The Road Unexplored: A Future for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

Four years is an eternity in enterprise software development. Is it time to bring Explorer’s mojo back with a revised product roadmap?

Pity poor SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. Born as a poster child for innovation in business intelligence, it became a foster child- passed from product owner to product owner without a devoted and loving parent. Customers had their own reasons for not adopting Explorer, the most significant reason being- at least historically- licensing costs. I’ve been a passionate advocate of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, giving many presentations to BI administrators over the years beginning with “Deploying BI to the Masses using SAP BusinessObjects Explorer” at the 2009 Global BusinessObjects Network (GBN) conference in Dallas, Texas. In my experience, most SAP BI customers have stuck largely with Web Intelligence and Crystal Reports, with a smattering of Xcelsius dashboards. But customers who have adopted Explorer really love the tool and have made significant investments in it.

The current state of affairs is unfortunate, because if you’ve seen a SAP HANA demo (and who hasn’t?), you’ve most likely seen a demonstration of Explorer and how briskly it interacts with large volumes of data in the SAP HANA platform. SAP’s most unloved BI tool demonstrates how lovely SAP HANA can be.

It’s been four years since SAP released a significant update to Explorer. SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 was released on June 15, 2012 and brought many new features to the BI4 platform that missed the original GA date, including Explorer Exploration Views. At the time, Exploration Views was one of the key benefits SAP touted as part of Feature Pack 3. But four years without innovation is an eternity in enterprise software years.

The SAP Digital Board Room is the spiritual successor to Explorer, not because of its feature set (although it does offer some of Explorer’s faceted navigation capabilities), but because of who its target user is (see my recent SAP Community Network article, Thoughts on the SAP Digital Boardroom). But the SAP Digital Board Room was not designed to provide a home for legacy on-premise Explorer information spaces.

As SAP focuses on bringing the second generation of Lumira and Design Studio to life, it seems likely that another year or possibly two will pass before Explorer’s search and exploration capabilities are fully incorporated into Lumira. But what will the delay mean for current Explorer customers, whose pain in dealing with Adobe Flash is second only to Web Intelligence customers dealing with Oracle Java? How should we reconcile SAP’s commitment to not expire BI content with the marketplace’s rejection of legacy technology like Adobe Flash? And if not from Explorer, where will the next business intelligence breakthrough for casual business users come from?

Is there a better path forward for Explorer than the current roadmap allows? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on a related Explorer thread on SAP Community Network, How and when will Explorer functionality migrate to Lumira?

Major Milestones for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

  • October 2005, BusinessObjects releases Intelligent Question XI Release 2, Explorer’s spiritual ancestor
  • October 2007, Debuted as Polestar on XI R2 for Microsoft Windows
  • July 2009, Polestar rebranded as Explorer for XI 3.1 SP1 release
  • July 2010, Explorer XI 3.2 added support for IBM AIX, SUSE Linux, and Edge BI platform
  • September 2011, Explorer 4.0 goes GA, integrated into BI Launchpad 4.0, removes UNV support and adds UNX support, introduces direct connectivity to SAP HANA with 4.0 SP2 FP11
  • June 2012, Exploration Views introduced in BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3 September 2013: SAP restores UNV support with BI 4.1
  • June 2014, SAP announces plans to not expire content, fold Explorer use cases into future version of SAP Lumira as part of a convergence of the SAP BI tool portfolio

Recommended Reading

Future Pack 3

The wait is finally over. The future of SAP BI is here.

The wait is finally over. On Friday, June 15, 2012, SAP released SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Future Pack 3. No, that isn’t a typo. Future Pack 3 (and its already generally available successor, Support Pack 4) is finally here. The latest iteration of SAP’s business intelligence platform isn’t intended to merely warm over your current business intelligence infrastructure but instead extend the reach of your corporate BI platform to places in the organization it could never go before.

The worst thing you could possibly do in an upgrade kickoff meeting is send your business users the message that “the upgrade will be long and painful but the charts will be prettier”. In my first article written for the EV Technologies blog, I examine three ways that you can reinvent the typical business intelligence upgrade and use SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 and Support Pack 4 to take your business into the future.

Read Future Pack 3 and Reinventing the Business Intelligence Upgrade on the EV Technologies blog.

Read Feature Pack 3, We Hardly Knew Ye

 

Feature Pack 3, We Hardly Knew Ye

Forget Feature Pack 3, I’m waiting for Support Pack 4.

SAP business intelligence professionals everywhere have been anxiously awaiting the release of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 (aka FP3) from nearly the moment BI 4.0 came out of ramp-up and into general availability (GA) last year. Formerly known as version 4.1 (which will be applied to some future release of the platform), Feature Pack 3 brings new features and stability that simply could not be accommodated into the launch of the dot-oh release.

The word from the keynote stage of last week’s SAPPHIRE conference was that Feature Pack 3 would be exiting ramp-up “within four weeks”. But coming closely on the heels of Feature Pack 3 is Support Pack 4, which combines Support Pack 2 fixes missing from Feature Pack 3 and fixes from Feature Pack 3’s into a single, coherent release. These details are summarized in SAP Support Note 1721866, “What Maintenance Releases Roll Up To BI 4.0 Feature Pack 03 and Support Pack 04?” (S-ID required). Here are the key details:

Feature Pack 03, when available on Service Marketplace, contains all fixes included in:

  • Support Pack 02
  • Critical Patch 2.9
  • Additional fixes that could not be included in a previous Support Pack or Critical Patch

Support Pack 04, when available on Service Marketplace, contains all fixes included in:

  • Feature Pack 03
  • Critical Patch 2.16
  • Critical Patch 3.5
  • Additional fixes that could not be included in a previous Support Pack or Critical Patch

Support Pack 04 also includes the new features in functionality introduced in Feature Pack 03

Note: Until Feature Pack 03 and Support Pack 04 are released, the fixes and features contained within them are subject to change.

One of my frustrations with the general availability of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 was that it was a full build of Support Pack 2 plus Patch 6. Because Explorer was a separate installation with its own patch, that meant four pieces of software needed to be installed on each node. Of course, we’ll eventually expect patches to Support Pack 4. But getting a single full build of Support Pack 4 that includes all the goodies of Support Pack 2 and Feature Pack 3 will be a welcome gift from SAP, and (if you’re listening, SAP) worth waiting for if it takes some extra time to pull it all together (see related article, Please Integrate the Integrated BI Platform).

According to the current release calendar, Support Pack 4 is scheduled for the first week of August 2012. But according to Christopher Vozella, Director, Active Global Support Americas for SAP, “hopefully sooner“, which I interpret as “wink, wink. nudge, nudge.”

So although we’ve been waiting for Feature Pack 3 to exit ramp up all this time, we should instead expect that Support Pack 4 will be the build that actually emerges, either for GA or shortly thereafter. In the meantime, my current customer and I are camping out with Support Pack 2 Patch 14 and waiting.

Thankfully the wait won’t be much longer!

Object Formatting with the Information Design Tool

Something’s missing but I can’t seem to put my finger on it…

UPDATE 06/27/2013: SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 was released to customers (RTC) and into ramp-up last month.  STILL doesn’t have currency formatting – could we get some before GA later this year?

UPDATE 11/09/2012: SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Support Pack 5 (BI4 SP5) was released Friday, November 9, 2012 but STILL doesn’t have currency formatting.

Michael Welter has provided a great write up of the new Information Design Tool (IDT) introduced with SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 (see his Impressions of Information Design Tool). I’ve had my own journey based on its initial release (see my related articles about the Information Design Tool) so I’ve been spending a few spare moments with SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 (BI4 FP3), currently in ramp-up, to see what’s new.

Here is the Object Format panel in the classic Universe Design Tool (UDT) aka Designer.

And here is the corresponding Edit Display Format panel in the Information Design Tool, taken from Feature Pack 3.

Notice anything missing? Go ahead and look closely. I’ll wait for you.

There (still) isn’t built-in formatting for currencies in the new Information Design Tool, only Date-Time and Numeric formats. Instead, semantic layer designers must create a custom display format for each object that needs to apply it, as customized formats are not saved either in the IDT or the universe and therefore cannot be reused across objects.

The last chapter of the Information Design Tool User Guide (available from the SAP Help Portal) is named Format Editor Reference. It states

The Format Editor lets you define the format used to display date-time and numeric values. You can select default formats or define custom formats…

Default formats are available based on Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR) recommendations, managed by the UNICODE consortium.

There are enhancements and fixes in the Information Design Tool 4.0 Feature Pack 3, but I was secretly hoping for some usability improvements to some of its existing features (see related article, Ten Features that Absolutely Must be in Feature Pack 3). There are key features and workflows in the classic Universe Design Tool that users should expect in the new Information Design Tool, even if the UI implements them differently. I think currency formatting is one of them.

What do you think?

Thoughts on Mobile BI

Corporate business intelligence leaders and managers need to make sure that they are seated at the table of their organization’s mobility discussions.

Today was an interesting day for mobile BI news. First, Walt Mossberg, David Pogue, and other high-profile journalists released unfavorable reviews of the HP Touchpad. The Touchpad is HP’s first webOS tablet, the operating system inherited as part of their Palm acquisition. Second, ASUG and SAP produced a webcast entitled “SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Changes Coming for iPad, iPhone/Mobile in General

SAP Explorer iPad
SAP Explorer for iOS is a cornerstone of SAP’s mobile BI strategy

In an interview, HP’s Richard Kerris said that HP is aiming for the enterprise, not Apple. However, like any good enterprise software vendor, SAP is pursuing Apple iOS first because it is leading the market. The HP Touchpad, Blackberry PlayBook, and various Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 all show signs of promise, but none have been declared better than Apple’s iPad. Although my Xcelsius Guru fans are keen on seeing their dashboards on a tablet that supports Adobe Flash, the mobile Flash player remains in beta and flaky.

Regarding SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, version 4.02 is available today for the Apple iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad (click here to download Explorer from the iTunes App Store). It will be available “Q4” for Android and “early next year” for the Blackberry Playbook. Next year, we’ll see BI 4.1 Feature Pack 3 and Exploration Views, taking Explorer to the next level. Although today’s webcast did not address SAP BI Mobile for the iPad (click here to download BI Mobile from the iTunes App Store), clearly SAP has prioritized Apple iOS development above other mobile platforms. And they’re not alone. Honestly, I’m surprised that HP isn’t writing checks Microsoft-style to convince vendors like SAP to move apps like Explorer to webOS regardless of its marketshare. Speaking of Microsoft, it is conspicuously absent from this year’s horse race with Apple. It seems that we’ll have to wait until next year’s Windows 8 (see related article, First Impressions of Microsoft Windows 8) to see what a true Microsoft tablet looks like.

Disclaimer: I am a bit of an Apple fan boy. I bought a third-generation black-and-white iPod in 2005, matching husband-and-wife iPhones in 2008, a Mac Mini (my first Mac) in 2010, and an Apple iPad 2 on its release day earlier this year. But I think you have to wake up and face reality— Apple is leading both the smartphone and tablet markets. Don’t believe me? Just visit the lonely tablet area at your local Best Buy.

Corporate IT likes its standards. And its double standards. The RIM Blackberry Playbook is frequently cited as a favorite with organizations that have a large installed base of “secure and reliable” Blackberry phones. However, the Playbook uses an entirely different (and untested, despite its solid QNX roots) operating system. Google has only recently released Android 3.0, its first tablet-ready version of Android. Remember, Android is “open” and Google isn’t “evil”. And Adobe Flash? Please! I’m tired of being told that Flash 10.1, I mean Flash 10.2, uh, I mean Flash 10.3 will support mobile devices. It’s still in beta. And it’s still flaky. Anyone concerned about the lack of Adobe Flash on iOS should compare the web edition of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer— which is entirely Adobe Flash— with the iPad edition. The user experience is virtually identical.

And look at Mellmo’s RoamBI. After breaking ground on the Apple iPhone in 2008, Mellmo is only now getting its software on Blackberry and Android devices. With Mellmo, it was never about marketshare. Marketshare would have put RoamBI first on a Blackberry phone. But it just wasn’t technically possible.  The Apple iOS SDK made it possible for RoamBI to do business intelligence in a bold new way. And even though the relationship between SAP and Mellmo seems a bit chilly, corporate BI organizations would do well to consider RoamBI right alongside SAP’s BI Mobile and Explorer offerings.

Apple mobile hardware is in its second (iPad) and fourth (iPhone) generations. The mobile operating system, iOS, will soon be on its fifth major release.

The mobile device and mobile BI markets are both in their infancy. Both will certainly look much different a mere 12 months from now. It’s simply too early to choose a corporate standard for mobile devices. Rather than basing a corporate standard on religious preferences, corporate IT should make mature decisions after small pilot deployments of multiple mobile platforms. Today’s tablet market doesn’t look like today’s personal computer market based on Microsoft Windows. Instead, it looks like the early 1980’s Wild West personal computer market. A horse race of Apple, Atari, Commodore, IBM and others eventually thinned out to IBM + Microsoft MS-DOS as the market leader with the Apple Macintosh as a distant second.

Corporate business intelligence leaders and managers need to make sure that they are seated at the table of their organization’s mobility discussions. Organizations wanting to deploy SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence on mobile devices today—  not next year— need to get over their aversion to Apple products. Choosing an Android or Playbook tablet as a enterprise standard will delay your organization’s ability to embrace mobile business intelligence.

I’m sure we’ll be having a different conversation about mobile BI next summer. But for now, BI managers should run, not walk, to the Apple Store and get a couple of Apple iPads. Get 3G models, even if your pilot will be Wi-Fi only, as they’ll demo in more places. Deploy a test environment of SAP BusinessObjects BI Mobile, either on your existing XI 3.1 or as part of your BI 4.0 pilot. Show your executives BI Mobile, Explorer, and RoamBI on the iPad with their data. Don’t focus on the device or its vendor.

Focus on the business value and speed that mobile BI can provide to your organization’s fact-based decisions.

What’s your organization’s strategy for mobile business intelligence?  Join the conversation below.