Of all of the distribution methods available to SAP BusinessObjects customers, scheduled distribution to printers is easily the most controversial. Using paper is bad for the environment, even when it contains recycled materials. And paper costs money. And let’s not forget the additional costs of printer maintenance and ink supplies. I’ve often joked that most office laser printers should have a built-in document shredder next to the various sizes of paper trays. After all, it seems that lots of material is printed but never read. And what about data security? Aren’t we leaving defenseless customer, employee and medical patient data exposed to nefarious data thieves? SAP BusinessObjects directly supports distribution by e-mail, file system, FTP, and portals such as Microsoft SharePoint. Shouldn’t we use those? Using those destinations may make the SAP BusinessObjects administrator feel green while obscuring the fact that a lot of unnecessary printing is still going on. But it’s no longer “our” problem, right?
These are all good conversations to have, particularly when planning a business intelligence system upgrade. I’ve worked with many organizations that use schedule-to-print capabilities. We always strive to reduce printing requirements as a positive side effect of the upgrade. Some organizations can reduce their printing requirements to zero, particularly if a document management system is downstream from their business intelligence system (Although document management systems are their own evil, which I hope to discuss in a future post).
But some organizations- although making reductions- can’t eliminate the need to print entirely. Generally, the distribution requirement is dictated by a business process that has some urgency.
Something is wrong. Now. So grab the report from the printer and do something about it. Right now.
I see this scenario frequently when working with health care organizations. E-mail or file systems aren’t an effective option because not every employee has access. Before you exclaim “how primitive,” keep in mind that health care has high employee turnover- it’s just not worth the effort to administer access to non-patient care systems. Besides, nursing is a team sport practiced round-the-clock in front of patients, not PCs. So sending a document to a single recipient and expecting them to distribute the information doesn’t work well either. I’m certain that there are other use cases in other industries (and I hope you’ll share your printing use cases with SAP on the SAP Idea Place). And instead of clinging religiously to the mantra “printing is evil”, it’s always preferable to ask “what is the best way to solve this report distribution requirement”. And sometimes “best” doesn’t mean “perfect”, just “good enough”.
Organizations that come from a “classic” BusinessObjects background are familiar with using scheduling tools like Broadcast Agent to distribute reports to printers. And this capability continued with Desktop Intelligence XI R2, XI 3.0, and XI 3.1 via the Desktop Intelligence Job Server. But schedule-to-print capability was never extended to Web Intelligence documents and the Web Intelligence Job Server. And as of this writing, the ramp-up build of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 does not support Web Intelligence schedule-to-print. So how should customers migrate these Desktop Intelligence documents to SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0? There are two primary options. Either option can be implemented today using XI R2 or XI 3.0/3.1 – you don’t have to wait until BI 4.0 is released to begin planning for it.
Replace Printed Desktop Intelligence Documents with Crystal Reports
The first option is to redesign Desktop Intelligence documents using Crystal Reports. Crystal Reports has been built to create “pixel perfect” boardroom-quality reports and the Crystal Reports Job Server can schedule to printers. And Crystal Reports easily handles report requirements such as complex report layouts, images, and bar coding. So you might actually be happier with the end result than with the original Desktop Intelligence document it replaces. Unfortunately, there is no automated tool to perform the conversion from Desktop Intelligence to Crystal Reports. In addition, customers with “professional” licenses of BusinessObjects Enterprise will need to upgrade to “premium” licenses to handle the additional document type, so there is some cost involved.
Schedule Web Intelligence Documents with Custom Scripting to Print
The second option is to convert the Desktop Intelligence documents to Web Intelligence using the Report Conversion Tool. Although there is no native schedule-to-print capability, it is possible to schedule Web Intelligence output to a file system (or potentially an e-mail address) then use scripting to print the final result. This option may be attractive for organizations not willing to invest in Crystal Reports. However, custom scripting requires somebody with scripting expertise and the time to maintain it.
Does your organization currently utilize the schedule-to-print capabilities of Desktop Intelligence? Will you be able to replace printed output with some form of electronic distribution? Will you use one of the printing methods described above? Or hope that SAP will choose to add schedule-to-print capabilities to Web Intelligence as a service pack to BI 4.0?
Have you reduced your printing requirements? Take the time to calculate ROI based on the cost of paper and ink saved. Use this number to publicize within your organization how the business intelligence team is making a cost-effective (and green) impact.