Wait a minute! What about Designer?

Yeah, what about Designer?

Earlier this week, I mentioned an article by SAP trainers Martha Thieme and Antonio Soto about education offerings for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 (see related SAP Community Network article, The Quick and Dirty Guide to SAP BusinessObjects Training). The article describes the training offerings for various BI 4.0 tools. But then the following recommendations appear after a discussion of the Information Design Tool classes.

Wait a minute! What about Designer?

Well, if you are a new customer to the SAP BusinessObjects tools, you should not be using Designer. You should be creating your universes using the Information Design Tool. If you are upgrading to the 4.0 tools, you still should be creating all your new universes using the Information Design Tool and using the old Designer (called Universe Design Tool in 4.0) only to maintain your old universes. Oh, and you should use the Information Design Tool to convert those old universes to the new universe format. (Tip: That’s a great job for interns!)

This is good textbook advice, and its what you would expect representatives from the software vendor to say. But two years after the introduction of BI 4.0, the Information Design Tool still isn’t mature enough to handle all of the capabilities of its predecessor, the Universe Design Tool (formerly known as Designer). Although the Information Design Tool in the upcoming BI 4.1 introduces some new features (predominantly around- sigh- SAP HANA), the situation is largely unchanged.  I’ve previously shared my frustrations with object formatting limitations, which remain in BI 4.1 (see related article, Object Formatting with the Information Design Tool). And Ryan Muldowney identifies some of the gaps in his article UNV versus UNX: Consuming Universes in BI 4.0. Ryan points out that some tools support UNV, some support UNX, and some support both formats. Unfortunately, this often means that both the original UNV and converted UNX must be maintained. Dave Rathbun shares similar experiences from Pepsico in his article BI4 UNV Versus UNX … Which Do You Choose?

Probably the most significant barrier to adopting the Information Design Tool is its lack of support for linked universes. Linked universes are universes that share common components such as parameters, classes, objects, or joins. But linked universes didn’t need the BI4 platform to generate controversy. They were a controversial topic long before BI 4.0 arrived. Don’t believe me? Just mention the subject in a bar crowded with SAP BusinessObjects professionals. But the core issue isn’t that the Information Design Tool doesn’t support linked universes. The core issue is that the Information Design Tool still doesn’t do a great job at supporting the benefits of linked universes: team-based development and code reuse. Sure, for team-based development there is project synchronization. But I don’t find this feature mature enough, nor is it integrated with version control, which only exists within the CMC instead of being integrated into the development tools. And while data foundations allow a single data foundation to be shared across multiple universes, there really isn’t a good mechanism for sharing objects from multiple business layers or allowing a composite business layer to be built by a team.

The situation is disappointing because the Information Design Tool and it’s “common semantic layer” were promoted during the BI 4.0 launch as the future of the universe. Perhaps my expectations were set too high by the initial BI4 hype. Because I expect a new tool to be superior when compared to its predecessor, not immature and struggling just to catch up with basic functionality. Perhaps SAP has been caught off guard as well, spending much of the last two years focused on BI 4.0 platform stability rather than analytic innovation. Jonathan Haun shares a similar perspective in his article The Top 5 tips all vendors can learn from Apple in 2012.

[SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0] was chopped full of innovation but its inability to deliver was a “battleship sized anchor” that slowed it down in the race to the finish line.

But perhaps my perceptions are incorrect. What is your experience with the Information Design Tool? Do you agree with Martha and Antonio? Will any concerns you have be addressed by BI 4.1 or will they still linger?

Other Perspectives on Information Design Tool

If you’re coming to next month’s SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Anaheim, California, I’d love to chat. Just don’t mention linked universes in the hotel lounge- you might start a brawl!

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.”

The Quick and Dirty Guide to SAP BusinessObjects Training

Guidance from SAP on business intelligence education.

Students learning at computer

SAP trainers Martha Thieme and Antonio Soto have posted The Quick and Dirty Guide to SAP BusinessObjects Training on the SAP Community Network- a helpful summary of the courses available for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.

True story: Martha and I worked at the same company 10 years ago and she was my instructor for Universe Design on classic version 5.1.

No SAP BusinessObjects Professional Left Behind

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 training is right around the corner.

Last Thursday, SAP had a kickoff call with its SAP BusinessObjects Authorized Education Partners (AEP) regarding SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.  Historically, training materials have lagged several months behind each major release, so one of the side benefits of SAP’s ramp up process is that training materials will be ready to go on day one of general availability (GA).  I’ve been a certified trainer for nearly seven years, beginning with classic BusinessObjects 5.1, and I still approach each major release with the same combination of excitement and dread.  Excitement over new toys, but dread over new concepts and training manuals to master.

I’m focusing this post on classroom training (both in public training centers and on-site at customer sites).  In the future, I’ll discuss other options like e-Learning.

New Training Material Format

The big news for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 classroom training is the new training material format. Paper manuals have been phased out of public classrooms in favor of Adobe Digital Reader E-books. SAP has responded to customer requests for training materials that have greater portability, accessibility, and flexibility. And SAP will be able to reach its sustainability goals by having a more eco-friendly training format. In the classroom, Students will be able to toggle between the E-book (which can be annotated, bookmarked, and use desired font sizes) and the training system from the same PC. After the class, students will be able to read their E-book on their work or personal device. Printed manuals can be ordered after the class is taken for a nominal (and currently unknown) materials fee.

SAP customers that arrange for on-site training at their facilities will still have a choice between E-book and paper until the end of 2011.

New Course Offerings

As one might expect, there are new classes to support new tools.  Courses for Crystal Reports 2011 and the classic Universe Design Tool (formerly known as Universe Designer) are largely unchanged from their previous iterations.  But there are new courses for Crystal Reports Enterprise 4.0 and Information Design Tool.  And the Data Services curriculum is revised in format to reflect the integration of text analytics and other new features.

SAP Crystal Reports Enterprise 4.0
BOCE10 – Crystal Reports Enterprise : Fundamentals of Report Design (2 days)
BOCE20 – Crystal Reports Enterprise : Advanced Report Design (3 days)

SAP BusinessObjects Information Design Tool 4.0
BOID10 – Information Design Tool I (3 days)
BOID20 – Information Design Tool II (2 days)

SAP BusinessObjects Data Services
BODS10 – Data Services – Platforms & Transforms (3 days)
BODS30 – Data Services – Data Quality Management (2 days)

SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (BOX310), formerly Xcelsius 2008, is now a 2-day offering.  I always managed to get students through the previous 3-day class in around 2.5 days, so it will be interesting to see what’s changed.  The administration series (BOE310 2-day/BOE320 3-day/BOE330 4-day) have the same course titles and durations, but the Administration and Security (BOE310) and Administering Servers (BOE320) courses are supposed to have a lot of new material.  And lastly, Web Intelligence has the same course numbers and durations (BOW310 2-day and BOW320 1-day) but it’s effectively a brand new tool with a lot of new workflows.

I can’t comment on the actual course materials yet, as SAP Authorized Education Partners are not involved in the process to create SAP BusinessObjects course materials.  Keep in mind that SAP uses its own trainers for education while BusinessObjects used a combination of its own trainers and partners, a trend that has thankfully continued since the BusinessObjects acquisition.  I hope that the new BI 4.0 guides have more emphasis on hands-on activities for students, as the previous XI 3.0 manuals reduced hands-on learning in favor of instructor demonstrations.  I’m looking forward to ordering my new instructor guides when they become available at the end of the month (August 2011) and will be furiously working through them during the month of September so I can quickly get through SAP’s instructor vetting process.

Certifications

The certification process to become a SAP Certified Associate is largely unchanged, although the exams will obviously be new. New exams for Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports, and the Business Intelligence Platform (formerly BusinessObjects Enterprise) will be available on October 31, 2011. Exams for SAP BW 7.3, Business Planning and Consolidation, Financial Consolidation, and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) will be available by the end of 2011.

Conclusion

Well, that’s all I have right now.  In the meantime, check out the latest Diversified Semantic Layer podcast where Jon Reed, Sheila Ryan and myself discuss SAP education and certification with Eric Vallo, Jamie Oswald, and Greg Myers.  And take a look at my ASUG presentation on user adoption, as classroom learning is a key component but not the only component of a successful user adoption strategy.

Follow the Diversified Semantic Layer on Twitter, @DSLayered, or visit their web site.

What are your thoughts on SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 education, e-Books, and certification?

Thrilled To Be On the Team

Quorum Business Solutions, my employer, was recently selected as the SAP BusinessObjects Authorized Education Services Partner of the Year for 2009. This award recognizes the partner that:

  • Delivered the most onsite and public education services revenue
  • Executed excellent class participation rates
  • Consistently achieved top customer satisfaction ratings

Quorum was recognized for being an exemplary Trusted Advisor through its commitment in educating customers on Business Intelligence and providing a solution that is best for the customer.

I’m really thrilled to be part of a great education team and am lucky to have Deanna Glinka, Penny Brewer, Gary Kuertzel, and Pam Johnson as both co-workers and friends.  Great job, team!  And here’s to an even better 2010!

Come to 2010 ASUG Annual Conference

My first ASUG Annual Conference selection, Increasing User Adoption of Business Intelligence

During last week’s snow storm of the century, it was a welcome relief to receive the following e-mail:

Congratulations. We are delighted to invite you to present at the 2010 ASUG Annual Conference. Having received more than 1,800 submissions of quality content, our selection committee feels confident that sessions such as your submission will make this our strongest conference program to date.

I submitted six abstracts for the conference, which is being held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. The chosen breakout session is entitled Increasing User Adoption of Business Intelligence and is Session 514, currently scheduled for Wednesday, May 19, 2010 from 4:00-5:00 PM.  Here’s the abstract:

Conventional wisdom states “if you build it, they will come.” But this philosophy often leads to performance management solutions that quickly becomes shelfware, achieving little return on investment (ROI). Because business intelligence systems are constantly evolving, user adoption looks different than it does for traditional enterprise software roll outs. More than just training, user adoption is a set of processes aimed at continuous improvement of how organizations make operational, tactical, and strategic business decisions. In this session, learn how to increase user adoption using a combination of features inside the BusinessObjects Enterprise platform and business process improvements outside of the platform.

I would like to augment my prepared material with two or three case studies of organizations that would like to share their strategies for increasing user adoption. If your organization is interested in being interviewed as part of a case study, please let me know.

See you at the 2010 SAP Sapphire/ASUG Annual Conference!

Avoiding the Big Mess

Training is a critical ingredient in SAP BusinessObjects universes.

Today is the first day of the 2009 SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Dallas, Texas. This year, universe design and Web Intelligence, and Xcelsius are “Spotlight Topics”, meaning that they’ll each be given significant coverage at the conference. The breakout that I’m giving today is entitled “Universe Design: Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Just a Big Mess”. I’ll be describing the key tasks, common pitfalls, and best practices at each stage of the universe life cycle.

Universe construction with the Universe Design Tool (Designer) application is an important task, yet it is only a portion of the overall life cycle of a business intelligence project. I certainly do not want to minimize its importance. However, it is my experience that many business intelligence projects are doomed to fail before the Universe Design Tool application is ever launched.

One of the best practices I will describe today is getting formal training for the people in your organization who use the Universe Design Tool. Disclaimer: I am a trainer for an SAP Authorized Education Partner; however, allow me to back up what I am saying from personal experience.

My experience is more common that I would prefer. My career with BusinessObjects began in early 2003. I was an IT consultant with many years of Oracle experience but found myself on the bench at an inopportune time. The industry as a whole was struggling from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a desire for organizations to drastically curtail IT spending after large outlays on Y2K initiatives, and an overall slowdown in the U.S. economy. But as has been true at many different points in my career, somebody in the organization turned in their resignation. And that opened a door for me that was previously unopened.

I had no experience with BusinessObjects, but with my Oracle skills and a one-day tutorial, I shadowed my departing co-worker during his remaining two weeks, then took the reins of the project. Although he was located in another city, I was grateful for a mentor who tutored me over the phone and e-mail. He also made monthly visits to work through issues together. The ironic thing about my experience is that I worked for a BusinessObjects Authorized Education Partner. Sadly, just because an organization offers training to its clients is no guarantee that they prepare their own consultants the same way.

I finally took my organization’s 3-day universe design class after nine months of designing universes for multiple customers. I had already learned many lessons “the hard way”, but also learned several new tricks that were immediately useful. About a year later, I became a universe design instructor. It’s a demanding class, both for students and the instructor.  But I can honestly say that students leave the classroom very well prepared. I’ve seen a lot of customer universes in nearly seven years of Business Objects consulting. Most of the issues that I’m called in to resolve are issues that the class tackles head-on. Recently, SAP BusinessObjects has added an additional 2-day course covering advanced topics. So even designers who have been through the first class can now take their skills to the next level.

And the classroom material is just one part of the experience. Don’t underestimate the value of the instructor’s project experience, or the benefits your team members will gain by networking with universe designers in other organizations.

So what’s the universe design IQ in your organization? Many business intelligence teams support universes created by staff members long gone, using new staff members that have never been formally trained.  Although training budgets are frequently the first ones slashed in an economic downturn, don’t miss an important opportunity to put the “competence” in “Business Intelligence Competency Center”. Keep in mind that it might be more cost-effective to bring a universe design instructor on-site rather than sending one or two folks away to a class.

BusinessObjects XI 3.0 Hits and Misses

BusinessObjects recently released BusinessObjects Edge Series 3.0 to complement its earlier launch of BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.0. It’s nice to see how BusinessObjects has responded to the user community with improvements. However, some of the improvements are a bit dubious and border on annoyances.

The Hits:

1. An alignment toolbar for Web Intelligence. Woo-hoo! The developers who added this feature deserve a big bonus!

2. The end user report panels and viewers have easier to understand names than their XI R2 counterparts. For Web Intelligence XI 3.0, the “Java Report Panel”, “Query-HTML Panel”, and “HTML Panel” are now known as “Advanced”, “Interactive”, and “Web Accessibility”. Similarly, the HTML viewer is now known simply as “Web”. On the Crystal Reports side, the Advanced DHTML viewer has been retired and the DHTML viewer is known simply as “Web”.

3. In Web Intelligence XI 3.0, you can now type in formulas into free-standing cells without the use of the formula toolbar. Very nice.

4. The “browse” button in the Web Intelligence properties tab (in the Report Manager) is always visible. In previous releases, you had to move the mouse over the property cell to see the button.

5. The tabbed interface for InfoView user preferences has been replaced by a single screen of grouped options. Users may interactively fold (open/close) the groups to avoid clutter.

6. The Web Intelligence Rich Client. It’s essentially the Java Report Panel with a Windows menu attached. After the rush for all BI vendors to embrace the web, somebody figured out that the web was just a bit out of reach on airplanes, etc. The Webi Rich Client is also how personal data providers are now supported in Webi, giving us all one less reason to use Desktop Intelligence.

The Misses:
1. The InfoView default home page is even more useless than it was before. A second click is now required to see the “Document List”, as the navigation panel is not part of the default screen.

3. The New Document button is only available from the Document List, meaning it always takes an extra click to find it. In XI R2, the New Document button was on the InfoView toolbar, which is a more logical location. As a developer, I’m usually logging in to build something new, not access something old. Also, when creating documents using the Web Intelligence Advanced Report Panel, you must return to the Document List. Again, an extra click.

2. The search feature is only available from the Document List, not the standard InfoView toolbar. This is unfortunate, as the search feature is really an alternative to using the document list, not a complement. On a related note, users still cannot save their default search type (title, all fields, advanced, or content) as an InfoView preference. Now that content search is built into XI 3.0 (not an add-on as in the XI R2 Productivity Pack), I would love to be able to set it as the default search type.

4. The Navigation Panel is no longer present when you are viewing or editing a report. To find another document, you have to return to “Document List”, which takes you away from the current document. The XI R2 Navigation Panel, with it’s ability to co-exist with the user’s workspace, was better in my opinion.

5. Column resizing. Columns in both InfoView and the Central Management Console (CMC) can be resized, but getting the cursor in the proper position is a real challenge. Unfortunately, a feature intended to be useful and flexible is actually quite tedious and frustrating. And the CMC icons down the left side are quite minuscule. Any chance of a “hover” operation that enlarges the button? (Does it mean that I’m getting old if I’m whining about too-small icons?)

6. The new training manuals. The new XI 3.0 manuals have a different format than their XI R2 counterparts. Content aside (and don’t get me started), the format alone will make course delivery more challenging for both instructors and students. Please share your candid opinions about the manuals on the course evaluation forms when you begin taking training.

Conclusion:

I’m just now diving into the security model changes, which I’ll chat about in a future post. The next release, BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1, is already in beta. Although .NET support and the new Lifecycle Manager (LCM) are the major features, let’s hope that some of these other UI issues can be addressed.