Overdesigning BI Architecture for SAP Design Studio

Rethinking when to install the SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio server components.

SAP Design Studio 1.3 Splash

Over two years ago, SAP unveiled their roadmap and strategy for dashboards (see related article, The Future of SAP Dashboards)Today, in 2014, many SAP BusinessObjects customers have committed to a two-prong strategy of continuing to support legacy Xcelsius/Dashboards while looking for opportunities to begin using SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio, the successor to both SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and SAP BEx Web Application Designer (WAD). In some cases, it still makes sense to prefer Dashboards over Design Studio for new projects due to the maturity gap between the products.

Practically speaking, the two-prong strategy means that many BI administrators are installing the Design Studio components as part of their new SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.x deployments. SAP releases new versions of Design Studio approximately every six months. The current version is 1.3 and version 1.4 is expected in November 2014.

The Design Studio client app opens with an attractive welcome screen featuring a breathtaking mountaintop vista.

SAP Design Studio 1.3 Welcome

Although there’s a “Getting Started” section on the welcome screen for developers, there isn’t one for BI administrators, so here is some guidance. Design Studio, like SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, is not integrated out-of-the-box with the BI platform and has both web-tier components and server components, as shown in the installation screen below.

SAP Design Studio 1.3 Features

Ideally, these Design Studio server components would be integrated into the BI 4.x platform (see related article, Please Integrate the Integrated Enterprise BI Platform). But they aren’t, so plan ahead and put specific line items in your BI 4.x project plans for Design Studio installation and configuration tasks. The additional time required to install the server components can really add up, particularly if you have a lot of nodes in your BI 4.x deployment.

Installing Design Studio Before You’re Ready

In theory, proactively getting your BI 4.x platform ready for Design Studio seems like a best practice. I’ve done it for several customers. Unfortunately, in many cases you’ll spend extra hours installing a version of Design Studio that’s obsolete before your developers are able to use it for meaningful projects. This means that you’ll spend even more time later uninstalling the old version of Design Studio server components before installing newer ones.

Uninstalling obsolete Design Studio 1.1

 

Installing Design Studio When You’re Ready

Instead of budgeting hours for Design Studio in your BI 4.x upgrade project, place them instead in your first funded Design Studio development project. In this way, you’re guaranteed not to waste effort deploying a version of Design Studio that’s obsolete before you begin using it. The planning phase of a Design Studio project is also a good time to either apply the latest patch for your BI 4.x platform’s current Support Pack level or move up to a higher Support Pack level entirely.

In the meantime, install Design Studio on a sandbox server that isn’t part of your normal Development->Test->Production software development life cycle (SDLC). A sandbox environment is also a recommended place to test BI 4.x patches before committing them to the environments you use daily. You’ll be able to satisfy the needs of curious developers who want to begin learning Design Studio and conducting functionality bake-offs between Dashboards and Design Studio. New version of the BI 4.x platform or Design Studio server components? No problem. There’s only one server to upgrade.

Conclusion

If they aren’t already, your developers should definitely be putting Design Studio to the test (see Chris Greer’s related article, Is Xcelsius the new Deski? Die, Deski, Die!, on the EV Technologies blog). Give them some quality playtime in the sandbox. But until you’re truly ready with a funded project, don’t over-design your BI 4.x environment.

Other Perspectives on SAP Design Studio

What is your experience with Design Studio? Creating new dashboards or porting existing ones from Xcelsius/Dashboards?

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 Turns 3!

After the candles are blown out, here are some things to work on during the next year.

Happy Third Birthday, SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0! You came into the world on September 16, 2011, after a lengthy gestation. We’ve made a lot of memories together, from your birth to taking your first steps. Potty training took a bit longer than expected, but we eventually got there with your BI 4.1 release. And I’ve mostly gotten over that time you pooped in the bathtub. As the parent of three children, I’m familiar with children moving from “baby” to “toddler” to “preschooler”. Software doesn’t mature in the same way as human children. But just like with humans, some things that were expected, manageable or even “cute” in earlier years become wearisome after three years. So I’d like to mention ten things that I hope you’ll work on before your fourth birthday.

10. Group Hierarchy tree control with “too many objects”

We’re thankful that after three years, the “too many objects” error is largely solved in the BI Launch Pad (see related article, Too Many Objects in Your BI Launch Pad). I realize that BI Launch Pad users outnumber Central Management Console users. But any administrator with a large BI installation knows how tedious it is to live without a decent tree control.

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

9. User search feature in CMC

There are a lot of user attributes beyond just title and description. And I’d like to search any of them, thank you. Isn’t this just a few extra lines of code?

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

8. Server search feature in CMC

Although most servers are appropriately named, sometimes they just aren’t. Please make it easier to find a server by type (Adaptive Processing Server, Crystal Reports Cache Server) regardless of what somebody else decided to name it.

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

7. SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio server installation

If Design Studio is the future of SAP dashboards, then please take the time to integrate the required server features directly into the BI platform. The separate (and frequently changing) server components are a huge barrier to adoption (see related articles, Please Integrate the Integrated BI Platform and Over Designing BI Architecture for Design Studio).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

6. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer administration

We’ve suffered through poor SAP BusinessObjects Explorer administration since Explorer debuted as Polestar on the XI R2 platform. As you fold Explorer functionality into Lumira, please fold its administrative tasks into the Central Management Console (see related article, Family Planning).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

5. Web Intelligence panel preference

Thankfully you provide a script, setGroupPreferences (see SAP KB 1659566 or SAP KB 1816617), but even simpler would be the ability to set the default Web Intelligence report panel via the CMC. But even better would be retiring the Java report panel in favor of a single kick-a__ HTML 5 panel. Which leads us to number 4.
Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

4. Web Intelligence Java Report Panel

Who can forget WebiJavaGeddon (see related article, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste)?  I’ve logged hundreds of hours in the Web Intelligence Java Report Panel. But with security and performance concerns, it’s time to move on to a plug-in free future (see related article, Is it Time for Caffeine-Free Web Intelligence).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

3. Monitoring

Monitoring was a big marquee feature of the BI 4.0 launch. It’s a great first step, but it’s time to show us a more mature second generation of this important feature. Oh, and the Adobe Flash interface needs to go (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

2. Promotion Management/Lifecycle Management

Everyone thought the Import Wizard was evil. Until it went away. Like monitoring, this was a marquee feature of the BI 4.0 and rightly so. Also like monitoring, it re-appeared in BI 4.1 largely unchanged.

While we’re appreciative of the many stability improvements made post-BI 4.1, it’s time for you to show us the next generation of promotion management (see related article, Do I Feel Lucky? Musings on Promotion Management). We’d also be grateful if the user interface was more consistent with the rest of the CMC and eliminated the tiny bit of Adobe Flash that it contains (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet).

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

1. Platform Search

There are over 80 articles in the SAP knowledge base about platform search. Most of them highlight a design flaw or document a workaround, which isn’t terribly flattering. Given that platform search is often the first feature a new user will try, it’s time to put away the duct tape and introduce the next generation of platform search to the SAP BI platform.

Top 10 annoyances of SAP BI4

Make a wish, blow out the candles, and enjoy some well-deserved cake. But I hope you’ll take these things to heart over the next year.

What are your thoughts after three years of the SAP BI4 platform?

Please integrate the integrated enterprise BI platform

New BI functionality adds complexity to patch cycles.

Earlier this week, SAP hosted one of their ongoing SAP Analytics Innovation Community calls for Self-Service BI and SAP Lumira, hosted by my fellow Diversified Semantic Layer contributors Jamie Oswald and Josh Fletcher with presentations by SAP’s Jayne Landry, Olivier Duvelleroy, and Aaron Graber (see Nic Smith’s official wrap-up article). The SAP Lumira roadmap is a combination of here now, coming soon, and coming sometime (I think the rumored SAP Lumira Desktop for Mac OS X falls in the latter category). But the big news (from my perspective) was the announcement that Lumira Server, currently in ramp-up and soon to be generally available, will be included in the BI Suite license. Lumira Server is built on SAP’s HANA platform and will offer us a glimpse into what I believe is SAP’s future-state BI platform (see related article, Thoughts on BI 5.0).

Lumira In-Memory Add-on to BOE in Service Marketplace

Allowing early adopters to get a preview of the future is smart marketing on SAP’s part. But I, like many SAP BI practitioners, must live in the present with the current platform. Let’s consider the upgrade from BI 4.0 to BI 4.1, which consists of- at a minimum- two components. A base installation or upgrade of the BI 4.1 platform, for example BI 4.1 SP2 and possibly a patch, such as the now-available BI 4.1 Patch 2.2. A similar patching strategy is required on the desktop, where you might have the BI 4.1 platform client tools (Web Intelligence, Information Design Tool, etc.), Dashboards, Crystal Reports 2013, and Crystal Reports for Enterprise.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_01

But what if you are using Explorer? Now there are four moving parts: the BI 4.1 platform, the separate Explorer 4.1 installation, and a patch for each.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_02

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer has been a separate installation since its debut as Polestar on the XI R2 platform. But I had hoped that BI 4.0 would integrate its installation with the rest of the platform. Because Explorer retains its Adobe Flash foundation, no doubt SAP has decided to defer tight integration with the BI platform until an HTML5-based successor is available, which unfortunately wasn’t the case when BI 4.1 shipped last year.

Using Design Studio? SAP Design Studio is the current successor to BEx Web Application Designer and eventual successor for Xcelsius/Dashboards. You’ll need to install the Design Studio server components, which are also an add-on to the BI platform. To make things more interesting, Design Studio has its own product life cycle with unique versioning, product availability matrix, and documentation because it is capable of generating stand-alone applications that aren’t strictly tied to the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform. So today you’ll have the Design Studio 1.2 server components and possibly a service pack, as Design Studio tends to be patched to maintain compatibility with SAP HANA’s latest patch levels. So far, my experience is that the Design Studio server components installer is particularly lethargic. And don’t forget to patch the Design Studio client application.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_03

Based on what I heard this week, the diagram below is my approximation of what is involved to run SAP Lumira Server as part of your environment (sidenote – Microsoft Visio does a terrible job with color selection when exporting JPG and PNG files).

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_04

There will be a separate plug-in for the BI 4.1 environment (and eventually a patch, I presume) and the platform software and a patch for the SAP Lumira server. As with Design Studio, I would expect software availability on both sides to not be based on the BI 4.1 patching schedule. With new releases of SAP Lumira Desktop approximately every 6 weeks, the odds of needing to patch your environment to take advantage of new features (similar for what we already do with SAP Mobile BI and SAP HANA) are high. UPDATE: SAP is revising their BI4 + Lumira Integration Strategy (see related SAP Community Network article, Planned Native Integration of Lumira into BI Platform Details).

SAP’s recent work to support parallel node patching is helpful. You’ll want to download Foroohar Rafiei’s Patching Strategies and Best Practices + Parallel Patching guide from the SAP Community Network (SCN).

But can I gently suggest that there are simply too many moving parts here?

SAP Lumira is part of SAP’s response to desktop data discovery competitors like Tableau and Qlik. But another part of SAP’s response is the message that “those vendors do not have a true Enterprise BI solution”. I’m speculating that we’ll eventually get an HTML 5 version of Explorer + Lumira in a blender that will eliminate some of the current pieces. But it is extremely inconvenient that SAP has placed platform integration on customer shoulders instead of integrating the pieces in-house. Until they do, line-of-business users are going to continue to perceive IT’s lack of agility in platform support as further reasons to head to the cloud, with or without SAP as the vendor of choice. Even if SAP can quickly port existing BI apps like Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence to the HANA-based Lumira Server platform (heck- if they’re even planning to- we simply don’t know right now), I believe many customers will remain with the current BI 4.x platform, as they did with Desktop Intelligence, for many years to come.

For now, BI administrators should carefully estimate their BI 4.1 upgrade estimates based on the number of nodes and number of software components.

This article barely scratches the surface of this week’s Self Service BI and SAP Lumira webcast. What are your impressions?

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 5.0

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 5.0 integrates Explorer, Lumira and more.

Today, June 26, 2013, SAP released SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS 5.0 in the Apple iTunes App Store. The app requires iOS 6.0 or higher and compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. This app is also optimized for the iPhone 5 display.

What’s New in Version 5.0?

  • Support for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer
  • Support for SAP Lumira Server and Lumira Cloud
  • A brand-new user experience for better organization of BI content
  • Geo analysis and SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio support on iPhone
  • BI inbox support to burst reports to a specific user
  • Collaborative decisions with SAP Jam
  • Support for Arabic language (right to left support)
  • Technical enhancements

IMPORTANT: Explorer functionality requires the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 platform, so XI 3.1 and BI 4.0 customers will still need to use the standalone Explorer for iOS app for a while longer.

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile 5.0 on iTunes

You can find all the documentation on the SAP Help Portal:

This is an exciting release and I can’t wait to dive in.

The Future of SAP Dashboards

Analysis of SAP’s long-anticipated statement of direction (SOD) for dashboards

On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, the space shuttle Discovery made its historic final flight. Seeing images of Discovery flying over the US capitol piggybacked to its specially modified Boeing 747 gave me (and I’m sure many others) a profound admiration for NASA and its shuttle program. But it also left me wondering about the American space program’s future, worrying if its glory days are behind rather than ahead.

Space Shuttle Discovery Final Flight

On the same day, with unintentional irony, SAP posted an article on SCN about its long-anticipated statement of direction (SOD) for dashboards. The SOD served as a lead-in to yesterday’s popular ALL ACCESS to SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (Xcelsius) webinar (see Pieter Hendrikx‘s live blog of the webinar). SAP speakers Mani Gill, Ty Miller, Jason Rose, Ian Mayor, Scott Leaver, and Mani Srinivasan were joined by Xcelsius Guru Mico Yuk for a brief presentation followed by a live Q&A session. The prepared content mostly recapped what was introduced in the SOD document, leaving most of the session for Q&A. Most of the conversation centered around three topics:

  • What is going to happen to Xcelsius/Dashboards
  • What is going to happen to SAP BEx Web Application Designer?
  • What is Zen and wasn’t it called SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Application Design last year?
But the SOD reveals much more information and is definitely a must-read for all SAP BusinessObjects and SAP Netweaver BW customers. I’d like to make three observations about SAP’s statement of direction on dashboards.

Two Types of Users

First, conversations about Xcelsius/Dashboards and SAP BEx Web Application Designer are primarily held by one group of people: developers. In the SOD, SAP describes two broad categories of data visualization: professionally authored and self-service. These two broad categories have long existed in BI. We often use them to compare and contrast Crystal Reports with Web Intelligence (although enterprise reporting vs. ad-hoc query and analysis is another method of comparison).

SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and Zen [UPDATE: which shipped as SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio] are focused on the needs of “power users and IT”, which was probably the majority of attendees on the webcast. Zen is intended to be “a new, unified technology stack” that will begin life primarily intended as the successor to SAP BEx Web Application Designer (focused on SAP data sources like BW and HANA) and evolving into a successor for Xcelsius/Dashboards (focused on a broader set of data sources) as well.

But what about self-service dashboards? “In the future, exploration views (a functionality of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer) [introduced with SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3] will become the preferred technology for building self-service BI applications.” And although Web Intelligence is not mentioned, its evolution in BI 4.0 continues to blur the line between “query and analysis” and “dashboard”. And from an end-user perspective, SAP will eventually deliver Exploration Views and Web Intelligence in a single mobile app, rather than the two apps that are required today.

Although a frequent criticism of SAP is that there are “too many BI tools”, I am glad to see SAP continue to recognize that these two broad categories of users require different tools.

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Second, Tom Petty, a well-known business intelligence industry analyst, had the following to say about SAP’s Dashboard Statement of Direction:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

SAP’s Statement of Direction outlines three phases. We’ll see the fruits of phase one go into ramp-up in late 2012, but the latter phases will take us into 2013 and probably 2014. That’s a long time to wait. Users of SAP BEX Web Application Designer will be able to use the inaugural edition of Zen. But for the foreseeable future, existing Xcelsius/Dashboard Design customers can continue using the product, extend it with some useful partner solutions, and hope for a fairly routine migration path (see related article, Between an Xcelsius Rock and Dashboard Design Hard Place).

The SOD is developed from the traditional “enterprise software company” cookbook, with emphasis on “protecting existing investments” and merging tools from different lineages into a unified whole. This is what “good” enterprise software companies do. But these typical assumptions mean that we must wait patiently for the results. I can’t help but wonder (aloud on the latest Diversified Semantic Layer podcast, State of the Dashboard Take 2) if a better strategy would be assembling a team of genius developers and building something completely new, without the baggage of existing products. Customers would get a groundbreaking mobile-first tool faster and be less likely to hear the siren song of other vendors like Tableau, Tibco, and QlikTech, and the like.

I recognize that I don’t know how to run a large enterprise software company and don’t understand their traditions. But neither do the young minds creating new data visualization start-up companies. AOL or Yahoo could have built Facebook but didn’t. Kodak or Polaroid could have built Instagram but didn’t. HP or Dell could have built the Apple iPad but didn’t. History is replete with tales of innovation and disintermediation- of David outsmarting Goliath. (See New York Times columnist Nick Bilton’s article, Disruptions: Innovation Isn’t Easy, Especially Midstream)

But perhaps SAP intends to surprise us with the efforts of a secret development team toiling away in an unlikely location like Hilo, Hawaii? [UPDATE: Hilo was the code name for SAP Visual Intelligence, later renamed SAP Lumira]

Xcelsius really is the new Desktop Intelligence

Lastly, this week’s events cemented for me (but not for the SAP panelists) that Xcelsius really is the new Desktop Intelligence (see related article Thoughts on Xcelsius). Yes, I’m fully aware that this analogy is short-hand for all kinds of negative imagery. But there is positive imagery that is worth remembering. Let’s not forget that with Desktop Intelligence, both Business Objects (the company) and SAP that purchased it, the vendor was committed to protecting existing investments and providing a migration path via tools like the Report Conversion Tool. Customers were grateful for the amount of time that Desktop Intelligence continued to be supported. But I’m sure that many at SAP wished they could have stopped support sooner. One reason for the long retirement period was it took Web Intelligence, the successor, many years to reach an adequate level of functionality to replace its predecessor. The reason Desktop Intelligence had a retirement in the first place wasn’t because the tool lost its usefulness. SAP could certainly modernize it if they wanted to (see my almost-plausible April 1 Hell Freezes Over article). Desktop Intelligence was retired because a majority of its users lost interest in desktop applications in favor of web applications. Now those same customers are shifting attention from the web to the mobile device. So we shouldn’t blame the vendor when we, the customers, are making their products obsolete.

Like Desktop Intelligence before it, some customers will continue to use Xcelsius and Dashboard Design well beyond the official end of support. But as a career professional, I’m labeling it as “the new Desktop Intelligence” as a reminder that I need to prioritize learning new skills.

Conclusion

SAP did a good job in authoring the SOD and responding to live Q&A. The effort was necessary and time well spent. And after the webcast I’m looking forward to SAPPHIRE even more. But even with all of the clear answers, I’m unsure. Unsettled. Perhaps it’s because Xcelsius can’t figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Or maybe it’s because I’m the one who can’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Business Intelligence is supposed to be about fact-based decision making. But today, it’s about emotion as well.

What’s your reaction to the SAP BusinessObjects Dashboarding Strategy and Statement of Direction and the ALL ACCESS SAP webinar?

Additional Resources

Follow on Twitter