If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

SAP, if you love your BI platform users, it’s time to set them free.

BusinessObjects Rainbow Logo

In 1985, Sting stunned the world with Dream of the Blue Turtles, his first solo album after breaking up with The Police. The “hybrid” recording wasn’t jazzy enough for jazz purists nor rocky enough for fans of The Police. But his ambitious effort to combine rock-and-roll with jazz musicians Omar Hakim, Darryl Jones, Kenny Kirkland, Branford Marsalis, Dolette McDonald, and Janice Pendarvis yielded several hit singles and insured that Sting would be a relevant artist for the next several decades.

“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” was the first single released from Dream of the Blue Turtles.

It’s clear from current product roadmaps that SAP’s hybrid approach to analytics is to place all future analytics innovation into SAP Analytics Cloud while keeping the on-premise BI platform, its universe semantic layer, and its Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence document formats at arms length with reduced levels of future investment. SAP’s analytics strategy makes sense if you run most or all of your business with SAP applications, whether it’s the on-premise business suite or cloud applications like Ariba, Concur, Fieldglass, and SuccessFactors. The strategy makes less sense the more non-SAP applications power your organization. And as anticipated, the strategy makes the least sense to customers whose only SAP product is the on-premise SAP BusinessObjects BI platform.

But instead of winners and losers, what if SAP’s analytics strategy was changed so everyone became a winner? Let’s explore some ideas.

Universes Everywhere

In the age of Qlik and Tableau, a third-party market has sprung up to provide universe-based data to non-SAP tools. In a curious arrangement, these vendors have LLC’ed themselves to be annoying to SAP product managers without being financially lucrative enough to attract the interest of SAP’s legal department.

No offense to their creators who are fulfilling a market need. But these products should not need to exist. SAP itself should provide the best universe support to both its own analytics tools and beyond – let’s call it “Universes Everywhere”.

Back in 2014, a BusinessObjects Universe connector mysteriously showed up in Microsoft Power BI (see Microsoft’s related article, Power BI Connectivity to SAP BusinessObjects BI Now Generally Available). As mysteriously as it arrived, it then disappeared.

Update May 2016: SAP BO connectivity is no longer available.

With SAP Analytics Cloud restricting the universe to be on-premise, what does SAP have to lose by licensing universe support to Microsoft, Tableau, Qlik, or whoever wants it? Customers would be delighted, probably save for the extra cost of some kind of new BI platform license that legalizes such third-party tool support. Microstrategy adopted a similar approach this year, insuring that its customers are delighted enough to keep licensing Microstrategy’s core technology platform while using their data visualization tool of choice. (see related ZDNet article, Enterprise, self-service BI hook up: MicroStrategy releases connectors for Power BI, Tableau, Qlik).

Web Intelligence Explorer

As part of a renewed commitment to the universe semantic layer and innovation specifically targeted to the on-premise BI platform, SAP should commit developers to an updated version of the BI platform (4.3? 5.0?) with a new version of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer – one that does not rely on Adobe Flash- as its centerpiece. Keep in mind that Explorer without a Flash UI already exists – as SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS. The Explorer web client should be written as tightly coupled to Fiori-fied Web Intelligence as architecturally possible and its Flash-based back-end should be ported to the Fiori-fied BI Admin Console that made its debut with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP5 (see related article, The Road Unexplored: A Future for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer). SAP customers shouldn’t have to look to other vendors to find the next generation of search-based data discovery (see related article, The Road Unexplored: Alternatives to SAP BusinessObjects Explorer).

If SAP Won’t Invest It Should Divest

It’s perfectly understandable that SAP Analytics Cloud is tightly coupled to SAP’s business applications. What’s less clear is why perfectly good software used by thousands of customers has to die on the vine rather than succeed on its own terms. Even webOS– originally developed by Palm to compete with Apple’s iOS- was given a second life powering LG televisions and appliances. It’s even been open sourced (see related Verge article, webOS ready to move beyond TVs, says LG). If universe technology is no longer a strategic fit to SAP, it should be liberated as open source or put up for sale on the open market. SAP acquired BusinessObjects for approximately €5 billion in 2008 (see SAP’s press release, SAP to Acquire Business Objects in Friendly Takeover). I’m confident SAP could get a good return on its decade-old investment and create favorable terms to OEM the software from its new owner until its current hybrid BI strategy is fully realized in the cloud.

SAP, if you love your classic BusinessObjects customers, set them free!

Should SAP continue to invest in the universe semantic layer? Should it put the technology up for sale? Or open source it? I would love to hear your thoughts on how ALL of SAP’s current analytics customers can have a happy ending.

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.

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide, Fourth Edition

The best book on SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence is now even better.

Today is an important day for SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence users. I’m proud to announce that the fourth edition of SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide is now available in both hardcover and electronic formats from SAP Press.

The book has been significantly updated to include features from SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.2 Support Pack 4, the latest release. You can learn more and order from my book page.

Talk Like a Web Intelligence Pirate

Ahoy there, mates! It’s September 19, time to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day with the Web Intelligence iRate PieRates. This year you can celebrate by pre-ordering a copy of the fourth edition of SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Resource. In addition to welcoming Christian Ah-Soon from SAP’s Web Intelligence product group to the authoring team, the book has been fully updated for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.2, including features from the latest Support Pack 4. The book officially goes on sale October 25 in both hardback and electronic editions. The iRate PieRates hope you’ll pre-order a copy today.

Arghh!

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI 6.6

SAP Mobile takes one giant leap forward for Lumira 2.0 but Web Intelligence support is still a few steps behind.

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI 6.6 is now available for download in the Apple iTunes app store. This means that we’re one step closer to the general availability of SAP Lumira 2.0.

What’s New in Version 6.6.3

  • SAP Lumira 2.0 support (for both the discovery and designer components of SAP Lumira)
  • Additional charts and functionalities for the discovery component of SAP Lumira
  • Good containerization support
  • AirWatch SDK support

SAP Lumira has been the star of the iOS Mobile BI app since version 6.3 was released in December 2015. There’s been a feature gap in mobile Web Intelligence chart rendering since SAP BI 4.0 was released over five years ago. And with the Web Intelligence team delivering new functionality like shared components and new charts like geocharts, gauges and tiles, the gap has only widened.

If history is a guide, we can expect a few months of minor point releases containing “technical improvements” to version 6.6 hopefully followed by version 6.7 around December 2017. Hopefully version 6.7 will make some progress closing the Web Intelligence mobile feature gap. But I imagine that by then the Mobile BI team will be hard at work getting ready to support the Fiorified (and Java-less!) version of Web Intelligence that will hopefully arrive in 2018.

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI for Android remains at version 6.2 in the Google Play store. Android users will have to wait just a bit longer for Lumira 2.0 support in their app.

SAP Insider Reporting & Analytics 2016 INTERACTIVE

Join me and my friends at SAP Insider’s Reporting & Analytics 2016 INTERACTIVE conference.

Join me at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida on November 2-4, 2016 at SAP Insider’s Reporting & Analytics 2016 INTERACTIVE conference. I’ll be there with my co-workers, Chris Bushmeyer and Eric Vallo (see the full EV Technologies speaking roster here). I’m giving two presentations about Web Intelligence and will be sharing the latest visualization enhancements included in the latest SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise 4.2 Support Pack 3 release.

Leverage the newest capabilities of SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence to create powerful visualizations for your data

Thursday, November 3, 2016 at 8:30 AM – 9:45 AM, room TBD

There’s a story in your corporate data, but sometimes it needs an analytic storyteller to bring that story to life. SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.0 introduced a new charting engine, several new chart types, and a redesigned workflow for creating charts. In this session, we’ll look at the features in the latest 4.2 release. Learn not only how to use Web Intelligence charts but when to use them by applying best practices for the display of quantitative information on desktops, tablets, and smartphones.

  • Discover Web Intelligence 4.2 charting capabilities, including new geolocation charts
  • Learn best practices for displaying quantitative information
  • Review special considerations for tablets and smartphones

Making mobile magic with SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence

Friday, November 4, 2016 @ 10:30 – 11:45 AM, room TBD

Ready for mobile business intelligence? This comprehensive session teaches you how to create new SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence reports and tailor existing reports for tablet and smartphone devices. Learn how to configure the BI platform to be mobile-ready as you learn:

  • Techniques to master new mobile-exclusive capabilities, like graphs and scorecards
  • Important differences between card view and page view
  • Using publications to distribute personalized content to users via their mobile devices

Download the presentation slides and sample downloads from the SAP Insider web site.

Image credit: Rosen Shingle Creek

Ten Features That Absolutely Must Be in BI 4.2 SP3

It’s been four years since I published my wish list for BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3. I revisit the list and see what, if anything, has made it into the SAP BI suite.

Four years ago, I wrote an article entitled Ten Features That Absolutely Must Be in BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3. With SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP3 soon going into general availability, I thought it might be interesting to review the current status of my original wish list.

1. Tree control for Web Intelligence universe selection

No improvements here and none expected for the forthcoming SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 Support Pack 3. But perhaps SAP will surprise us with a redesigned universe selector panel in the fully-functional Java-free Web Intelligence coming next year in Support Pack 4?

2. Improved visual distinction between UNV and UNX universes in Web Intelligence

I don’t think there’s been much change here. Still an opportunity for some subtle UI improvements.

3. OLAP universe support for Explorer

Lack of OLAP support for this aging product is by design according to SAP KB 1559221My friend who requested it got tired of waiting and is now a Tableau developer. True story.

4. UNX universe support for Live Office

Fixed. UNX support was finally added to starting with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 SP6. Live Office isn’t for everyone, but Excel geeks seem to really like it. And Live Office is going to live on in the simplified BI portfolio as its functionality is converged into a future version of Analysis for Microsoft Office.

5. Improved qualification selection in Information Design Tool

Fixed. There have been many usability improvements in the Information Design Tool and this is one of them. If you last took a look at Information Design Tool way back when version 4.0 was released, it’s time to take a second look at the new 4.2 release.

6. Corporate customization of Central Management Console

This request is still unfulfilled but perhaps we’ll see something when the CMC gets the Fiori treatment next year? I’m not looking for robust customization like the BI Launch Pad has. I just want a simple way to change some text strings and colors (using preset themes) to easily distinguish multiple landscapes in the BI lifecycle (Development, Test, Production).

7. No more monolithic Adaptive Processing Server

Fixed. SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 introduced the System Configuration Wizard for APS configuration and some other post-installation tasks, which you can read about here.

My big gripe here continues to be that Design Studio and Lumira both add services to the Adaptive Processing Server. Because these two products are “add-ons”, the System Configuration Wizard doesn’t accommodate them very well. I hope the situation will improve next year when Lumira and Design Studio 2.0 standardize on a single server-size engine.

8. Improved control of Web Intelligence default paper size

Still an open item. Since non-A4 paper size mostly an accommodation for American users, no doubt this improvement is far down on the enhancement backlog, if it’s there at all. Perhaps paper size is less relevant in a greener 21st century?

9. Improved browser support

Fixed. SAP has made major strides in browser support. The biggest obstacle to browser support is how various browsers handle (or refuse to handle) plugins like Adobe Flash and Oracle Java. Fortunately, SAP is working really hard to deliver a plugin-free version of the platform, starting with enhancements to the Web Intelligence HTML panel in the forthcoming BI 4.2 SP3.

10. Improved and better organized sample content

Still as bad as before, except that SAP has added some really nice sample content for mobile devices (see related article, Sampling the Mobile BI Samples with BI 4.1).

Conclusion

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence BI 4.2 Support Pack 3 is almost ready for general availability and contains some really exciting improvements, including four of the items on this wish list. But I hope there’s still time to include the remaining six improvements in BI 4.2 SP4.

What’s on your SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP3 wish list?

Waiting on SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2

Are you waiting, too?

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.2, the eagerly awaited update to the BI4 platform, quietly went into beta last week. Gregory Botticchio and Pascal Gaulin from the Web Intelligence product group in Paris, France (see related article, SAP Paris) were on hand to present “What’s New in SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence” (Session 2806). But otherwise, there was barely a word of BI 4.2 news breathed during the recent ASUG SAP BusinessObjects and Analytics User Conference in Austin, Texas.

Web Intelligence 4.2 Innovation Roadmap

Four years ago, I wrote a blog entitled Waiting on SAP BusinessObjects BI4 expressing both excitement and frustration at waiting for the general availability of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0. Now I find myself eagerly Waiting on SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.2 and have shared this sentiment on the SAP Community Network. Check it out!

Read Waiting on SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.2 on the SAP Community Network.

 

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 Paris

In May 2015, I accompanied Eric Vallo to SAP’s offices in Paris.

In May 2015, I went to SAP’s office in Paris with Eric Vallo, EV Technologies’ Chief Architect. While our antics were pretty lame when compared to Harold and Kumar, Bill and Ted, or even Jamie and Clint, we had both a productive and poetic visit to one of the great European cities. SAP is a global software company, which I saw first hand. Paris is the original home of BusinessObjects prior to its acquisition by SAP in 2008. It’s presently the current home for the Web Intelligence and semantic layer teams but the BI platform, Crystal Reports, Design Studio, Lumira, and other BI tools are developed elsewhere.

Christian Ah-Soon was our gracious host and we got to see Saurabh Abhyankar, Olivier Duvelleroy, Timo Elliott, Ian Mayor, and so many other great SAP employees in their native habit. They had all just recently relocated from multiple locations around Paris into SAP’s new office building, the Tour SAP.

Tour SAP

EV Technologies’ core product, Sherlock for the BI platform, relies on many SDK’s including those for Web Intelligence and the semantic layer, so it’s great to have a face-to-face dialog about what is coming next. We learned about SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 Support Pack 6, which was released on June 15, 2015. And (shhh!) we learned about SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 and its groundbreaking features like [censored] and [censored]. I’d like to share more about [censored] but most of the visit was covered by non-disclosure agreements.

Below is the view from the Tour SAP’s 19th floor. How can you not do your best work with a view like that?

The View

Here’s the Tour Eiffel up close and personal, although not nearly as breathtaking as the photos Timo Elliott takes for his Instagram feed.

Tour Eiffel

The highlight of the trip wasn’t Web Intelligence 4.2. Instead, it was getting to meet my Twitter mate Andrew Fox in person for the first time. In Paris. Below, you can see The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls along with the man himself, The Man Who Could Board a London Train for Paris.

Andrew Fox, the man who could walk through walls

We enjoyed some obligatory pâté and l’escargot before cutting into a fantastic Côte de Boeuf and pomme de terre Lyonnaise. And a nice bottle of Burgundy.

Bons Amis (Good Friends)

 

It was a great trip- my first to anywhere besides the United States or Canada. You can check out some of my other photos on Flickr.

The SAP team is excited about the new Web Intelligence and semantic layer features now available in BI 4.1 SP6 and coming soon in BI 4.2. And I am too.