All the Web Intelligence That’s Fit to Print

Printing a Web Intelligence document isn’t a necessary evil- it’s simply necessary. And SAP should graciously support users who work in industries where a printer is required equipment.

Back in 2011 when I wrote All the Desktop Intelligence That’s Fit to Print, I was working on what I hoped would be my last project migrating Desktop Intelligence documents to Web Intelligence. Fast forward six years to 2017 and I’m still helping several customers retire Desktop Intelligence. And in 2017, the Web Intelligence Job Server still doesn’t have the schedule-to-printer functionality that existed for Desktop Intelligence and is still available for Crystal Reports users.

This year, the SAP Idea Place moved to a new home- the SAP Customer Influence portal. The idea to Schedule Webi documents to a Printer– submitted by Brian Thomas on January 10, 2011- was reviewed by SAP and set to “not planned”, despite the idea currently having 64 votes- many more than the ten votes SAP required for consideration. The idea has comments from Web Intelligence users across multiple industries making their case for schedule-to-print.

Instead, Samuel Polichouk, an SAP product expert in Paris where Web Intelligence is developed, wrote:

In our world which become more and more “mobile”, printing is not something we would like to invest in scheduling webi documents. Therefore I prefer to set expectation saying that we will not include this in our backlog for coming releases.

While I appreciate Samuel’s perspective, the world still needs printers. I’m still baffled why I hear a dot matrix printer grinding away at the gate agent’s desk whenever I board a commercial airline flight, but there it is- some kind of compliance requirement that won’t go away.

Please continue to vote for this necessary idea and hope that SAP will review its position on the matter, bringing much-needed printing capabilities enjoyed by Desktop Intelligence and Crystal Reports users to the legions of Web Intelligence fans.

UPDATE: Voting is closed for this particular idea; however, I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment on this article describing a use case for Webi printing or why you support adding this feature to the platform.

Web Intelligence and Free-Hand SQL

SAP has put yet another nail in the coffin of Desktop Intelligence.

SAP has put yet another nail in the coffin of Desktop Intelligence with Free-Hand SQL in the recent release of Support Pack 6 for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1. Steve Yemm has put together an excellent tutorial on the SAP Community Network (see related SCN article, Web Intelligence Free Hand SQL (FHSQL)/Stored Procedures in BI4.1 SP06). I’d like to show just a couple of extra formatting nuances not in Steve’s article.

Free-Hand SQL isn’t a silver bullet (see related article, Free-Hand SQL Isn’t Free), but it is a bullet. It can help query data that no existing universe can access. Web Intelligence now uses a workflow that will seem very familiar to Desktop Intelligence users.

I’m going to use the Web Intelligence Java applet and choose the new Free-Hand SQL option for creating a new document.
SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_01_A
Next, I’ll choose a universe connection.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_02_400

For my query, I’ll paste SQL from an eFashion query for Year, State, and Sales Revenue into the Query Script editor, essentially a large text box.

SELECT
Agg_yr_qt_rn_st_ln_ca_sr.Yr,
Agg_yr_qt_rn_st_ln_ca_sr.State,
sum(Agg_yr_qt_rn_st_ln_ca_sr.Sales_revenue)
FROM
Agg_yr_qt_rn_st_ln_ca_sr
GROUP BY
Agg_yr_qt_rn_st_ln_ca_sr.Yr,
Agg_yr_qt_rn_st_ln_ca_sr.State

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_03_400

 

The Query Script “editor” provides the same editing features as its Desktop Intelligence predecessor- none. However, it is possible to validate that the SQL you pasted from elsewhere is valid.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_04

Notice that Web Intelligence inferred that the aggregate function SUM should be interpreted as a measure object. However, the object naming isn’t terribly creative.
SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_05_400

That is why you’ll want to add aliases to your SQL statement.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_06_400

You can manually rename objects, which is helpful for setting column headings. Here I changed Sales_Revenue into Sales Revenue.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_07_400

And voila! The results are exactly what we expect. Except unlike data from the eFashion universe, measures aren’t well-formatted.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_08

Simply right-click on any value in the Sales Revenue column and choose Format Number. It’s near the bottom of what seems to be the world’s longest right-click menu. Does anyone else hope that Web Intelligence 4.2 will have shorter right-click menus?

 

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_09_A

Choose the desired numeric format.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_10

And there you have it, a Web Intelligence document that uses Free-Hand SQL.

Some additional observations. The new Free-Hand SQL is also available in the Web Intelligence Rich Client…

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_11_400

However, it is missing from the HTML panel.

UPDATE: The Free-hand SQL option now appears in the BI 4.2 SP4 HTML panel, where only the Analysis View query option is missing.

SAPBI41_SP6_Webi_Free_Hand_SQL_12_400

This fact isn’t surprising, since Excel, Analysis View, Text and Web Service options are also missing from the HTML panel. Let’s hope that SAP announces some clear plans on how it intends to bring the HTML panel to feature parity with its two peers (see related SAP blog, SAP BI 4.2 SP3: What’s New in Web Intelligence). Someday, I hope that new Web Intelligence features first appear in the HTML panel.

In addition to creating new Web Intelligence reports from Free-Hand SQL, this feature provides new capabilities to the Report Conversion Tool, which were actually introduced earlier in Support Pack 5. Prior to SP5, Desktop Intelligence documents with free-hand SQL were converted by placing the SQL into a derived table of a new universe (see related article, Retiring Desktop Intelligence Free-Hand SQL). This approach could become problematic when hundreds of Desktop Intelligence documents were spawning hundreds of new single-use universes. The Report Conversion Tool no longer needs to create a universe to successfully convert free-hand SQL documents.

Additional Resources

What are your plans for Web Intelligence Free-Hand SQL?

SAP to Rebrand Lumira as Desktop Intelligence at SAPPHIRE

Desktop Intelligence is back!

In its continuing effort to gain traction in the crowded data discovery market, SAP is enlisting the help of a trusted brand name: Desktop Intelligence. The change is expected to be announced next month at its annual SAPPHIRE NOW user conference in Orlando, Florida. SAP analytics users have been down the rebranding road before. “Project Hilo” was launched at SAPPHIRE NOW 2012 as SAP Visual Intelligence (see related SCN article) then rebranded as SAP Lumira just one year later at SAPPHIRE NOW 2013 (see related SCN article).

According to SAP spokesperson April Erste, yet another re-brand was warranted because “highly-respected industry analysts made fun of Lumira’s seemingly pharmaceutical-inspired name.”

In addition, SAP’s corporate clientele mistakenly believed that increasing the number of “Lumira users” in their organizations would lead to skyrocketing prescription drug costs, often resulting in a buying decision for rival data discovery tools such as Tableau or Qlik.

The new branding will be applied to what was previously known internally as SAP Lumira version 1.26 and will introduce bold new features like a redesigned “slice-and-dice” panel, the ability to import queries from “classic” Desktop Intelligence (see related article, True Desktop Intelligence with SAP Lumira) and a new splash screen that incorporates nostalgic cues from the original BusinessObjects product SAP acquired in 2007. Continuing to integrate technology from SAP’s KXEN acquisition, the new release includes an automated (and animated) assistant to help casual users who are not trained statisticians add predictive capabilities to their visualizations. The animated Deski the Dachshund™ provides a light-hearted interface to business users who fondly remember Clippy, the animated assistant from Microsoft Office. “It’s like Apple Siri for analytics,” says Ms. Erste, clearly beaming with pride.

This isn’t the first time SAP has tried to resurrect the Desktop Intelligence brand name, but SAP is hopeful their second attempt will have better success. “We introduced a brand-new Desktop Intelligence product in 2012,” continues Ms. Erste, “but initial reaction from ramp-up customers was chilly and we ended up scrapping the effort” (see related article, Hell Freezes Over). The upcoming Desktop Intelligence rebrand will be supported with a global multimedia campaign featuring Jennifer Lopez, who co-wrote the campaign song, “Don’t Diss Deski,” with long-time collaborator Cory Rooney and Alan Wilkis (Big Data). Ms. Lopez will first perform “Don’t Diss Deski” publicly during her concert appearance at the SAP SAPPHIRE event. Its accompanying music video, directed by James Frost (OK GO, Radiohead), will be promoted on SAP’s social media channels with a special #DontDissDeski hashtag.

Unfortunately, I won’t be attending SAPPHIRE this year but it’s shaping up to be a great event. What are your thoughts on SAP’s plans for Lumira?

Free-Hand SQL Isn’t Free

Free-Hand SQL is a good short-term solution but a poor long-term solution.

Editor’s note: I’m a bit embarrassed that this article has languished in draft mode for almost two years as I try to clean out my backlog of unfinished blog articles. But it’s still a relevant topic to discuss.

With custom dimension grouping finally added to SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence BI 4.1 SP2, the functionality gap between legacy Desktop Intelligence and its successor Web Intelligence is largely closed. One large gap remains, although it’s a controversial gap in my view.

Three words- Free-Hand SQL.

Desktop Intelligence Free Hand SQL

Free-Hand SQL is a feature of legacy Desktop Intelligence that allows a report to be created from a hand-crafted SQL statement. It’s typically used when there’s not enough time to create a universe. A highly normalized data model is sometimes too complex to model generically in a universe and nobody wants to bother transforming it into a star schema. Web Intelligence presently doesn’t support Free-Hand SQL, but the Report Conversion Tool does an adequate job of converting existing Desktop Intelligence documents that use it to Web Intelligence (see related article, Retiring Desktop Intelligence Free-Hand SQL).

 

The user interface for Free-Hand SQL is spartan, so the query is usually crafted elsewhere in a tool with better SQL editing features such as Microsoft Access, TOAD, or the SQL editor provided by the database vendor then simply pasted into a humble box in Desktop Intelligence.

Desktop Intelligence Free Hand SQL Query Panel

It’s a pretty basic box, without any tools to help the Desktop Intelligence user fashion a well-written query. You can validate the final result, though.

Desktop Intelligence Free Hand SQL statement is correct

My friend and SAP Mentor Greg Myers had this exchange a few years ago when Free-Hand SQL was first mentioned on the Web Intelligence product roadmap.

 

SAP’s Matthew Shaw writes eloquently on the SAP Community Network about the benefits of the semantic layer and drawbacks of Free-Hand SQL (see related article, Use of Semantic Layer over ‘free hand SQL’).

 

Matthew elaborates on several valid technical considerations, but this one stands out.

There is no central control over the SQL with free hand SQL. Should the database change, corrections needs to be made, or improvements made, then each and every document containing that free hand SQL needs to be inspected and manually updated. Compare this to the semantic layer where one change is made and that change is automatically propagated to all related documents.

Matthew Shaw, Use of Semantic Layer over ‘free hand SQL’ on SAP Community Network

In other words, maintenance nightmare! Free-Hand SQL is difficult to manage. If the data model or reporting requirements change, the task of tracking down and updating the offending SQL is tedious and time consuming. Of course, the manager that told you to “just get it done” with Free-Hand SQL won’t be around when the maintenance requests come in- she put “agile BI project management” on her resume and now has a much better paying job than yours.

SAP no longer supports SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI R2. But unfortunately, it still supports the decade-old philosophy that “all features of Desktop Intelligence must be crammed (eventually) into Web Intelligence”. In my view, a better approach would be to ask “where is the best place in the platform to support users that need to write free-hand SQL” and “what features can we add to the platform to support the lifecycle of free-hand SQL”. There’s an opportunity here to share SQL query design-time features across multiple tools in the BI suite, possibly leveraging some of the existing query builder functionality in Crystal Reports.

Although it first appeared on the official roadmap nearly two years ago, Free-Hand SQL in Web Intelligence does not have a public timetable. It is not mentioned in the “What’s New” document for SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 Support Pack 3 expected to ship at the end of this month. Unless SAP changes its mind, Free-Hand SQL is coming to a future version of Web Intelligence (UPDATE: Free-Hand SQL was delivered in BusinessObjects BI 4.1 Support Pack 6 – see related article Web Intelligence and Free-Hand SQL). But if we must have Free-Hand SQL in Web Intelligence, can we at least have something more elegant than a big box?

How do you feel about the SAP product roadmap for Free-Hand SQL?

True Desktop Intelligence With SAP Lumira

Modernizing Desktop Intelligence without leaving the desktop.

Last October, I performed a system health check for a customer using SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1. SAP BusinessObjects is an OEM package that comes with the financial system that runs their large yet highly specialized business. Like their industry peers that use the same solution, the company has upgraded from classic BusinessObjects 5 and 6 to XI R2 and currently XI 3.1, meaning that Desktop Intelligence is the overwhelming source of reports that help them run their business. Aside from the sample documents and universes provided by their ERP vendor, nearly all of the Desktop Intelligence documents live out in the wild, on desktops throughout the organization. Of course, the BI 4.1 platform offers limited support for Desktop Intelligence (see related article, Desktop Intelligence, Back for a Limited Time). But everyone, including this XI 3.1 customer, recognizes that the Desktop Intelligence Compatibility Pack is only a short-term solution.

I’ve seen this Desktop Intelligence scenario a lot since XI R2 was first introduced nearly 10 years ago. As part of my health check, I first made sure that the current hardware was sufficient to support the proposed number of simultaneous Web Intelligence users. Then I made sure that enough Web Intelligence Processing Servers and connections would be available. I explained to the customer the need to work with key stakeholders to identify critical Desktop Intelligence documents, export them to the BI platform into a well-designed folder structure, then convert them to Web Intelligence using the Report Conversion Tool.

This strategy made sense in 2004. But does it continue to make sense in 2014?

As business intelligence professionals, we’ve spent the last 10 years mocking desktop software and worshiping at the altar of web-based software. We’ve rolled our eyes at Desktop Intelligence diehards and showed no sympathy to users that have waited 10 years for SAP to deliver grouping functionality (it finally arrived in BI 4.1 SP2). We laughed in the face of WebiJavaGeddon (see related article, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste). But today a new business intelligence revolution is occurring and its back on the desktop where it all started (see related article, Nobody Ever Got Fired for Buying Tableau). Delicious irony.

What if old Desktop Intelligence documents could be modernized without leaving the desktop? What if SAP Lumira could open a Desktop Intelligence document? And even if it couldn’t replicate the tables and charts accurately enough (or at all), what if it at least imported the document’s data providers properly? Ideally, a desktop BI user could convert the documents themselves rather than bundling them up for the IT department’s Web Intelligence conversion project. Self-service BI upgrades, not just self-service BI.

I posted my idea to the SAP Idea Place in December 2013.

SAP Idea Place Allow Lumira to Open Desktop Intelligence

Sadly, the idea was rejected— “not planned by SAP”— because “Web Intelligence is the natural upgrade path for Deski documents.” As much as I love Web Intelligence, I would argue that it’s the historical upgrade path for Desktop Intelligence documents. It’s no longer the logical upgrade path and should no longer be the only upgrade path.

The SAP Idea Place is largely based on the popular My Starbucks Idea site used by Starbucks to engage with its customers. In his recently published book Leading the Starbucks Way, author Joseph Michelli writes that:

As items gain popularity through the votes of members in the community, moderators engage in dialogue about those ideas. Cecile [Hudon] notes, “We encourage the moderators to comment and look for responses to the most popular ideas each week, and also look for diamond in the rough ideas— innovative ideas that have low point scores because they may be too new of a concept for people to recognize as a good idea.” [emphasis mine]

This business intelligence barista thinks a Desktop Intelligence extension for SAP Lumira qualifies as a diamond in the rough idea. I hope SAP will give the idea a second look.

What do you think of my idea for SAP Lumira and Desktop Intelligence? Would you consider voting or adding a comment to my idea on the SAP Idea Place?

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.”

What’s New? Desktop Intelligence!

What’s new in SAP BI 4.1? Why, Desktop Intelligence, of course!

I was reading the What’s New in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 document last night and stumbled across this great new feature on page 22.

Desktop Intelligence is an integrated query, reporting, and analysis solution for business professionals that allows you to to access the data in your corporate databases directly from your desktop and present and analyze this information in a Desktop Intelligence document.

Desktop Intelligence makes it easy to access this data, because you work in familiar business terms and non technical database terms like SQL. Once you have used Desktop Intelligence to access data, you can present information in reports as tables, or as sophisticated dynamic documents with drillable charts.

Desktop Intelligence lets you access data from a wide range of sources. You can access data from a number of sources:

  • Universes
  • Personal data files
  • Stored procedures
  • Freehand SQL server
  • XML data provider
  • VBA data provider

Now remember kids, Desktop Intelligence is not coming back.

Ever.

We mean it.

Oh, look! Here is the Desktop Intelligence Report Compatibility Pack (see related article, Desktop Intelligence, Back for a Limited Time)! Quelle surprise!

Seriously, there is no Desktop Intelligence 4.1. What the Report Compatibility Pack provides is the ability to use Desktop Intelligence XI 3.1 in a limited way with BI 4.1 to ease migration to the new platform. Only Desktop Intelligence Service Pack 6 Fix Pack 6.1 or higher will interact with BI 4.1.

While the product description above was undoubtedly lifted from an old Desktop Intelligence manual, seeing it in the “What’s New” guide made me laugh. I hope it made you laugh, too.

Resources

Will your organization adopt the Desktop Intelligence Report Compatibility Pack? Finally convert its remaining Desktop Intelligence documents to Web Intelligence using the Report Conversion Tool 4.1? Was Desktop Intelligence retired long ago? Or never adopted in the first place?

The Other Web Intelligence Feature Gap

Much attention has focused on the Web Intelligence feature gap with Desktop Intelligence. But recent security concerns have focused attention on the other Web Intelligence feature gap.

Ever since the 2004 BusinessObjects roadmap described the eventual retirement of Desktop Intelligence, much attention has been paid to the feature gap between Desktop Intelligence and its successor Web Intelligence. Today, the feature gap is much more narrow than it was in Web Intelligence 6.0 or even Web Intelligence XI R1 or XI R2 (remember when lack of support for synchronized data providers was a big deal?). And Web Intelligence has evolved to contain exclusive features like input controls, advanced charting and mobility support. When Desktop Intelligence disappeared with the release of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 two years ago, concerns from long-term customers become more pronounced. The forthcoming Desktop Intelligence Compatibility Pack will debut later this year in BI 4.1 to address those concerns. And the current product roadmap will continue closing the Deski-to-Webi feature gap in BI 4.1 and BI 4.2.

But there is a second Web Intelligence feature gap that demands increasing attention, and that is the gap between the HTML (web) and Java-based (Rich Internet Application) versions of Web Intelligence. The best Web Intelligence experience has always required Java in the web browser and BI 4.0 is no exception. The web version continues to evolve but is always behind its more powerful Java-based relative.

Here are the preferences in the SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 InfoView portal:

XI3 Web Intelligence View and Modify Options

And here are similar preferences in the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 BI Launch Pad:

BI4 Web Intelligence View and Modify Options

Despite the name changes from version to version, there’s always a Java and a non-Java version of Web Intelligence.

In BI 4.0, the following features are currently exclusive to the Java-based Rich Internet Application:

  • Query support for BEx and Analysis Views
  • Custom Cascading Style Sheets
  • Custom number formats
  • Conditional formatting
  • Many usability features in the Java-based UI, including Data View

There’s also a third feature gap- Web Intelligence features like bullet graphs and scorecards that are only supported on the Mobile BI app- but I’ll discuss those in a future article.

Java on the desktop is becoming increasingly problematic for IT departments to update and support. Oracle halted support for Java 6 in February 2013 and SAP has only recently added support for Java 7 in its latest patches for SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 and BI 4.0 (see related article The Future of Web Intelligence and Java on the EV Technologies blog). Apple has taken the drastic step of classifying older versions of Java 7 as malware (see related article Apple’s anti-malware blacklists Java 7 plug-in again on ZDNet). And the United States government, through its Department of Homeland Security, is recommending that “unless it is absolutely necessary to run Java in web browsers, disable it.” As of yesterday- and sure to be obsolete within nanoseconds- Oracle is providing Java 6 Update 43 (you know, the version they stopped patching last month?) and Java 7 Update 17 (see Oracle’s official Java SE Downloads page for the latest versions).

Ten years ago, it was impossible to create rich, engaging web applications without relying on plugins like Java or Adobe Flash. However, today’s modern browsers provide a different canvas for application developers to paint on. Tomorrow, on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, ASUG and SAP will present a webcast entitled What’s New in Web Intelligence 4.1. I hope that we’ll see that the roadmap for Web Intelligence leads to a Java-free future.

How is your organization coping with Java security woes?