Getting Started with the Information Design Tool

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

Information Design Tool 4.1 Splash Screen

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.”

Author: Dallas Marks

I am a business intelligence architect, author, and trainer. I help organizations harness the power of analytics, primarily with SAP BusinessObjects products. An active blogger, SAP Mentor and co-author of the SAP Press book SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide, I prefer piano keyboards over computer keyboards when not blogging or tweeting about business intelligence.

2 thoughts on “Getting Started with the Information Design Tool”

  1. First, it is time to inlcude pictures in the documentation. It eludes me why this is not happening already.

    Second, the IDT is cumbersome to use. Why can I not use an existing repository connection in 3-tier mode for example? And I am sure there must be a better way for the GUI to work and a better, more intuitive workflow. SAP, it is time to hire some professionals from Apple when it comes to usability! I said so more than on one occasion.

  2. I also got started playing around with the IDT today and it’s so much more complicated. I have to create multiple files (COnnection, data foundation, business layer, etc), published locally, then to repository. With Universe Designer, we just export one UNV file. I’m also having performance issue on tables with many columns. The IDT application slows to a haul.

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