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.

Printing (or not printing) Crystal Reports with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1

Some tips for getting your Crystal Reports to the BI 4.1 platform.

I recently wrapped up a BI 4.1 upgrade project that was 80% Crystal Reports and 20% Web Intelligence. The SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 system was older than the tenure of the team that supported it, so some of its tribal knowledge had been lost. One of the things that we overlooked was printing requirements. Very few Crystal Reports were actually scheduled to print; however, many of Crystal Reports had printers defined.

While the challenges were few and easily managed, here are some lessons learned that I’ll be applying to my next BI 4.1 upgrade project.

Printer cartridges for printing

Install Printer Drivers as Part of BI4 Prerequisites

Either immediately before or immediately after BI 4.1 installation but before you begin using the Upgrade Management Tool, take a few moments to install the most common printer drivers in use in your organization. At a minimum, take a walk around your work area and install printer drivers for those models. And choose one of those nearby printers to be the default printer for each node in your SAP BusinessObjects cluster.

Missing printer drivers can significantly increase migration time of Crystal Reports via the Upgrade Management Tool (SAP KB 1701318) requiring the timeout to be increased (SAP KB 1804414). We didn’t realize the reason for needing a much higher timeout was the lack of printer drivers. We had already migrated the content and moved onto testing, only to learn that scheduled Crystal Reports with defined printers would have a job status of running but never complete. Which leads to the next best practice.

Install Crystal Reports 2013 On the Job Server

In our development environment, we installed Crystal Reports 2013 on the node containing the Adaptive Job Server. Depending on which development tools you’re using, you may also want to install the SAP BusinessObjects Client Tools (Web Intelligence Rich Client, et. al.), Crystal Reports for Enterprise, and Dashboards, as they can be helpful when troubleshooting. In most cases, running a Crystal Report in the client yields much more actionable troubleshooting information then the brief error from the Adaptive Job Server.

And with printer drivers in particular, Crystal Reports 2013 offered to install them automatically.

Do You Trust This Printer?

While I wouldn’t criticize somebody for installing the clients on a production node, we never identified an issue that required it. Plus, being stingy with client installs means fewer things to patch later.

Remove Unneeded Printer Specifications from Crystal Reports

If your Crystal Report doesn’t have a schedule to print requirement, you’re better off not specifying a printer.

  • A printer specification can slow the overall performance of a Crystal Report (see SAP KB 1197593 and 1205023).
  • A printer specification can prevent an InfoView (or BI Launch Pad) user from printing a Crystal Report to the default desktop printer (SAP KB 1202786).
  • Unfortunately, there’s no way to make “no printer” the default (see SAP KB 1220244).

To remove the printer specification, simply choose File -> Page Setup from the Crystal Reports 2013 menu and check the “No Printer” box (shown unchecked). This action should be on your checklist prior to publishing a Crystal Report to the BI platform. Or something to verify before promoting the Crystal Report to a higher environment with Promotion Management.

Crystal Reports No Printer

Make Sure Printed Reports Still Deliver Value

We discovered that one of our printed Crystal Reports was no longer in use. In fact, the defined printer was nowhere to be found. SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 would run the job anyway with a result of “success”. But BI 4.1 ran the same job with a result of “failed” because the printer was missing and therefore did not send a response.

Consult with users to see if they’d rather receive a printed report on a shared file system or via email. Or simply run the reports on-demand from the BI Launch Pad when necessary. Keep track of any print jobs that you halt in a spreadsheet with its average number of pages and printing frequency. When your upgrade is complete, you can compute the annual cost savings of making the BI 4.1 system more “green” than the one it replaced.

Don’t know who “owns” a printed report? I won’t tell anyone if you simply stop delivering the report after BI 4.1 cutover and see if anyone calls to complain.

Influence SAP to Bring Feature Parity to Web Intelligence

Desktop Intelligence also had the ability to schedule to a printer but this feature is still lacking in the latest versions of Web Intelligence (see related article, All the Desktop Intelligence That’s Fit to Print). The idea is “under review” by SAP but has languished in the SAP Idea Place for nearly four years. Nobody should be forced into porting an existing Desktop Intelligence or Web Intelligence document to Crystal Reports simply because they have a printing requirement.

If you haven’t yet voted, please lend your support to the idea (see SAP Idea Place, Schedule Web Intelligence documents to a printer).

Are there other Crystal Reports best practices you followed for your SAP BusinessObjects BI 4 upgrade? Please share them in the comments?

All the Desktop Intelligence That’s Fit to Print

How to retire Desktop Intelligence reports that schedule to print.

Of all of the distribution methods available to SAP BusinessObjects customers, scheduled distribution to printers is easily the most controversial. Using paper is bad for the environment, even when it contains recycled materials. And paper costs money. And let’s not forget the additional costs of printer maintenance and ink supplies. I’ve often joked that most office laser printers should have a built-in document shredder next to the various sizes of paper trays. After all, it seems that lots of material is printed but never read. And what about data security? Aren’t we leaving defenseless customer, employee and medical patient data exposed to nefarious data thieves? SAP BusinessObjects directly supports distribution by e-mail, file system, FTP, and portals such as Microsoft SharePoint. Shouldn’t we use those? Using those destinations may make the SAP BusinessObjects administrator feel green while obscuring the fact that a lot of unnecessary printing is still going on. But it’s no longer “our” problem, right?

Printer cartridges for printing

These are all good conversations to have, particularly when planning a business intelligence system upgrade. I’ve worked with many organizations that use schedule-to-print capabilities. We always strive to reduce printing requirements as a positive side effect of the upgrade. Some organizations can reduce their printing requirements to zero, particularly if a document management system is downstream from their business intelligence system (Although document management systems are their own evil, which I hope to discuss in a future post).

But some organizations- although making reductions- can’t eliminate the need to print entirely. Generally, the distribution requirement is dictated by a business process that has some urgency.

Something is wrong. Now. So grab the report from the printer and do something about it. Right now.

I see this scenario frequently when working with health care organizations. E-mail or file systems aren’t an effective option because not every employee has access. Before you exclaim “how primitive,” keep in mind that health care has high employee turnover- it’s just not worth the effort to administer access to non-patient care systems. Besides, nursing is a team sport practiced round-the-clock in front of patients, not PCs. So sending a document to a single recipient and expecting them to distribute the information doesn’t work well either. I’m certain that there are other use cases in other industries (and I hope you’ll share your printing use cases with SAP on the SAP Idea Place). And instead of clinging religiously to the mantra “printing is evil”, it’s always preferable to ask “what is the best way to solve this report distribution requirement”. And sometimes “best” doesn’t mean “perfect”, just “good enough”.

Organizations that come from a “classic” BusinessObjects background are familiar with using scheduling tools like Broadcast Agent to distribute reports to printers. And this capability continued with Desktop Intelligence XI R2, XI 3.0, and XI 3.1 via the Desktop Intelligence Job Server. But schedule-to-print capability was never extended to Web Intelligence documents and the Web Intelligence Job Server. And as of this writing, the ramp-up build of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 does not support Web Intelligence schedule-to-print. So how should customers migrate these Desktop Intelligence documents to SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0? There are two primary options. Either option can be implemented today using XI R2 or XI 3.0/3.1 – you don’t have to wait until BI 4.0 is released to begin planning for it.

Replace Printed Desktop Intelligence Documents with Crystal Reports

The first option is to redesign Desktop Intelligence documents using Crystal Reports. Crystal Reports has been built to create “pixel perfect” boardroom-quality reports and the Crystal Reports Job Server can schedule to printers. And Crystal Reports easily handles report requirements such as complex report layouts, images, and bar coding.  So you might actually be happier with the end result than with the original Desktop Intelligence document it replaces. Unfortunately, there is no automated tool to perform the conversion from Desktop Intelligence to Crystal Reports. In addition, customers with “professional” licenses of BusinessObjects Enterprise will need to upgrade to “premium” licenses to handle the additional document type, so there is some cost involved.

Schedule Web Intelligence Documents with Custom Scripting to Print

The second option is to convert the Desktop Intelligence documents to Web Intelligence using the Report Conversion Tool. Although there is no native schedule-to-print capability, it is possible to schedule Web Intelligence output to a file system (or potentially an e-mail address) then use scripting to print the final result. This option may be attractive for organizations not willing to invest in Crystal Reports. However, custom scripting requires somebody with scripting expertise and the time to maintain it.

Does your organization currently utilize the schedule-to-print capabilities of Desktop Intelligence? Will you be able to replace printed output with some form of electronic distribution? Will you use one of the printing methods described above? Or hope that SAP will choose to add schedule-to-print capabilities to Web Intelligence as a service pack to BI 4.0?

Have you reduced your printing requirements?  Take the time to calculate ROI based on the cost of paper and ink saved.  Use this number to publicize within your organization how the business intelligence team is making a cost-effective (and green) impact.