Ten Features That Absolutely Must Be in BI 4.2 SP3

It’s been four years since I published my wish list for BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3. I revisit the list and see what, if anything, has made it into the SAP BI suite.

Four years ago, I wrote an article entitled Ten Features That Absolutely Must Be in BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3. With SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP3 soon going into general availability, I thought it might be interesting to review the current status of my original wish list.

1. Tree control for Web Intelligence universe selection

No improvements here and none expected for the forthcoming SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 Support Pack 3. But perhaps SAP will surprise us with a redesigned universe selector panel in the fully-functional Java-free Web Intelligence coming next year in Support Pack 4?

2. Improved visual distinction between UNV and UNX universes in Web Intelligence

I don’t think there’s been much change here. Still an opportunity for some subtle UI improvements.

3. OLAP universe support for Explorer

Lack of OLAP support for this aging product is by design according to SAP KB 1559221My friend who requested it got tired of waiting and is now a Tableau developer. True story.

4. UNX universe support for Live Office

Fixed. UNX support was finally added to starting with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 SP6. Live Office isn’t for everyone, but Excel geeks seem to really like it. And Live Office is going to live on in the simplified BI portfolio as its functionality is converged into a future version of Analysis for Microsoft Office.

5. Improved qualification selection in Information Design Tool

Fixed. There have been many usability improvements in the Information Design Tool and this is one of them. If you last took a look at Information Design Tool way back when version 4.0 was released, it’s time to take a second look at the new 4.2 release.

6. Corporate customization of Central Management Console

This request is still unfulfilled but perhaps we’ll see something when the CMC gets the Fiori treatment next year? I’m not looking for robust customization like the BI Launch Pad has. I just want a simple way to change some text strings and colors (using preset themes) to easily distinguish multiple landscapes in the BI lifecycle (Development, Test, Production).

7. No more monolithic Adaptive Processing Server

Fixed. SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 introduced the System Configuration Wizard for APS configuration and some other post-installation tasks, which you can read about here.

My big gripe here continues to be that Design Studio and Lumira both add services to the Adaptive Processing Server. Because these two products are “add-ons”, the System Configuration Wizard doesn’t accommodate them very well. I hope the situation will improve next year when Lumira and Design Studio 2.0 standardize on a single server-size engine.

8. Improved control of Web Intelligence default paper size

Still an open item. Since non-A4 paper size mostly an accommodation for American users, no doubt this improvement is far down on the enhancement backlog, if it’s there at all. Perhaps paper size is less relevant in a greener 21st century?

9. Improved browser support

Fixed. SAP has made major strides in browser support. The biggest obstacle to browser support is how various browsers handle (or refuse to handle) plugins like Adobe Flash and Oracle Java. Fortunately, SAP is working really hard to deliver a plugin-free version of the platform, starting with enhancements to the Web Intelligence HTML panel in the forthcoming BI 4.2 SP3.

10. Improved and better organized sample content

Still as bad as before, except that SAP has added some really nice sample content for mobile devices (see related article, Sampling the Mobile BI Samples with BI 4.1).

Conclusion

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence BI 4.2 Support Pack 3 is almost ready for general availability and contains some really exciting improvements, including four of the items on this wish list. But I hope there’s still time to include the remaining six improvements in BI 4.2 SP4.

What’s on your SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP3 wish list?

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.”

Wait a minute! What about Designer?

Yeah, what about Designer?

Earlier this week, I mentioned an article by SAP trainers Martha Thieme and Antonio Soto about education offerings for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 (see related SAP Community Network article, The Quick and Dirty Guide to SAP BusinessObjects Training). The article describes the training offerings for various BI 4.0 tools. But then the following recommendations appear after a discussion of the Information Design Tool classes.

Wait a minute! What about Designer?

Well, if you are a new customer to the SAP BusinessObjects tools, you should not be using Designer. You should be creating your universes using the Information Design Tool. If you are upgrading to the 4.0 tools, you still should be creating all your new universes using the Information Design Tool and using the old Designer (called Universe Design Tool in 4.0) only to maintain your old universes. Oh, and you should use the Information Design Tool to convert those old universes to the new universe format. (Tip: That’s a great job for interns!)

This is good textbook advice, and its what you would expect representatives from the software vendor to say. But two years after the introduction of BI 4.0, the Information Design Tool still isn’t mature enough to handle all of the capabilities of its predecessor, the Universe Design Tool (formerly known as Designer). Although the Information Design Tool in the upcoming BI 4.1 introduces some new features (predominantly around- sigh- SAP HANA), the situation is largely unchanged.  I’ve previously shared my frustrations with object formatting limitations, which remain in BI 4.1 (see related article, Object Formatting with the Information Design Tool). And Ryan Muldowney identifies some of the gaps in his article UNV versus UNX: Consuming Universes in BI 4.0. Ryan points out that some tools support UNV, some support UNX, and some support both formats. Unfortunately, this often means that both the original UNV and converted UNX must be maintained. Dave Rathbun shares similar experiences from Pepsico in his article BI4 UNV Versus UNX … Which Do You Choose?

Probably the most significant barrier to adopting the Information Design Tool is its lack of support for linked universes. Linked universes are universes that share common components such as parameters, classes, objects, or joins. But linked universes didn’t need the BI4 platform to generate controversy. They were a controversial topic long before BI 4.0 arrived. Don’t believe me? Just mention the subject in a bar crowded with SAP BusinessObjects professionals. But the core issue isn’t that the Information Design Tool doesn’t support linked universes. The core issue is that the Information Design Tool still doesn’t do a great job at supporting the benefits of linked universes: team-based development and code reuse. Sure, for team-based development there is project synchronization. But I don’t find this feature mature enough, nor is it integrated with version control, which only exists within the CMC instead of being integrated into the development tools. And while data foundations allow a single data foundation to be shared across multiple universes, there really isn’t a good mechanism for sharing objects from multiple business layers or allowing a composite business layer to be built by a team.

The situation is disappointing because the Information Design Tool and it’s “common semantic layer” were promoted during the BI 4.0 launch as the future of the universe. Perhaps my expectations were set too high by the initial BI4 hype. Because I expect a new tool to be superior when compared to its predecessor, not immature and struggling just to catch up with basic functionality. Perhaps SAP has been caught off guard as well, spending much of the last two years focused on BI 4.0 platform stability rather than analytic innovation. Jonathan Haun shares a similar perspective in his article The Top 5 tips all vendors can learn from Apple in 2012.

[SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0] was chopped full of innovation but its inability to deliver was a “battleship sized anchor” that slowed it down in the race to the finish line.

But perhaps my perceptions are incorrect. What is your experience with the Information Design Tool? Do you agree with Martha and Antonio? Will any concerns you have be addressed by BI 4.1 or will they still linger?

Other Perspectives on Information Design Tool

If you’re coming to next month’s SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Anaheim, California, I’d love to chat. Just don’t mention linked universes in the hotel lounge- you might start a brawl!

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.”

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 The Complete Reference, Third Edition

The best published resource for universe design with the Information Design Tool.

Cindi Howson BusinessObjects Complete Reference Third EditionI started using BusinessObjects in February 2003.  As a newbie, I was so grateful that Business Objects: The Complete Reference was published later that year. According to Amazon.com, I purchased the book on August 21, 2003. I always kept the copy handy until I replaced it with Business Objects XI Release 2: The Complete Reference.  McGraw Hill did not publish an edition for XI 3.0/XI 3.1, but Cindi Howson and co-author Elizabeth Newbould have returned with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference, Third Edition.

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference is a book that almost did not get published- Ms. Howson provides the back story on her blog (see The Never Ending Story).  The SAP BusinessObjects product portfolio is substantially larger than the one that was covered in the first edition nearly 10 years ago, which creates challenges for any author. From the book’s introduction, “The Complete Reference brand does not imply the complete SAP BusinessObjects product line, but rather, a complete reference for certain modules… We have tried to focus the content of the book primarily on what business application designers, business analysts, and power users need to know. Software engineers and system administrators were not the intended audience for this book”. The 752-page book is organized into four parts: Getting Ready for Business Intelligence (three chapters), Universes and the Information Design Tool (twelve chapters), Reporting and Analysis (seven chapters), and Dashboards and More (six chapters).

While the book is excellent from start to finish, what really sets it apart are twelve chapters devoted to the Information Design Tool, the semantic layer design tool that replaces the classic Designer tool (now known on the BI 4.0 platform as the Universe Design Tool). SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference is currently the best published resource for universe design with the Information Design Tool. My favorite chapter is chapter 13, Design Principles: Where to Put the Intelligence, which helps the reader understand the tradeoffs between placing intelligence in the database, the universe, or the report. The book also covers lifecycle management (known on the BI 4.0 platform as Promotion Management and Version Management), use of the project synchronization features for team-based development, and maintaining and monitoring the universe after it has gone into production.

I’ve been well served by having Cindi Howson’s books on my shelf for the past decade. If you’re a business application designer, business analyst, or power user working with the BI 4.0 platform, you’ll appreciate having this book. It’s available in paperback form or on the major ebook platforms (Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Apple iBook).

Resources

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from McGraw-Hill, 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.”

I am also an unpaid contributing expert for the BI Scorecard.

The Fun Never Ends with 64-bit Windows and ODBC

Still making fun of the Microsoft Windows ODBC panel.

The new Information Design Tool (IDT) in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0, like the other client tools in the suite, is a 32-bit application. Even if the IDT is installed on a 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows, it wants to use 32-bit ODBC DSN’s created with the 32-bit ODBC panel, not 64-bit DSN’s. If you attempt to create a new universe connection and specify a 64-bit DSN name, the following error appears.

[Microsoft][ODBC Driver Manager] The specified DSN contains an architecture mismatch between the Driver and Application

To resolve the issue, make sure you’re using the 32-bit ODBC panel (see related article) at C:WindowsSysWoW64Odbcad32.exe. If you are running the client tools and server on the same platform, create a 32-bit ODBC DSN for the Information Design Tool and a 64-bit ODBC DSN for the server (BI Launchpad, Web Intelligence Processing Server, etc.). Make sure both DSN’s have identical names.

Remember that Crystal Reports 2011, Crystal Reports 2013, and Crystal Reports for Enterprise clients are also 32-bit. If they are installed on the BI4 server (which is supported, but oddly enough not recommended), they will also require 32-bit ODBC connections even though the Crystal Reports Processing Server requires 64-bit ODBC connections. Note that the legacy Crystal Reports 2011/2013 Processing Server will also require 32-bit ODBC connections.

Having fun with 64-bit Windows and ODBC?  You may find my other articles on ODBC helpful.

Where does the Information Design Tool store universes?

Sometimes answers to the simplest of questions can be elusive.

Q: Where does the Information Design Tool store universes?

A: Universes created by the Information Design Tool are stored in the %USERPROFILE%.businessobjectsbimodeler_14 folder.  For example, C:Documents and Settingsdallasmarks.businessobjectsbimodeler_14

Q: How can I backup and restore local copies of universes created with the Information Design Tool?

A: Listed in the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 SP1 release notes as missing documentation, but still missing from the  Information Design Tool User Guide for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Platform 4.0 Support Package 4 manual.

Information design tool: Missing documentation on backing up and restoring project workspaces.

ADAPT01530987

To backup the project resources created in the information design tool:

1. Exit the information design tool.

2. On the local file system, navigate to the folder “%USERPROFILE%.businessobjectsbimodeler_14”. For

example:

C:Documents and SettingsAdministrator.businessobjectsbimodeler_14

3. Rename the “workspace” folder to “workspace.bak”.

To restore the project resources from the backup in the information design tool:

1. Start the information design tool. A new workspace folder is created automatically.

2. Select “File/Open Project” from the main menu.

3. In the Import Existing Projects dialog box, Select the root directory and browse to the path of the

“workspace.bak” folder created in the backup procedure.

4. Select the projects you want to restore.

5. Check the “Copy projects into workspace” check box and click Finish.

Q: Why is the SAP BusinessObjects documentation on the SAP Help Portal (see http://help.sap.com/boall_en) so poorly organized and categorized?

A: Because it gives bloggers something to write about.

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide (2nd Edition)

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide (2nd Edition), coming soon from SAP Press

It gives me great pleasure to announce SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide (2nd Edition), coming October 2012 from SAP Press. Gabe Orthous and I joined the authors of the first edition- Jim Brogden, Heather Sinkwitz, and Mac Holden.

SAP Press Web Intelligence 2nd Edition

Web Intelligence received a significant rewrite as part of the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 platform and the second edition of the book received a significant rewrite as well.  The book is in the final stages of production and I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hands. I hope you’ll feel the same way.

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.”