etc.
  • From a maturity perspective it is one of the most stable and mature applications in the BOBJ world. I tell you this as an native “Crystal guy”. But whereas Crystal Reports 2011 runs stable the same way as it did for the last decade, the new Crystal Reports for Enterprise is just crap compared to both, the legacy CR and Webi.
  • From a data source perspective: Webi is the only tool which fully supports all kind of Universe stuff. I’ve never heard of any limitation that Webi would not support something what you can do in a Universe (by design). But let me compare this to Crystal Reports: On one hand you can use only UNX universes in CR4Ent, on the other not all type of queries are supported. Crystal still has the limitation that if a universe query results in multiple SQL statements it fails to handle it as there is no local “micro cube” as with Webi. Of course this whole argument implies that we value a “common semantic layer” to be of high “added value” to an organization and therefore should be supported in its full scope. But there is even more to add: Webi handles not only multiple SQL result sets per query, it can also leverage multiple queries and easily join them. Although I’m not a friend of “merged dimensions”, there are many situations where this capability is the only work around to get the job done at the end of the day (and not three monthes later when the data finally arrived in the DWH…). No clever way to do this in Crystal Reports or Xcelsius directly.
  • From an SAP BW perspective: Two or three years ago we had to decide for Crystal Reports often because of its better connectivity to SAP BW and all around it with hierarchy handling etc. These days are “passé”. My most recent experience with Webi using the BICS interface are very promising. Totally in contrast with CR4Ent which crashes regularly, even with the latest patch level.
  • From a usability perspective: Although SAP currently tries to position Webi to be the tool where business users develop the reports, I think its usability is equivalently valubale for IT folks too. Report development is quick and straight forward – once you’ve got used to the ribbon style menues ;-)
  • From an installation footprint perspective: Given the situation that SAP releases new patches nearly every third or four week, patching client installations is an nightmare. The more valuable are fully web based deployment scenarios. Therefore once again, Webi is the favorite.

Still, Web Intelligence has some short comings. That’s why you should evaluate Crystal Reports in a second instance:

  • One of the major differentiators between Crystal Reports and all the other frontend tools is Conditional Formatting. As you may know Crystal Reports has a powerful formula language integrated. This formula language can be used to control neary every property you can set in Crystal Reports. This way you can implement what I call “guided interactivity” at its best: Let the end user choose some parameter values and use these values to control both, the data in the report but especially the layout too. The typical use here is: A customer wants to build 10 similar reports. They are not exactly same regarding the layout, but similar. For example, in Webi there is no straight forward way to show conditionally show or hide some parts of the report. In Crystal Reports such a thing is a no-brainer.
  • Interactive / proactive Alerts: As of today, only Crystal Reports based alerts can be used to send an email notification if they are triggered.
  • Export formats: Crystal Reports has a multitude of available export formats, including Word or XML, which aren’t available in any of the other tools.
  • Hierarchical Grouping for relational data sources: Crystal Reports can dynamically resolve a Child-Id-to-Parent-Id relationship and apply calculations over such a hierarchy.

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:

  • SAP Visual Intelligence: This is a great tool for ad-hoc-analysis. But that’s it. No way (yet) to publish documents online (except over Explorer), schedule them or create more sophisticated standard reports.
  • Explorer: Not the most mature product, especilly in the context of SAP BW and BWA as a datasouce… In general, Explorer is nice for “standard” visualizations. But have you ever tried to customize even basic elements of these charts? Or have you tried to add a simple table into an Exploration View? Or export an Exploration View as a whole? As of today these basic things seem to be impossible…
  • Analysis, Edition for OLAP: Limited to OLAP data sources, no clever integration into scheduling, publishing etc.
  • Analysis, Edition for Microsoft Office: Only BW support…
  • Dashboards / Xcelsius: Limited capabilities in terms of data volume that can be processed, no straight forward way to realize drill downs, no common export formats, no full Universe support, no scheduling capabilities…
  • Design Studio: Not usable for productive environements in the current version 1.0, and even for subsequent versions I’m very sceptical… In addition the scope of the tool is focused on BI App development which as such is clearly a niche.

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!

Using HANA on Cloudshare Part 1: Setup connectivity

Hi everybody

As you may know I’m a great fan of Cloudshare, you’ll find my previous post about testing in the cloud here. So far we had to use “traditional” databases like SQL Server or Oracle to work in Cloudshare. Finally SAP managed to get its new baby – HANA – to various cloud platforms, including Cloudshare –> see here for an overview. They provide you with a regular Cloudshare environment with 24GB RAM with two machines, the HANA server on Linux and a Win7 client with HANA Studio – you can register for the 30 day trial sponsored by SAP here:

01_Environment

So far so good. But what is the value of an isolated HANA database? It’s pretty small. Usually in Cloudshare, an “environment” is quite isolated network wise, therefore my first idea was to extend the 24GB RAM and add another machine, e.g. with BO4 installed. Unfortunately the maximum RAM per environment is 32GB. Even more sad that BO4 doesn’t really work with 8GB of RAM… What to do? A first inquiry with Cloudshare showed that obviously the HANA environment is somewhat special. After some try and error I found how you can easily connect to your HANA environment both from your local client or another Cloudshare environment. Let me share my findings with you in this blog. As you can read in the title I plan some other posts, especially about how to fill data into HANA using SAP BO Data Services.

First thing we need to do is creating a static vanity URL for the Cloudshare machine. For this switch from “My environments” to “My Account”. There go to “Vanity URLs” and specify whatever you want – the only thing you can’t take anymore is hana ;-)

02_VanityURL

As you can see, there are two public URLs available now: the regular with .cld.sr and a second one vm.cld.sr. In the background these two URLs are mapped to different public IPs. Whereas the first one gives you the default access to ports like 80, 8080 etc. the second one seems to redirect also HANA specific ports like 30015. Therefore you don’t need any kind of port forwarding as suggested in forum threads like here. Don’t forget to click “Save changes” at the end of the page.

You can now do a first test within the HANA Studio on Cloudshare itself – add a new system and use <your-name>.vm.cld.sr:

03_AddSystem104_AddSystem2

05_AddSystem306_AddSystem4

As you can see in the last screenshot, the only “issue” with the connectivity is, that somehow the status information of the HANA server cannot be retrieved, therefore you don’t get the green light but a yellow one. But don’t worry, everything works fine.

The next and so far final part is to connect from another Cloudshare environment, e.g. using the Information Design Tool:

Create a new relational connection using the HANA JDBC driver:

07_AddConnection1  08_AddConnection2

And finally you can start to build your data foundation based on this connection:

09_CreateDF

Hope this helps. Wish you a lot of fun playing around with HANA on cloudshare!

How to configure BO Explorer 4.0 to run with BWA

Hi everybody

This is just a quick note about my findings how to get BO Explorer 4.0 to connect to SAP’s Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA). Besides the possibility of a relational UNX universe based connectivity, this is the only way in BO 4.0 to connect Explorer to an SAP BW.

As it seems many others have the same question – while reading this blog please keep in mind it is not a well researched articel, it is just a write-down of some current findings. They might be incomplete and I’m happy to see comments from your side about what your experience is.

If you look into the official admin guide of BO Explorer you’ll find only the BO side configurations. No word about what’s necessary to configure on the BW side. That’s why so many of you (including myself until a few days ago) never saw this “BWA node” in BO Explorer. For me the key was to find the following documentation:

http://help.sap.com/saphelp_nw73ehp1/helpdata/en/4b/e2ff960ff91323e10000000a15822b/content.htm

Basically I had to configure two main things on the BW side to get the BWA connecting to BO Explorer:

  1. “start program RSDDTREX_ADMIN_MAINTAIN In ABAP Editor (transaction SE38) with OBJECT = ‘POLESTAR_SYSTEM’ and VALUE = ’2′.”
  2. “Enter transaction code RSDDTPS in the input field. The Explorer Object Selection screen appears. On the left of the screen, there is a list of all BW objects that can be activated for display in SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. The objects are displayed under the InfoAreas that they belong to. The icon in the Explorer Status column indicates that the corresponding object has already been activated.” (more infos here)

After having applied these and some other properties described in the documentation above, some restarts of Tomcat and the BO Explorer services we finally could access the BWA indexes from within Explorer.

A helpful page is the following wiki (although I couldn’t find the info above on it): http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/BOBJ/BWA+and+Explorer+homepage

And a last remark: I got several times a Tomcat stack error including the following statement:

com.businessobjects.datadiscovery.web.beans.DataDiscoveryWebSession.initializeFromRequest

I first thought this might be due to some misconfiguration I did by chance when trying to setup the BWA thing. It was not. It’s some kind of login / SSO problem. Simply close all browser instances (e.g. Internet Explorer) and login to BI Launchpad again and then open Explorer. It should work again.

Desktop Intelligence to connect again to BO 4.1

Let me share an interesting finding with you, especially those who were not attending the recent SAP BO User Conference in Orlando. When I first saw the following pic I thought this must be another joke about Deski:

(Source: pic.twitter.com/Wckjr4HX)

During the recent BO user conference (the BusinessObjects Arbeitskreis / BOAK) hosted by IT-Logix in Zurich / Switzerland I mentioned this and got numerous requests to look for more details. Obviously many of Swiss BOBJ customers still use Deski and it is quite a show stopper to them regarding any upcoming migration to BO 4. Yet this morning Blair Wheadon from SAP confirmed the slide above was no joke but serious:

As you can see the Desktop Intelligence Compatibility Pack (DCP) should be available in BO 4.1, the next minor release (don’t confuse this with patch 4.1 which equals to BO 4.0.4.1). So far I couldn’t find any rumours when BO 4.1 will be available. Feel free to write your estimation by adding a comment!

Update: I’ve just found more information here:

scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-31798

Great thoughts by Eric Vallo here: bit.ly/NEi3b9

Backup & Recovery in BO 4.0

This post is dedicated to the available means of backup & recovery in SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0. There are several changes compared to the previous version XI 3.1 including some literally missing functionality.

The recovery scenario: Partial restore of report and universe objects

In my eyes the typical recovery scneario is a partial restore. It happens quite quickly that you either delete a folder with a whole bunch of reports or that you want to revert a change in a report or universe development. Especially if we consider the ad-hoc reporting capabilities of Web Intelligence you probably don’t have a local copy of the corresponding report. In addition people which do any mistake leading to a recovery procedure tend to notice that they did such a mistake only with a certain gap in time, this means they request the recovery e.g. of a given folder not immediately after its deletion but perhaps two weeks later when they realize they deleted some reports too much. In the meanwhile the system might have been used heavily, that’s why a full recovery of the system itself is not really an option. What you need in such a situation is the possibility to recover only selected objects from a backup set to the original system. In this blog I will concentrate on this scenario. I use “original” system as a term to identify the system on which I take the backup and to which I want to recover something back.

The available possibilities in BO 4.0

There are three major approaches in taking a backup of BO 4.0 and recover partial content:

  1. Create some kind of BIAR file (multiple options available, see below) and try to recover selected elements back to the original system.
  2. Do a full backup, restore the full backup to a separate BO “recovery” system and finally use LCM to “promote” selected objects back to the original system.
  3. Use a professional backup & recovery solution like 360View from GB and Smith

Let me evaluate the above approaches in the next few sections.

The BIAR approach

The BO Admin Guide states in section 12.1.1.3 (page 466):

It is recommended that you use the Lifecycle management console for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platform to regularly back up your Business Intelligence content, such as reports, users and groups, and universes. Having current backups of your content makes it possible to restore your Business Intelligence without having to restore your entire system or your server settings.

Whoever wrote this sentence at SAP doesn’t seem to have either any concrete experience with LCM or not a clear idea what a backup & recovery tool should fullfifl in practice. Respectively let’s have a look at just any given freeware to backup your Windows files. Therefore to point this out right at the beginning: Keep your hands off in trusting LCM as your one and only backup solution for BO. LCM is a tool to promote (or in the SAP jargon ‘transport’) objects from one environment to another. LCM was never made to be a backup solution. Let me explain in some more details:

The preferred way to take a backup using LCM is exporting a LCM job into a LCMBIAR file. Finally with FP3 / SP04 you can now schedule the export to such a file. But there are some critical short comings with this (as of SP04 Patch 1; anyone having differing experience with a higher patch level please comment below!):

  • reimporting the LCMBIAR file to the original system on which you created the file will fail as soon as you delete the original LCM job. What real backup solution makes itself depending on the job object creating the backup set?
  • whenever you import a BIAR file you don’t have an option to select / unselect objects to restore. There is only black or white: Either you import all the contents from your (LCM)BIAR file or nothing.
  • LCMBIAR files do not save your successful instances. Only recurring instances are backed up. But by the way you cannot decide whether to restore recurring instances or not, as mentioned before you have to restore everything belonging to the BIAR file.

A next approach in using BIAR files is to use the new Upgrade Management Tool or the “legacy” biarengine.jar. The good news here are that LCM finally is capable to import regular BIAR files which were created by these two means. The following things should be considered:

  • In contrast to LCMBIAR files, regular BIAR files can be imported without any dependancy to any LCM job.
  • The Upgrade Management Tool as well as the biarengine.jar takes a backup of both, recurring as well as successful report instances.
  • Unfortunately SAP was so stupid – sorry to say it like this, but I couldn’t find any other term to express my feelings about this situation – to remove (or just not allow…) the possibility to import a BIAR file of the same software version using the Upgrade Management Tool. In XI 3.1 this became quite standard during a recovery procedure to load the BIAR file using Import Wizard and then select only the objects you need to recover. In combination with the short coming of LCM not to be able to select individual objects this is a real sad thing (#factoryofsadness …). Dear SAP: Just give us back basic functionalities like restoring selectively either using Upgrade Management Tool or LCM!

For those interested in the biarengine.jar – I couldn’t find any hints on it in the BI4 documentation, so I took the admin guide from XI 3.1 and it seems that everything still works as before (for more detailed infos see this blog):

First of all you need a properties file to specify what you want to be backed up:

exportBiarLocation=C:/temp/BiarEngineBackup.biar
action=exportXML
userName=Administrator
password=<your password>
CMS=cloudsrv012:6400
authentication=secEnterprise
exportDependencies=true
exportQuery=select * from ci_infoobjects where si_parent_folder = <your own id or query> OR SI_ID = <your own id or query>

Save these lines of text in a file, e.g. mybackup.properties. After all you can execute the following commands on the command line or in a batch file (replace C:\BOE4 etc. with your own BO install path):

cd “C:\BOE40\SAP BusinessObjects\SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0\win32_x86\jre\bin”
java -jar “C:\BOE40\SAP BusinessObjects\SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0\java\lib\biarengine.jar” C:\Temp\mybackup.properties

You can use either the biarengine or LCM to restore content to the original system. As you can only restore the full BIAR file, I recommend to have a dedicated recovery or sandbox system in place where you can import the BIAR file as such and then use LCM to restore only what you need back to the orginal system. Such a dedicated system you need anyway for the second major approach, restoring objects from a full backup.

The full backup / restore approach

As long as you have a dedicated system available to “mount” the full backup into a running BO system this appraoch is quite straight forward and nothing to be afraid of (as long as you know what you do ;-)). The following high-level steps will guide you through the recovery process:

  1. Take a full backup of your original system on a regular basis. This includes at least a backup of your CMS system / repository database, the FileStore folder(s). As of FP3/SP04 SAP added an official “hot backup” option (see the “Settings” area in CMC), therefore you don’t need to shutdown your BO system to take the backup. Just define a time window in which you create both, first the backup of your system database and then the backup of the FileStore. In addition to system database and FileStore, please note your Cluster Key and Administrator password from the original system!
  2. Prepare the Recovery-System: I assume you have an already installed “recovery” system. This can be a sandbox or as well e.g. a QA system you want to temporarily use as your recovery system. Stop all existing SIA and Tomcat services on the «Recovery» system. Have a look into Task Manager and make sure that all CMS.exe and sia.exe processes have been stopped.
  3. Restore the System-DB: Restore the backup of your «original» system database to a new, empty database / schema. After restore, execute the following SQL statement on this restored DB to remove all server entries: Delete from CMS_INFOOBJECTS7 where ParentID=16
  4. Restore the FileStore: On the «Recovery» system rename the existing FileStore folder to «FileStore_orig». Restore the FileStore from «Orginal» to the «Recovery» system into its original location.
  5. Create ODBC source: In case your recovered system DB is hosted on a SQL server, create a 64bit ODBC source to it on the «Recovery» system.
  6. Create Recovery SIA (1/2): On the «Recovery» system, create a new SIA with a new CMS. Point the CMS to the recovered system database (probably using the ODBC source created in the previous step). Select the «Use a temporary CMS» option.
  7. Create Recovery SIA (2/2): Once the new SIA is added, change the Cluster name from the orginal name to a new name, e.g. «Recovery». Start the newly created SIA and check in Task Manager if CMS starts up and keeps up running. Then stop the SIA again.
    (if you want you can combine step 6 and 7 and add only one additional SIA)
  8. Create second SIA to add regular servers: Add a second SIA including regular servers, you can even add a second CMS. Start this SIA and Tomcat. Login to CMC on the «Recovery» system and check in the Servers area if all expected servers are up and running.
  9. Verify File Repository Servers: Check if the file path indicated in the Properties of the Input and Output File Repository Servers correspond to the location where the FileStore has been recovered.
  10. Run the Repository Diagnostic Tool: Run the Repository Diagnostic Tool in order to remove any inconsistencies between File Repository Servers and (recovered) system database.
    (replace C:\BOE4\ with your own BO install path; more info about the command line parameters you’ll find in the BO admin guide):
    cd “C:\BOE4\SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0\win64_x64″
    reposcan.exe -dbdriver sqlserverdatabasesubsystem -connect “UID=sa;PWD=<password>;DSN=<ODBC_Name>” -dbkey <cluster key> -inputfrsdir “C:\BOE4\SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0\FileStore\Input” -outputfrsdir “C:\BOE4\SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0\FileStore\Output”
  11. Do a «selective restore» from the recovery to the original system using LCM (or one of the other ways explained above, mostly depending whether you need to recover report instances or not)
  12. Recreate original settings on Recovery system: If you don’t need the «Recovery» system anymore, you can reset everything to match the original settings. For this simply stop the created SIAs and either set their startup mode to disabled or delete the SIAs from the system entierly (a practical how-to you’ll find here). Rename your FileStore on the Recovery system from “FileStore_orig” back to FileStore. This means you need to either delete the recovered FileStore folder or give it another name before. In addition you can remove the recovered database (schema).

Once you excerised this process a few times it will serve you as a reliable way to recover (partial) elements in a reasonable amount of time. But still it is not the “elegant” way to go. And therefore I would like to introduce you to my third and favored major approach. What SAP fails to deliver is usually deliverd by one of the add-on providers.

The professional approach

As a professional BO administrator I like professional tools. 360View is one of my favorite tools, not only regarding backup & recovery. But this is one of the major reasons why I recommend this solution. 360View doesn’t keep any separate information outside the regular BO system database, it’s just an alternative view to its content in addition to the CMC.

Let the pictures speak for themselves:

First of all you need to create a backup job in the web based interface of 360View, you can choose from various object types. In addition you can choose whether to include subfolders, report instances or Favorites folders in case you choose groups and users:

You can schedule this job to run “now” or at a later point in time. By the way: All the jobs scheduled with 360View can be triggered by an external scheduler like $Universe etc.

Once having executed the backup job you’ll find a new entry in the context menu of any given folder or document:

And for folders which do not exist anymore completely you’ll find the Trash Bin icon:

After all you can choose from available recovery options as you are used to from any other professional backup & recovery solution:

That’s it. The only thing you need to do in addition is to save the 360View file folder on your BO server by a regular file backup tool.

Are you dissatisfied with the existing backup & recovery capabilities in BO 4.0 too? Or do you see different ways of improving this process? Let me and other knows and write a comment! Thanks for your participation!

If you need some kind of playground for either approach, have a look at Cloudshare.com and / or use my preconfigured BO4 environment. Of course this includes a 360View installation. For those currently visiting the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference go a and visit GB and Smith at their booth 221!

For European / German speaking people have a look at www.boak.ch – I’ll have five presentations myself next week. Backup & Recovery will be included during my “What’s New in BO 4.0″ session.

BO 4.0 FP3: get eFashion and other MS Access datasources working

I’ve just noticed a problem with our IT-Logix Migration Assessment Environment. The problem is with eFashion and other MS Access based demo databases, namely that you get the following error in (online) Webi, both on BO 4.0 SP02 as well as with FP3 – due to 64bit connectivity problems:

You don’t get the error in Webi Rich Client usually. In this post I will quickly outline the reasons for this and how to solve it:

First of all: Others got these errors too:

http://scn.sap.com/thread/2118132

http://scn.sap.com/thread/2043784

The answers from SAP (namely http://scn.sap.com/people/henry.banks) are not really satisfying. Of course it is not very clever to use Access as a demo datasource – but why SAP then provides these (access based) samples in BO 4.0 and not e.g. within the database they include within the setup? Anyway, there are three options you can choose:

  1. Move your efashion and other MS Access databases to a “real” database like SQL Server (Express), MySQL etc. It must be just accessible by 32 AND 64 bit drivers.
  2. Migrate to BO4 FP3 – and read the rest of the blog of how you can get Access databases running…
  3. If you are on BO4 SP2 – sorry, I don’t know a way how to get Access running on a 64bit driver – if you are interested in the reason, read on… (If you know another solution, please post a comment!)

In BO 4.0 still all the client tools (like the Webi Rich Client) use 32bit drivers. Regarding eFashion this is not a problem as any default Windows XP / 7 / Server will provide preinstalled drivers. The BOE setup will automatically create the corresponding 32bit-ODBC datasources. Therefore you’re all fine.

On server side it is important to note that e.g. Webi Processing Server always uses 64bit drivers. As far as I can overlook it as well for MS Access. But these 64bit drivers seem not to be installed by default, at least they weren’t on my cloudshare.com environments. In addition there is a strange thing that the BOE setup creates both, 32bit as well as 64bit ODBC connections for eFashion and club.The below screenshot shows the 64bit ODBC Admin (trust me :-)

But be careful: Whereas the 32bit ODBC connections work fine at least on my side I got the following errors when I wanted to modify e.g. the efashion connection:

If you want to create a new ODBC connection you will notify there are no 64bit drivers installed for MS Access:

My suggestion to solve this is to go here and download the Microsoft Access Database Engine 2010 Redistributable – because there is a 64bit setup / drivers for this:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=13255

Download the 64bit setup… and run it:

Finally your 64bit ODBC Admin “Add connection” dialog should look like this:

Now you can create the efashion, efashion-webi etc. data sources. Make sure you write it absolutely identical as it is written in the 32bit ODBC connection!

So far everything works fine for both, BO 4.0 SP02 as well as FP3. As usual there is a big BUT: You will still get the same errors shown right at the beginning of this post. Remember, you just installed the Access 2010 redistributable. This means you have to change your universe connection to use the appropriate driver (for this log in to Universe Design Tool and choose Tools – Connections). And here is, where at least I had to say there is no (obvious) way of how to solve it with SP02:

Sorry guys, no Access 2010 support in BO 4.0 SP02. But at least FP3 provides something for us:

And finally it should work. To sum up:

  1. On a BO 4.0 FP3 server install MS Access 2010 Redistributable 64bit
  2. Create necessary 64bit ODBC connection
  3. Modify your universe connections to point to the Access2010 driver
  4. have fun with efashion ;-)

PS: I don’t have any issues with our BO 4.0 SP02 environment which has SP02 installed only as a Patch. We installed this environment during ramp-up for SP02 (in these times Webi was still labeled Interactive Analysis, that’s why I noticed the difference…) and only later applied SP02. I didn’t investigate, but it seems like Webi Proc servers uses 32bit drivers here… (no 64bit drivers for access installed on this system…)

PPS: Don’t have FP3 available but you ‘d like to test yourself? I can get you easily access to copy on cloudshare.com – see the corresponding blog post.

Do you have similar experiences? Any other hint I missed? Please post your comment.

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