SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, R.I.P.

Is this the end of the line for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer?

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Tombstone

BusinessObjects tool selection, circa 2004.

Desktop Intelligence is like smoking. If you’re not presently using Desktop Intelligence, don’t start.

SAP BusinessObjects tool selection, circa October 2012

If you’re not presently using SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius, don’t start using it.

Yours truly in Between an Xcelsius Rock and Dashboard Hard Place

SAP BusinessObjects tool selection, circa September 2014

If you’re not presently using SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, don’t start using it.

As part of the simplification of its analytics portfolio, SAP has decided to fold Explorer functionality into Lumira.

SAP BI Simplified Portfolio

 

Lumira Server uses the SAP HANA platform, so it’s not going to be immediately attractive to every customer- especially one that doesn’t use the SAP Business Suite. For customers that won’t adopt Lumira Server and SAP HANA, SAP plans to support Explorer “as-is”.

In these situations, like with SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, we won’t make you move your existing content. We’ll respect that existing investment, allow you to continue with what you have today, and at the same time start to bring ‘Explorer-like’ capabilities into the converged BI experience (in this case, SAP Lumira).

Jayne Landry, Run Simple: Convergence of the SAP BusinessObjects BI Product Portfolio

After the recent #askSAP webcast, I still had my doubts, which I voiced on Twitter.

Explorer as-is for customers on the XI 3.1 platform is a product that SAP stopped developing in 2012 for a platform that won’t officially be retired until the end of 2015. Customers currently patching XI 3.1 to the latest SP6 or SP7 have to cross their fingers and pray that SAP BusinessObjects Explorer XI 3.2 SP4 will still work properly.

Explorer-32-No-Longer-In-Maintenance-01A

Explorer-32-No-Longer-In-Maintenance-02A

Explorer as-is for customers using the BI 4 platform is a product that hasn’t seen a significant update since the addition of exploration views in BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3. Explorer has some clearly unique and attractive features in the larger SAP BI portfolio but is in need of modernization and refinement (see my wish list in related article, Family Planning or listen to the Diversified Semantic Layer podcast, Explorer Gets No Love).

SAP recently announced a HANA-free edition of Lumira Server, to be named Lumira, Edge Edition (see SAP Community Network Article, SAP Lumira, Edge edition: What Is It?). But it remains unclear if Lumira, Edge Edition will provide a HANA-free migration path for existing Explorer customers or merely a server back-end to support SAP Lumira Desktop. Perhaps we’ll learn more about Explorer’s future during tomorrow’s #askSAP community call, How SAP Lumira stacks up against the competition.

Customers already meeting business challenges with Explorer should continue to do so. But I’m still unsure that adopting Explorer is wise for customers who haven’t yet begun to use it, without a clear migration path that doesn’t require SAP HANA. Perhaps “don’t start using it” is too strong advice. But like smoking or using Desktop Intelligence, SAP analytics customers should carefully weigh the risks before starting what could turn into a nasty habit.

What are your thoughts on the roadmap for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer? Would you still recommend it’s first-time use in 2014?

Don’t Fluster the Cluster, part 2

Don’t let your BI platform become a cluster chuck!

I spied this fantastic new collection of Woodchuck Cider on an end cap at my local grocery store and just had to snap a photo. It’s a variety pack cleverly named the Cluster ‘Chuck Variety Pack.

Woodchuck Cider Cluster Chuck at Kroger

The Woodchuck Cluster ‘Chuck Variety Pack is our new cider sampler. Following suit with the rest of our ciders, the pack has a brand new look to go with our brand new Cidery. Our top notch in-house creative team set out to create a design that fit the spirit of our ciders, our local orchard partners, and our home state of Vermont.

From the Woodchuck Cider blog

I had so much fun talking about SAP BusinessObjects CMS clustering and Ben and Jerry’s Clusterfluff ice cream (see related article, Don’t Fluster the Cluster). A bit of humor can really help bring a dry technical topic to life. The 2014 conference season is now over for me, but I thought somebody out there would see this and be inspired to use it in their own slide decks about CMS clustering. We wouldn’t want any SAP BusinessObjects installations to turn into a cluster chuck, would we?

Raising my glass to SAP BusinessObjects administrators everywhere. Skol!

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 Turns 3!

After the candles are blown out, here are some things to work on during the next year.

Happy Third Birthday, SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0! You came into the world on September 16, 2011, after a lengthy gestation. We’ve made a lot of memories together, from your birth to taking your first steps. Potty training took a bit longer than expected, but we eventually got there with your BI 4.1 release. And I’ve mostly gotten over that time you pooped in the bathtub. As the parent of three children, I’m familiar with children moving from “baby” to “toddler” to “preschooler”. Software doesn’t mature in the same way as human children. But just like with humans, some things that were expected, manageable or even “cute” in earlier years become wearisome after three years. So I’d like to mention ten things that I hope you’ll work on before your fourth birthday.

10. Group Hierarchy tree control with “too many objects”

We’re thankful that after three years, the “too many objects” error is largely solved in the BI Launch Pad (see related article, Too Many Objects in Your BI Launch Pad). I realize that BI Launch Pad users outnumber Central Management Console users. But any administrator with a large BI installation knows how tedious it is to live without a decent tree control.

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

9. User search feature in CMC

There are a lot of user attributes beyond just title and description. And I’d like to search any of them, thank you. Isn’t this just a few extra lines of code?

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

8. Server search feature in CMC

Although most servers are appropriately named, sometimes they just aren’t. Please make it easier to find a server by type (Adaptive Processing Server, Crystal Reports Cache Server) regardless of what somebody else decided to name it.

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

7. SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio server installation

If Design Studio is the future of SAP dashboards, then please take the time to integrate the required server features directly into the BI platform. The separate (and frequently changing) server components are a huge barrier to adoption (see related articles, Please Integrate the Integrated BI Platform and Over Designing BI Architecture for Design Studio).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

6. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer administration

We’ve suffered through poor SAP BusinessObjects Explorer administration since Explorer debuted as Polestar on the XI R2 platform. As you fold Explorer functionality into Lumira, please fold its administrative tasks into the Central Management Console (see related article, Family Planning).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

5. Web Intelligence panel preference

Thankfully you provide a script, setGroupPreferences (see SAP KB 1659566 or SAP KB 1816617), but even simpler would be the ability to set the default Web Intelligence report panel via the CMC. But even better would be retiring the Java report panel in favor of a single kick-a__ HTML 5 panel. Which leads us to number 4.
Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

4. Web Intelligence Java Report Panel

Who can forget WebiJavaGeddon (see related article, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste)?  I’ve logged hundreds of hours in the Web Intelligence Java Report Panel. But with security and performance concerns, it’s time to move on to a plug-in free future (see related article, Is it Time for Caffeine-Free Web Intelligence).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

3. Monitoring

Monitoring was a big marquee feature of the BI 4.0 launch. It’s a great first step, but it’s time to show us a more mature second generation of this important feature. Oh, and the Adobe Flash interface needs to go (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

2. Promotion Management/Lifecycle Management

Everyone thought the Import Wizard was evil. Until it went away. Like monitoring, this was a marquee feature of the BI 4.0 and rightly so. Also like monitoring, it re-appeared in BI 4.1 largely unchanged.

While we’re appreciative of the many stability improvements made post-BI 4.1, it’s time for you to show us the next generation of promotion management (see related article, Do I Feel Lucky? Musings on Promotion Management). We’d also be grateful if the user interface was more consistent with the rest of the CMC and eliminated the tiny bit of Adobe Flash that it contains (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

1. Platform Search

There are over 80 articles in the SAP knowledge base about platform search. Most of them highlight a design flaw or document a workaround, which isn’t terribly flattering. Given that platform search is often the first feature a new user will try, it’s time to put away the duct tape and introduce the next generation of platform search to the SAP BI platform.

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

Make a wish, blow out the candles, and enjoy some well-deserved cake. But I hope you’ll take these things to heart over the next year.

What are your thoughts after three years of the SAP BI4 platform?

For SAP to win, does Tableau have to lose?

George Peck demonstrates how to integrate the SAP BI platform with Tableau Server.

For SAP to win, does Tableau have to lose? George Peck, founder of The Ablaze Group and author of books like Crystal Reports 2008: The Complete Reference and Tableau 8: The Official Guide, doesn’t seem to think so. Check out this video demonstrating bi-directional integration between SAP Crystal Reports Server/SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence and Tableau Server.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlkHqvi1j1E]

Does your organization actively use both products?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet

Declaring Adobe Flash “dead” sadly does not make it so.

At this year’s SAP SAPPHIRE conference Ty Miller, SAP VP of Solution Management, declared that “Flash is dead!”. He was referring, of course, to SAP’s dashboard roadmap and the transition from Adobe Flash-based Xcelsius/Dashboards to HTML5-based Design Studio (see related article, The Future of SAP Dashboards). While that high-profile transition is well underway, Adobe Flash is still lurking in other dark corners of the SAP BI platform.

Adobe Flash in the Central Management Console

Monitoring

The Monitoring dashboard introduced with the BI 4.0 Central Management Console is built with Adobe Flash. Two years ago, Mirko Langhorst posted the following on the SAP Idea Place:

We would like to totally get rid of Flash, the component in the CMC using Flash is the new Monitoring application. It would be great to change this HTML5, so the CMC would become Flash-free

Get Rid of Adobe Flash 01 500

Sadly, SAP buried this idea in the SAP Idea Graveyard, tagging it as “Not Planned by SAP”. Which is unfortunate, because the monitoring dashboard isn’t the only source of Adobe Flash frustration in the BI platform. Or just frustration in general (see related article, Less Flash, More Substance for SAP Business Intelligence Monitoring).

Get Rid of Adobe Flash 02 500

Visual Difference

The Visual Difference feature introduced with the BI 4.0 Central Management Console is built with Adobe Flash.

Adobe Flash in CMC Visual Difference

Promotion Management

Adobe Flash is used by the Override Settings in Promotion Management. And as an aside, all but the latest support packs of the BI platform use the much maligned Apache Derby for overrides (see SAP Mentor Greg Myers’ epic article, Derby Maybe).

Get Rid of Adobe Flash 03 500

Adobe Flash in the BI Launch Pad

Content Linking with BI Workspaces

Not content to limit use of Adobe Flash to the Central Management Console, SAP uses Adobe Flash in its implementation of BI Workspace content linking in the BI Launch Pad.

Get Rid of Adobe Flash 04 500

 

Crystal Reports for Enterprise Prompts

Crystal Reports for Enterprise uses Adobe Flash for scheduled prompts.

Crystal Reports for Enterprise Prompts with Adobe Flash

Crystal Reports 2013 does not use Adobe Flash.

Crystal Reports 2013 Prompts without Adobe Flash

Explorer

I haven’t mentioned SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, but SAP’s recent plans to fold it into SAP Lumira (and therefore SAP HANA) have effectively marooned it on an Adobe Flash island (see SAP executive Jayne Landry’s related article, Run Simple: Convergence of the SAP BusinessObjects BI Product Portfolio). It’s likely that any Explorer replacement will be built on HTML5, not Adobe Flash. But it’s unclear when SAP intends to deliver Explorer-like functionality by Lumira or any other tool in the BI platform.

Dashboards and Xcelsius

Of course, we can’t forget that SAP Dashboards require Adobe Flash at runtime.

Time to Retire Adobe Flash in SAP BI Platform

A decade ago, Adobe Flash had its place providing rich visuals for web applications. In today’s mobile and cloud-centric world, Adobe Flash is a relic. Instead of visual excitement, it generates support and security anxiety. For example, Apple last week took the drastic step of disabling all versions of Adobe Flash except the latest 14.0.0.145 (see related Apple bulletin). But this is two versions ahead of SAP, which has only recently added official support for version 12 in its latest patch levels of the BI platform.

The time is right for SAP to articulate a clear timeline for a plug-in free version of the SAP BI platform (see related article, Thoughts on BI 5.0). Until then, please show your support for Mirko Langhorst’s great idea.

Update (September 17, 2015): SAP has indicated that Promotion Management in BI 4.2 has been rewritten to no longer require Adobe Flash. However, SAP has not published a roadmap to address these other Adobe Flash dependencies.

Please integrate the integrated enterprise BI platform

New BI functionality adds complexity to patch cycles.

Earlier this week, SAP hosted one of their ongoing SAP Analytics Innovation Community calls for Self-Service BI and SAP Lumira, hosted by my fellow Diversified Semantic Layer contributors Jamie Oswald and Josh Fletcher with presentations by SAP’s Jayne Landry, Olivier Duvelleroy, and Aaron Graber (see Nic Smith’s official wrap-up article). The SAP Lumira roadmap is a combination of here now, coming soon, and coming sometime (I think the rumored SAP Lumira Desktop for Mac OS X falls in the latter category). But the big news (from my perspective) was the announcement that Lumira Server, currently in ramp-up and soon to be generally available, will be included in the BI Suite license. Lumira Server is built on SAP’s HANA platform and will offer us a glimpse into what I believe is SAP’s future-state BI platform (see related article, Thoughts on BI 5.0).

Lumira In-Memory Add-on to BOE in Service Marketplace

Allowing early adopters to get a preview of the future is smart marketing on SAP’s part. But I, like many SAP BI practitioners, must live in the present with the current platform. Let’s consider the upgrade from BI 4.0 to BI 4.1, which consists of- at a minimum- two components. A base installation or upgrade of the BI 4.1 platform, for example BI 4.1 SP2 and possibly a patch, such as the now-available BI 4.1 Patch 2.2. A similar patching strategy is required on the desktop, where you might have the BI 4.1 platform client tools (Web Intelligence, Information Design Tool, etc.), Dashboards, Crystal Reports 2013, and Crystal Reports for Enterprise.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_01

But what if you are using Explorer? Now there are four moving parts: the BI 4.1 platform, the separate Explorer 4.1 installation, and a patch for each.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_02

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer has been a separate installation since its debut as Polestar on the XI R2 platform. But I had hoped that BI 4.0 would integrate its installation with the rest of the platform. Because Explorer retains its Adobe Flash foundation, no doubt SAP has decided to defer tight integration with the BI platform until an HTML5-based successor is available, which unfortunately wasn’t the case when BI 4.1 shipped last year.

Using Design Studio? SAP Design Studio is the current successor to BEx Web Application Designer and eventual successor for Xcelsius/Dashboards. You’ll need to install the Design Studio server components, which are also an add-on to the BI platform. To make things more interesting, Design Studio has its own product life cycle with unique versioning, product availability matrix, and documentation because it is capable of generating stand-alone applications that aren’t strictly tied to the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform. So today you’ll have the Design Studio 1.2 server components and possibly a service pack, as Design Studio tends to be patched to maintain compatibility with SAP HANA’s latest patch levels. So far, my experience is that the Design Studio server components installer is particularly lethargic. And don’t forget to patch the Design Studio client application.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_03

Based on what I heard this week, the diagram below is my approximation of what is involved to run SAP Lumira Server as part of your environment (sidenote – Microsoft Visio does a terrible job with color selection when exporting JPG and PNG files).

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_04

There will be a separate plug-in for the BI 4.1 environment (and eventually a patch, I presume) and the platform software and a patch for the SAP Lumira server. As with Design Studio, I would expect software availability on both sides to not be based on the BI 4.1 patching schedule. With new releases of SAP Lumira Desktop approximately every 6 weeks, the odds of needing to patch your environment to take advantage of new features (similar for what we already do with SAP Mobile BI and SAP HANA) are high. UPDATE: SAP is revising their BI4 + Lumira Integration Strategy (see related SAP Community Network article, Planned Native Integration of Lumira into BI Platform Details).

SAP’s recent work to support parallel node patching is helpful. You’ll want to download Foroohar Rafiei’s Patching Strategies and Best Practices + Parallel Patching guide from the SAP Community Network (SCN).

But can I gently suggest that there are simply too many moving parts here?

SAP Lumira is part of SAP’s response to desktop data discovery competitors like Tableau and Qlik. But another part of SAP’s response is the message that “those vendors do not have a true Enterprise BI solution”. I’m speculating that we’ll eventually get an HTML 5 version of Explorer + Lumira in a blender that will eliminate some of the current pieces. But it is extremely inconvenient that SAP has placed platform integration on customer shoulders instead of integrating the pieces in-house. Until they do, line-of-business users are going to continue to perceive IT’s lack of agility in platform support as further reasons to head to the cloud, with or without SAP as the vendor of choice. Even if SAP can quickly port existing BI apps like Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence to the HANA-based Lumira Server platform (heck- if they’re even planning to- we simply don’t know right now), I believe many customers will remain with the current BI 4.x platform, as they did with Desktop Intelligence, for many years to come.

For now, BI administrators should carefully estimate their BI 4.1 upgrade estimates based on the number of nodes and number of software components.

This article barely scratches the surface of this week’s Self Service BI and SAP Lumira webcast. What are your impressions?

Universe Design with SAP BusinessObjects BI: The Comprehensive Guide

SAP authors Christian Ah-Soon, Didier Mazoue and Pierpaolo Vezzosi have created a well-crafted guide to the Information Design Tool.

Universe Design with SAP BusinessObjects BI: The Comprehensive Guide

With the introduction of SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0, SAP introduced a new semantic layer format (UNX) and a new design tool, the Information Design Tool. Now SAP Press has released a comprehensive 724-page guide, Universe Design with SAP BusinessObjects BI (SAP Press, ISBN 978-1592299010), written by three of some of the best minds at SAP to help organizations get the most from the Information Design Tool. Unlike its predecessor, the Universe Design Tool, which had a monolithic file format (UNV), the Information Design Tool breaks a universe into three distinct components: the connection, the data foundation and the business layer. As you might expect, this guide devotes entire chapters to each of these components. Additional chapters bring clarity to new features unfamiliar to users of the classic Universe Design Tool  such as team project features and multi-source data foundations. Organizations that use SAP applications to run their business will appreciate a chapter devoted to connecting to SAP ERP, SAP Netweaver BW, and SAP HANA, with detailed explanations of when to create universes versus using direct connectivity with Business Intelligence Consumer Services, or BICS.

Experienced universe designers will find the final chapter, Comparing the Universe Design Tool and Information Design Tool, extremely helpful in understanding the differences and similarities between the two tools. I remember feeling very inadequate the first time I opened the Information Design Tool. The user interface is a radical departure from the legacy Universe Design Tool. However, both tools create universes. Once I realized that designers must still cope with contexts, fan traps, and chasm traps, it didn’t seem quite so daunting.

The book is well-illustrated, which alone makes the book worth the purchase price, as the free product documentation on the SAP Help Portal is nearly devoid of any illustrations or screen shots. And although I really appreciate blog readers who click on my Amazon affiliate links, you’ll probably want to purchase the book directly from SAP Press and take advantage of the DRM-free electronic formats. With Adobe PDF, ePub and Mobi, you’ll be able to read this book (and many other SAP Press titles) just about anywhere on just about any device.

The UNX universe and the Information Design Tool are the future of SAP’s business intelligence platform. BI teams should start using it for new projects as well as considering when and how to convert older classic universes. BI managers would do well to equip their teams with this book and universe designers should ask for permission to expense it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”