Are You Better Off?

Are SAP BusinessObjects customers better off than they were four years ago?

It’s election season in the United States.  Thousands of red, white, and blue balloons have dropped from the ceilings of the recently concluded Republican and Democratic conventions.  Now it’s time for the final sprint of campaign speeches, baby kissing, debates, and (sigh) incessant negative campaign ads before the November 6, 2012 election.

This week, hundreds of SAP BusinessObjects professionals will gather at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida for our own sort of political convention – the annual ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference.  It’s been four years since SAP acquired Business Objects on January 22, 2008 and the question many attendees will be asking themselves is this one:

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

It’s certainly not an easy question.

The relationship between SAP and many of its traditional BusinessObjects customers is “it’s complicated”.  It got off to a rocky start with a clumsy transition to SAP support, layoffs in the BusinessObjects sales and support teams, the dismantling of the Business Intelligence University, and a lengthy development cycle for SAP’s flagship business intelligence offering— SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.

Many of these customers have been sitting on the sidelines of the 4.0 upgrade with concerns over product stability, support for legacy technologies such as Desktop Intelligence, a decline in the quality of education materials, and the general perception that most of the exciting features on the 4.0 platform are exclusively for SAP’s traditional ERP customers.  Customers have also been checking out offerings from SAP’s smaller and nimbler business intelligence rivals.  SAP seems to be hedging its bets by continuing to update the XI 3.1 platform for new features such as mobility, but many innovations require a brave leap to 4.0.

There’s plenty to like in the BI 4.0 suite. And there’s plenty of upside in the SAP acquisition, having a product owner with deep pockets to invest in technologies like mobile analytics and SAP HANA (read Greg Myers’ upbeat assessment, The World Is Changing).  On Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be part of a panel discussion with SAP Mentors and Diversified Semantic Layer hosts Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald and Eric Vallo entitled “SAP BusinessObjects BI4: How to Make the Magic Happen“.  We’re looking forward to answering customer questions and hearing their concerns.

Follow hashtag #SBOUC on Twitter to follow developments from the conference.

The slogan on the conference PowerPoint templates is “Business Intelligence for a Passionate Community,” which is no understatement.  I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, signing copies of the new SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.0 book from SAP Press, participating in the Developer Wars with my fellow SAP Press authors (Jim Brogden, Gabe Orthous, and Heather Sinkwitz), presenting two breakout sessions, and hanging out in EV Technologies‘ booth 102 with my awesome coworkers. It’s going to be a busy and exciting week.

But just like American voters, attendees at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference will have the question “Am I better off than I was four years ago?” echoing in their minds as they hear the keynotes, attend breakout sessions, investigate hands-on demos, and wander through the partner showcase.  Whether it’s audibly spoken, it is the question that many customers will be asking.

And I hope SAP tackles the question head-on.

Is your business intelligence program better off than it was four years ago?  Continue the conversation in the comments section.

A Public Service Announcement for Desktop Intelligence

Desktop Intelligence reports are no longer supported in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0. We mean it.

A public service announcement from SAP BusinessObjects:

Note: Desktop Intelligence reports are no longer supported in SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0. To access your data from a Desktop Intelligence report in SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 4.0, you must convert the Desktop Intelligence report to an Interactive Analysis [sic Web Intelligence] report using Report Conversion Tool.

This message has been brought to you by the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Report Conversion Tool Guide, freely available for download on the SAP Help Portal.

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.

Retiring Desktop Intelligence Free-Hand SQL

It’s the end of the world as we know it – time to send Desktop Intelligence reports into retirement.

Historically, it’s easier to create a SQL query and slap it into a Desktop Intelligence report than build or augment a universe. There are two methods to do this. The first method is to use the New Report Wizard to create a free-hand SQL report instead of choosing a universe. The second method uses a universe to build an initial query which is further edited in the Edit SQL panel. The Report Conversion Tool (RCT) can handle both cases – let’s take a closer look at what happens. I’ve used SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 SP3 to generate my examples. In either case, I must convert these reports to Web Intelligence if I want them to continue to exist in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.

Let’s first consider a free-hand SQL query. For a simple illustration, I have used the eFashion universe to build the query and pasted its SQL into a new Desktop Intelligence document.

The Report Conversion Tool will examine the document’s SQL and build a derived table universe (first introduced in BusinessObjects Enterprise XI R2) with a single derived SQL table that embeds the query. Here is what the derived table looks like in the universe.

For the next example, I used Desktop Intelligence to build a standard query with the eFashion universe. But I then modified the SQL using the Edit SQL dialog box in the query panel. Unfortunately, it’s not immediately obvious when you open the query panel that the query has been customized. For example, the query panel below appears to show a simple query with Year, State, and Sales Revenue.

However, when the Edit SQL dialog box is opened, it becomes clear that the query has been customized with a WHERE clause limiting the year to 2004. To maintain the custom SQL and prevent the report from reverting back to the universe-generated SQL, I clicked the Do not generate SQL before running box when I authored the query.

When the Report Conversion Tool is used to convert this document, it does not create a new universe. It continues to use eFashion but also customizes the Web Intelligence SQL. As with Desktop Intelligence, this customization is not obvious from the query panel.

However, as with Desktop Intelligence, the customized SQL is visible from the View SQL dialog.

The good news is that in both cases, the Report Conversion Tool was able to convert the Desktop Intelligence report to Web Intelligence. However, there is some bad news, particularly for the free-hand SQL report. First, the Report Conversion Tool creates a cryptically named universe and places it in the Report Conversion Tool universe folder. If your environment has lots of free-hand SQL reports, you are going to end up with a large collection of small universes. It’s a support nightmare – the BI equivalent of suburban sprawl. In addition, reports that contain prompts with lists of values (LOV) will generate some pretty nasty LOV queries from the derived table. Frequently, the performance of the LOV queries is sub-par.

Although the universe LOVs can be modified to run faster, you should be always ask yourself if a universe is truly needed anytime Designer is opened. You’ll be much better served by a smaller number of universes that know how to answer many business questions and not a multitude of universes that each power a single report. When I help customers with migrations, I  prefer to perform an initial run of the Report Conversion Tool on all reports except the Free-Hand SQL reports (by leaving the “Convert reports containing free-hand SQL” box unchecked). The Report Conversion Tool will flag the Free Hand SQL reports as “not converted”. Then, a simple query on the RCT audit table will generate a list of these reports. Next, I’ll work with the customer to see if any of the reports can be retired or redesigned in Web Intelligence. Ideally, some of these reports can be recreated using a universe instead of one generated by the RCT.

If you decide that the new derived SQL universe must stay, take a moment to look at the WHERE clause of the derived table. Try to move as many restrictions as possible out of the universe and into the Web Intelligence report as Query Filters. Fewer restrictions will make the universe more generic and capable of answering more questions (and satisfying future report requests) than the original report. For commonly used restrictions, add predefined filters in the universe to make report creation easier.

If the odds are unlikely that nobody outside of IT will directly use the universe generated by the Report Conversion Tool, evaluate if it makes more sense to replace the free-hand SQL Desktop Intelligence document with a Crystal Report. Honestly, I’ve been surprised that Crystal Reports is barely mentioned by SAP when discussing Desktop Intelligence. There’s even talk of adding free-hand SQL to a future (post BI 4.0) release of Web Intelligence (see related article, Free-Hand SQL Isn’t Free). So perhaps my advice to choose Crystal Reports is ill-advised? Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

It’s the end of the world as we know it— time to send Desktop Intelligence reports into retirement. But thankfully, the Report Conversion Tool, even in XI R2 and XI 3.1, can help us reach our goal. Happy conversions!

Shouldn’t we all stop looking at Desktop Intelligence?

We should stop looking at Desktop Intelligence.

Today I attended an interesting SAP webinar entitled “BI 4.0 – Did you think about your upgrade?” by David Francois Gonzalez with the SAP Technology RIG Americas (the very useful slide deck can be downloaded from the SAP Community Network).  Afterward, I tweeted:

 

To which Pieter Hendrikx responded:

@ericvallo @oswaldxxl @dallasmarks shouldn’t we all stop looking at Deski? That’s what my [Diversified Semantic Layer] conclusion was. Better invest in #WebI

And of course, Pieter is absolutely correct.  We should stop looking at Desktop Intelligence.  But Desktop Intelligence is like a gruesome automobile accident during rush hour- some of us can’t stop looking (see related discussion on the BusinessObjects Board).  But the SAP BI roadmap is clear- Web Intelligence is the future, Desktop Intelligence is the past.  Desktop Intelligence is not supported by SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.  It’s gone.  Really.  Crystal Reports 2011 and Web Intelligence 4.0 represent the future of reporting for SAP.

Some organizations already use Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence exclusively.  For them, the path to SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 is relatively straightforward.  Other organizations, particularly those who have used “classic” BusinessObjects releases prior to XI Release 2 (XI R2), still may have an investment in Desktop Intelligence that has to be managed.  But the good news is you can take proactive steps today from either XI Release 2 or XI 3.1 – you don’t have to wait for BI 4.0.

Organizations on both XI R2 and XI 3.1 should immediately begin phasing out the creation of new Desktop Intelligence reports by revoking Deski application rights and retraining users to use Web Intelligence.  Some reports cannot yet be converted to Web Intelligence (I plan to address Desktop Intelligence phase out strategies in the coming weeks).  These reports may have to wait for the BI 4.0 Report Conversion Tool.  But many can be converted today with your current platform.  Organizations on XI R2 have fewer conversion options than XI 3.1 (and therefore much incentive to upgrade to XI 3.1 in the near term).  In addition, Desktop Intelligence reports are audited by the XI 3.x platform (sadly not in XI R2), so it is possible to identify obsolete reports and retire them rather than expend effort to convert them.

Any organizations still on “classic” BusinessObjects 5 or 6 (I know you’re still out there) cannot go directly to BI 4.0 as the upgrade tools only support XI R2 and higher.  These organizations should plan a migration to XI 3.1 so they are poised for the future.

For long-time Business Objects users, it’s the end of the world as we know it.  But SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 will be available early next year.  And I feel fine.

Desktop Intelligence and the Report Conversion Tool

Dates and the Report Conversion Tool

or, The End of the World as We Know It (Part 2)

In Desktop Intelligence, it’s possible to display “yesterday” on a report using the following formula:

CurrentDate()-1

The Report Conversion Tool will convert the formula; however, Web Intelligence will not understand it, displaying the following error:

#DATATYPE

The formula can usually be corrected in either the converted Web Intelligence document or the original Desktop Intelligence document.  However, today I encountered the formula in the document header and was unable to modify the Web Intelligence cell (in Web Intelligence XI R2 – sigh – not sure if 3.x handles this item better).  So I corrected it first in Desktop Intelligence and re-ran the Report Conversion Tool.  The corrected formula should be:

RelativeDate(CurrentDate(), -1)

On a related note, I frequently find CurrentDate() displayed on a scheduled report to indicate when the report was generated.  Both CurrentDate() and LastExecutionDate() return the same date/time at the time of scheduling.  So either one can be used to schedule and distribute an Adobe PDF, for example.  However, if a user views the document instance in the InfoView portal, the CurrentDate() no longer reflects when the data was generated.  Therefore, it is recommended to always use LastExecutionDate() to display the age of the data, because it will always be correct.

In my next post, I’ll look at migration strategies Desktop Intelligence documents that use Free Hand SQL and “do not regenerate SQL” (see related article, Retiring Desktop Intelligence Free-Hand SQL) as we consider a world without Desktop Intelligence.

The End of the World as We Know It (Part 1)

For SAP BusinessObjects customers, the end of the world as we know it will occur in 2011 with the general availability of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.

Although many, including Hollywood, jumped on the 2012 end-of-the-world bandwagon, SAP is getting the party started earlier.  For SAP BusinessObjects customers, the end of the world as we know it will occur in 2011 with the general availability of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 (code name Aurora).  Folks in the beta program are revealing that Desktop Intelligence is not present in the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 distribution.  While the temptation for some may be to go into shock, the news of Desktop Intelligence’s demise is really old news first announced as part of the XI roadmap in 2004 after then-BusinessObjects acquired Crystal Decisions.  Desktop Intelligence was going to disappear “someday” and now we’re learning that “someday” is really 2011.

Disclaimer: I am not part of the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 beta/ramp-up program.  Although I would like to get in, if somebody could please show me the secret handshake.

Desktop Intelligence, in previous versions known simply as “Business Objects”, “Business Objects Reporter”, or “the full client”, used to be the only reporting tool in the BusinessObjects arsenal.  Although Web Intelligence had gone through several incarnations, it wasn’t until Web Intelligence XI R2 that the tool became powerful enough to handle most common reporting tasks.  However, at the same time, Crystal Reports was fully integrated into the Business Objects product portfolio.  Then Voyager appeared, soon to be reincarnated as Analytics (code-named Pioneer).  And Xcelsius, uh, I mean SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Design.

What we’ve seen from SAP and other vendors is that there isn’t “one BI tool that rules them all”, but instead tools focused toward specific user audiences and applications.  In its day, Desktop Intelligence tried to cover all known bases.  And although Web Intelligence incorporates most Desktop Intelligence features, it still doesn’t cover all of them even in the most recent XI 3.1 SP3 release.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring The End of the World as We Know It.  Life without Desktop Intelligence.  I’ll explore certain Desktop Intelligence features in XI R2 and XI 3.x and look at some strategies for living in a world without Desktop Intelligence.