SAP BusinessObjects Explorer – What IT Needs to Know

Just like a political talk show on cable, the truth about SAP BusinessObjects Explorer is somewhere in the middle.

I’ve been busy talking about SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and helping customers deploy it.  I’m really excited about next month’s release of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.0 as part of the BI 4.0 suite, but there’s lots of reasons to start using the current release, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer XI 3.2.  Explorer is a unique business intelligence application aimed at the casual business user.  People generally have two reactions to it.  The first is that it’s a silver bullet that will magically solve all of their organization’s information delivery challenges.  The second reaction generally comes shortly after the second.  “Oh, it’s just a toy” or  “Our users would never use that”.

Both of these reactions are the extremes.  Just like a political talk show on cable, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Explorer brings business intelligence to an audience that desperately needs it but isn’t willing to sacrifice the time to access it.  I frequently hear from IT that “Explorer needs to add XYZ feature,” but remember- its beauty is in its simplicity.  SAP BusinessObjects Explorer requires almost no training.  Adding new features cannot come at the expense of complexity, and I appreciate that Explorer’s product managers carefully guard which features go into the product.

Explorer is great because it addresses the “I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for” business requirement.  Giving key users access to corporate data via Explorer helps them discover new insights.  These insights will lead to more specific business requirements to address specific business problems.  That’s where the more traditional tools for dashboards, ad-hoc query, and enterprise reporting come into play.  Explorer augments these tools.  It doesn’t replace them.

Explorer allows you to start small with your existing universes, then grow into in-memory analytics with either SAP BW Accelerator or HANA.  You don’t have to begin with a large investment.  Many customers are already licensed for Explorer, they just haven’t deployed it because it’s a separate install.

I challenge you to give Explorer a try.  Remember, it helps users find what they didn’t realize they were looking for.  Therefore, they’re not going to come asking you to deploy a tool that they don’t realize they need.  Take the first step and put Explorer in front of them, either on their desktops or their mobile devices.  Then step back and see what happens.

My 2011 SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Tour (so far)

April 29, 2011
ASUG Ohio Chapter Meeting
Cleveland, Ohio

June 24, 2011
ASUG Kentucky Chapter Meeting
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights, KY

July 14, 2011
St. Louis BusinessObjects User Group
St. Louis, MO

Your hometown???

Have you deployed Explorer in your organization?  Share your thoughts below.

Quiet update for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iOS

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 1.02 for iOS

In preparation for this week’s SAP SAPPHIRE event in Orlando, SAP has quietly updated the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer app in the Apple iTunes App Store.  The previous version (which, thankfully, does not get overwritten by the update) only required a link to the Explorer server, such as http://[servername]:[port]/polestar.  The new version has some additional requirements that are ruffling feathers at customer sites.

Note: To use SAP BusinessObjects Explorer app with your business data, you must have installed SAP BusinessObjects 3.2 SP2 release of SAP Business Explorer and SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 FP 3.4 including the SAP BusinessObjects Mobile Server.

In BI4, SAP has integrated the mobile servers into the Central Configuration Manager (CCM) and installs them by default.  However, in XI 3.1, the mobile servers aren’t as well-integrated.  Plus, requiring customers to embrace a Fix Pack for new functionality instead of a Service Pack is an interesting move, as conventional wisdom is to only install Fix Packs to correct problems.

Thankfully, SAP has released Explorer 1.02 which has a new “Connect via Mobile Server” switch on the Settings screen. Simply leave it in the default position (OFF) and enter the Explorer Server URL, http://[servername]:[port]/polestar.

 

Explorer using Explorer (polestar) URL

If Mobile BI is in use, simply flick the switch and enter the URL for the mobile server.
Explorer using Mobile URL

If you have configured BI Mobile, the URL for the Mobile Server is brain-dead simple.  Just http://[servername]:[port number] and the Explorer app does the rest of the work to find the mobile directory on the web application server.

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer is a great application that extends your organization’s BI to casual users and mobile devices.  It’s ready to deploy on the XI 3.1 platform today and will soon be available with the rest of the BI 4.0 suite.  I’m anxious to learn more about mobile BI at this week’s SAPPHIRE conference.  And I hope to report in a future post how to install and configure the BI Mobile XI 3.1 servers for Explorer on iOS.

Missing SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Servers

Find missing servers with AddNode.bat

After the adrenaline rush of presenting on SAP BusinessObjects Explorer XI 3.2 SP2 on an Apple iPad2 at last Friday’s ASUG Ohio chapter meeting, I was greeted this morning with the following installation issue.  Bin Laden may no longer be missing, but my Explorer servers were nowhere to be found.  Fortunately, I resolved the issue without assistance from SAP Support or U.S. Navy SEALs.

I’ve never seen the issue occur when all Explorer components are installed on a single server.  But I recently installed the Explorer web application on a separate physical server (using Tomcat) than the rest of the SAP BusinessObjects environment (where the Explorer servers and the Explorer CMS add-on go).  The software was clearly installed, but the Explorer folder (and the Explorer servers) did not show up in the Central Management Console.  Nor were the servers secretly running in the Windows Task Manager.  A similar issue has been previously documented by Andrew Koller regarding the Xcelsius Cache and Processing servers and the Life Cycle Manager (LCM) job server.  So I crossed my fingers, ran AddNode.bat, and resolved the problem.  The syntax for AddNode.bat is as follows:

[BOE_install location]win32_x86scriptsaddnode.bat -name [NODENAME] -siaport [Port Number] -cms [CMS Name] -user [User Name] -password [Password] -authentication [Type] -platform win32_x86 -update

EXAMPLE:

C:Program Files (x86)Business ObjectsBusiness Objects Enterprise 12.0win32_x86scriptsaddnode.bat -name alqaeda_prod -siaport 6410 -cms alqaeda_prod:6400 -user Usama -password NeverFindMe -authentication secEnterprise -platform win32_x86 -update

Once the script completes, the four Explorer servers appeared as expected in the server management area of the Central Management Console (CMC).

This installation is using SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 SP3 on Windows Server 2008 64-bit.  So I’m wondering if SAP hard-coded the location of AddNode.bat in the “Program Files” instead of also looking in the “Program Files (x86)” directory?

Anybody else experience this issue?

Inside SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

This book by Ingo Hilgefort allows organizations to quickly and confidently deploy Explorer.

Greetings from ASUG2010/SAPPHIRENOW in Orlando, Florida! I am writing this post from a quiet spot just off of the main exhibit hall. Having presented Deploying BI to the Masses with BusinessObjects Explorer at the fall 2009 GBN conference, I was thrilled when the FedEx truck recently brought me a review copy of Ingo Hilgefort‘s new guide, Inside SAP BusinessObjects Explorer (SAP Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1592293407). Explorer is a fantastic innovation from SAP that is best described as “Google for your business intelligence environment”. Depending on your BusinessObjects Enterprise license, Explorer may be something your organization is already licensed to use.

For readers attending the ASUG conference, be sure to check out the Explorer breakout sessions by Ty Miller (0309) and Susan Guess (0404).

This 300-page guide details the innovative Explorer in seven chapters, beginning with “SAP BusinessObjects Explorer – One Piece of Your Business Intelligence Puzzle”. The chapter details the lineage of Explorer, beginning with Intelligent Question that was introduced with BusinessObjects Enterprise XI R2, reimagined as Polestar, then rebranded as Explorer. As the title indicates, Explorer is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s simply not possible to have one BI tool that rules them all, but Explorer brings BI capabilities to non-traditional BI users (primarily casual and executive users), leverages the power of existing technologies such as the BusinessObjects semantic layer (universes) and the BW Accelerator, and integrates with existing tools like Web Intelligence.

Chapter Two provides detailed information about installation and deployment. A potential point of confusion is the fact that Explorer comes in multiple editions. The first edition, originally known as Polestar, works with existing BusinessObjects universes. The second edition, known as SAP BusinessObjects Explorer – Accelerated Version, works with SAP BW Accelerator, a blade appliance that works in conjunction with SAP BW. The third edition is known as SAP BusinessObjects Open Accelerator. The Open Accelerator allows non-BW customers to accelerate their existing data sources using the blade appliance and BusinessObjects Data Services.

Chapters Three and Four provide additional implementation details that will help you deploy Explorer in your organization quickly. The remaining chapters conclude the book with details about Explorer On-Demand (in the cloud), Explorer on the iPhone, and lastly, the outlook for Explorer.  Even though currently shipping technology is simply amazing, we are only at the beginning of the journey. Details are still murky, but SAP’s recently announced Sybase acquisition was made because of Sybase’s in-memory and mobile technologies, not their waning relational database products. So it will be interesting to see how the Sybase acquisition, if completed, specifically affects the Explorer road map.

My only disappointment with the book is Chapter Five – Usage Scenarios. The chapter does a phenomenal job describing how Explorer can solve problems in seven different industries (Health Care, Retail, Insurance, Finance, Procurement, Customer Service, and Sales), but there isn’t any sample data provided so readers can mimic the activities presented in the book. That said, this book allows organizations to quickly and confidently deploy Explorer.

My recommendation is to first purchase this excellent book, create a POC (proof of concept) with Information Spaces created from your existing universes, then determine if in-memory database technology is right for your enterprise. ASUG attendees can visit the SAP Press booth and get a special conference discount, perhaps even stalking Ingo at the conference to get an autographed copy.

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.”

Business Casual Business Intelligence

Delivering business intelligence that’s as readily available as a good cup of coffee.

Today is the third and final day of the 2009 SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Dallas, Texas. In the morning, I’ll be giving the last of three breakouts that I was selected to present this year, entitled “Deploying BI to the Masses using SAP BusinessObjects Explorer”.  Explorer, formerly Polestar, is an intuitive application that takes the simplicity of search (think Google) to provide instant access to information. Explorer leverages your existing business intelligence infrastructure and opens it up to a new kind of user, the casual business intelligence user. Dan Kearnan, from SAP BusinessObjects, led a conference breakout earlier this week about how to use Explorer. Although I’ll give a brief demo of the Explorer user experience, the focus on my breakout is the back-end details that IT needs to know to deploy Explorer effectively.

We live in a brave new world of instant information. My eight-year-old daughter knows that she can ask her dad to “just Google it” if there’s a piece of information that needs to be found. Sites like Google and Wikipedia help us make sense of the world around us. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer intends to do the same for the knowledge inside of our organizations.

Of course, business intelligence vendor demos can make everything look all too easy. Real life is messier, generally because we haven’t applied the same focus to data quality and data governance as we have to putting cool software like Xcelsius and Explorer in front of our users. Take, for example, the new Starbucks iPhone application. It holds a lot of promise, using the iPhone’s GPS to identify the nearest Starbucks. It even utilizes the Google Maps built into the iPhone to generate travel directions. So far, so good. But alas, Starbucks chose to pass GPS coordinates rather than the store address to Google Maps. Meaning that instead of finding a neighborhood Starbucks in a strange city, I ended up in the middle of an unfamiliar residential neighborhood. Somebody must have fat-fingered the coordinates. The application also tells me that a Starbucks location is open, but when I drill down to the operating hours, the store is clearly closed.

I’m genuinely excited about tools like Xcelsius and Explorer. I’m glad that I make a living helping customers build BI solutions with them. But without good data, we’ve only given our users more elegant ways to look at junk. It’s not easy, and unfortunately it’s not sexy. Just watch your users’ eyes light up when you talk about “ETL” or “data quality”. Or not…  But the man or woman in the corner office needs an answer that’s as readily available as a good cup of coffee.

Sizing SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

Where to find the Sizing SAP BusinessObjects Explorer guide.

On page 13 of the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Installation, Deployment and Administration Guide, it states

For information on sizing your system according to the usage patterns of the
users across your deployment, refer to the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer
XI 3.1 Service Pack 1 Sizing Guide available at: http://service.sap.com/bosapsupport.

A document entitled Sizing SAP BusinessObjects Explorer was posted sometime last week. You’ll need your SAP S-ID to get into the SAP Service Marketplace.