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.”

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.

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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 https://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.”

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?

Information Design Tool Application Rights

A minor security difference between the Universe Design Tool and Information Design Tool

SAP has included a Universe Designer Users group since SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI Release 2 (XI R2). My typical routine is to assign users that create universes to the built-in Universe Designer Users group. Although I can add users directly, I generally prefer to assign users to one or more groups that become subgroups of the Universe Designer Users group (and therefore inherit all of its rights).

I recently noticed that SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 assigns security differently between the two semantic layer tools. For the Universe Design Tool (or UDT, formerly known as Designer in XI 3.1 and earlier), SAP uses the built-in Full Control access level.

Using the Permissions Explorer, we can examine what Full Control actually provides to Universe Design Tool users.

But the new Information Design Tool, or IDT, assigns advanced rights, not Full Control, to the built-in Universe Designer Users group.

I’m guessing that the current situation is the result of multiple SAP development teams moving quickly. I doubt it will affect my approach to security.

But for Feature Pack 3 SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 coming later in 2013, SAP should harmonize out-of-the-box security and:

  • Adjust all of the predefined access levels (View, Schedule, View On-Demand, but especially Full Control) to provide varying levels of access to the Information Design Tool (consistent with Universe Design Tool)
  • Assign Full Control of Information Design Tool to the Universe Designer Users group instead of advanced rights (consistent with Universe Design Tool)
  • Consider giving Universe Designer Users group a less application-centric name like Semantic Layer Designers

How do you grant users access to the semantic layer tools? Do you leverage the Universe Designer Users group or create your own? I’m interested in learning from different approaches.

Getting Started with the Information Design Tool

What kind of semantic layer tool would SAP create if they could start over?

Today, I’m presenting Delivering Secure and Personalized Business Intelligence at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference (SBOUC) at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida (see related article, Delivering Secure and Personalized Business Intelligence). There’s a whole Semantic Layer track at the conference, including several sessions led by Pierpaolo Vezzosi, SAP’s product owner for the semantic layer tools. The presentations at the conference are split fairly evenly between the legacy Universe Design Tool (UDT), formerly known as Universe Designer or just Designer, and the new Information Design Tool (IDT) that debuts with the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 platform (BI4). I’m focusing on the latter, showing how to do some common data security techniques in a new and unfamiliar tool.

Visually, the Information Design Tool is a radical departure from the legacy Universe Design Tool. Here’s a typical reaction from Mark Bradbourne:

I’m so lost with [the Information Design Tool] at the moment it’s scary… It’s like I never touched Designer… Much less been using it for the last 10 years.

Mark captures exactly how I felt the first time I launched the Information Design Tool. The semantic layer team at SAP pushed aside the old Universe Design Tool, grabbed a clean sheet of paper, and asked themselves “what kind of semantic layer tool would we create if we could start over”. The Information Design Tool is a thoughtful redesign and my reaction has been very positive as I figure it out. Overall, I’m much happier relearning the Information Design Tool than I am Web Intelligence 4.0, which has also been significantly redesigned.

Thankfully, I’ve had several months using the BI 4.0 ramp-up to fumble my way through. I’d like to share three tips with you that can shorten your own personal IDT ramp-up with hopefully less fumbling.

Download free documentation on the SAP Help Portal

I bought a Kindle last Christmas, primarily because it could hold Adobe PDF documents, not because I could buy paperless Kindle books (see related article, SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 for Kindle). At the time, I was traveling a lot for work and figured that I could read BI 4.0 documentation on the plane.

SAP documentation doesn’t have any pictures, which is a rant for another time. But in this case, it was actually helpful. By not having any pictures about how the Information Design Tool looked, I was able to focus on what it did. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Information Design Tool builds a universe. Seriously. There are still tables, connections, objects, loops, aliases, and contexts. Plus a few new features that users have been requesting for several years. In many cases, we’re performing the same activities, but using new workflows in a new Eclipse-based tool.

Even if you won’t be adopting BI4 right away, you can get this manual now and begin reading at a leisurely pace.

Check out the excellent tutorials on the SAP Community Network

The Quick Reference Getting Around Information Design Tool provides a cross-reference between work flows in the old Universe Design Tool and the new Information Design Tool.

SAP has created free(!) SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Platform 4.x Product Tutorials, including a whole set for the Information Design Tool. You can see short videos of the Information Design Tool in action, elegantly organized by task.

Both of these resources were personally helpful to me as I created my conference presentation. Nice work, SAP!

Buy the Book, Before the Movie Comes Out

We included a single chapter on the Information Design Tool in SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide. But our focus was providing the best resource for Web Intelligence users, not universe developers. Cindy Howson and Elizabeth Newbould provide a much more comprehensive approach, with 11 chapters of universe design in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0: The Complete Reference (read my book review). UPDATE: And in 2014, SAP Press released a 724-page guide devoted exclusively to the Information Design Tool (see my book review of Universe Design with SAP BusinessObjects BI: The Comprehensive Guide).

Get Vendor Training

I’m always surprised how many people never received official training for the old Universe Design Tool (see related article, Avoiding the Big Mess). I can’t comment on training materials for the new Information Design Tool because they are behind schedule and not yet released. But they are coming. Unlike the Universe Design Tool training which is divided into two courses, there is only a single 5-day course for the Information Design Tool. I’m biased toward having a real instructor that can go “off-road” with questions.

Last week, I received 35 lbs of BI4 training manuals for topics such as administration, Web Intelligence, and Dashboards (formerly Xcelsius). I’ll write a review of the Information Design Tool class as soon as I can.

Final Thoughts

I hope that these tips, along with the presentation I’m giving today at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference, will help you get started. There’s a bright future ahead for the universe.

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.”