The power of the BusinessObjects universe, the powerful semantic layer behind Web Intelligence and other SAP analytics tools, is unquestioned. As SAP BusinessObjects customers look beyond SAP for data visualization tools, a cottage industry of third-party vendors have sprung up to bring the power of the universe to non-SAP tools like Tableau, Qlik, and Microsoft Power BI.
UniverseBridge by Analytics8
no physical address listed on web site 312-878-6600
Supports Tableau, Qlik, Microsoft Power BI, and ThoughtSpot. Used by Nissan USA.
This is only a list of available software packages and should not be considered an endorsement, either by me or my employer. Message me privately if you have additions or corrections to the list.
Is your organization using one of these solutions to extend universes to non-SAP tools? Share a comment below describing which tool you’re using, which analytics tools you’re connecting universes to, and any success stories or pitfalls.
SAP, if you love your BI platform users, it’s time to set them free.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Come to Las Vegas to learn the latest and greatest about SAP solutions for analytics and HANA.
Join me this February 26 – March 1, 2018 at SAP Insider BI & HANA 2018, hosted by The Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada. BI & HANA 2018 is co-located with Basis & SAP Administration 2018. Registration permits you to attend both events.
This year I will be presenting a single session about universe design.
The fate of the (SAP BusinessObjects) universe depends on you:
Moving your classic universes and reports to the Information Design Tool
Thursday, March 01, 2018 / 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM / Raphael 3
Starting with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 in 2011, SAP introduced a new universe format (UNX) and design tool (Information Design Tool). In the years since its introduction, the Information Design Tool has become more robust and newer BI tools such as SAP Lumira 2.0 and SAP Analytics Cloud prefer its format over the legacy format. Starting with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP4, SAP provides the Web Intelligence Change Source Utility to assist organizations in accelerating UNX adoption by converting their inventory of existing reports from the legacy UNV format. In this session, you’ll learn how to install and use this new utility to its maximum effectiveness. Specifically you’ll:
Learn how to install and configure the new Automation Framework in SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP5
Create scenarios to convert batches of legacy reports to the new UNX universe format
Tune and monitor the BI platform for maximum UNX support
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.
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?
Here’s the Tour Eiffel up close and personal, although not nearly as breathtaking as the photos Timo Elliott takes for his Instagram feed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Looking forward to real-world customer story: Zurich Insurance, retiring DeskI. I want to know what to do about no Free Hand SQL #SBOUC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
SAP authors Christian Ah-Soon, Didier Mazoue and Pierpaolo Vezzosi have created a well-crafted guide to the Information Design Tool.
With the introduction of SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0, SAP introduced a new semantic layer format (UNX) and a new design tool, the Information Design Tool. Now SAP Press has released a comprehensive 724-page guide, Universe Design with SAP BusinessObjects BI (SAP Press, ISBN 978-1592299010), written by three of some of the best minds at SAP to help organizations get the most from the Information Design Tool. Unlike its predecessor, the Universe Design Tool, which had a monolithic file format (UNV), the Information Design Tool breaks a universe into three distinct components: the connection, the data foundation and the business layer. As you might expect, this guide devotes entire chapters to each of these components. Additional chapters bring clarity to new features unfamiliar to users of the classic Universe Design Tool such as team project features and multi-source data foundations. Organizations that use SAP applications to run their business will appreciate a chapter devoted to connecting to SAP ERP, SAP Netweaver BW, and SAP HANA, with detailed explanations of when to create universes versus using direct connectivity with Business Intelligence Consumer Services, or BICS.
Experienced universe designers will find the final chapter, Comparing the Universe Design Tool and Information Design Tool, extremely helpful in understanding the differences and similarities between the two tools. I remember feeling very inadequate the first time I opened the Information Design Tool. The user interface is a radical departure from the legacy Universe Design Tool. However, both tools create universes. Once I realized that designers must still cope with contexts, fan traps, and chasm traps, it didn’t seem quite so daunting.
The book is well-illustrated, which alone makes the book worth the purchase price, as the free product documentation on the SAP Help Portal is nearly devoid of any illustrations or screen shots. And although I really appreciate blog readers who click on my Amazon affiliate links, you’ll probably want to purchase the book directly from SAP Press and take advantage of the DRM-free electronic formats. With Adobe PDF, ePub and Mobi, you’ll be able to read this book (and many other SAP Press titles) just about anywhere on just about any device.
The UNX universe and the Information Design Tool are the future of SAP’s business intelligence platform. BI teams should start using it for new projects as well as considering when and how to convert older classic universes. BI managers would do well to equip their teams with this book and universe designers should ask for permission to expense it.
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.”
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?
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.”
Still making fun of the Microsoft Windows ODBC panel.
The new Information Design Tool (IDT) in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0, like the other client tools in the suite, is a 32-bit application. Even if the IDT is installed on a 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows, it wants to use 32-bit ODBC DSN’s created with the 32-bit ODBC panel, not 64-bit DSN’s. If you attempt to create a new universe connection and specify a 64-bit DSN name, the following error appears.
[Microsoft][ODBC Driver Manager] The specified DSN contains an architecture mismatch between the Driver and Application
To resolve the issue, make sure you’re using the 32-bit ODBC panel (see related article) at C:WindowsSysWoW64Odbcad32.exe. If you are running the client tools and server on the same platform, create a 32-bit ODBC DSN for the Information Design Tool and a 64-bit ODBC DSN for the server (BI Launchpad, Web Intelligence Processing Server, etc.). Make sure both DSN’s have identical names.
Remember that Crystal Reports 2011, Crystal Reports 2013, and Crystal Reports for Enterprise clients are also 32-bit. If they are installed on the BI4 server (which is supported, but oddly enough not recommended), they will also require 32-bit ODBC connections even though the Crystal Reports Processing Server requires 64-bit ODBC connections. Note that the legacy Crystal Reports 2011/2013 Processing Server will also require 32-bit ODBC connections.
Something’s missing but I can’t seem to put my finger on it…
UPDATE 06/27/2013: SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 was released to customers (RTC) and into ramp-up last month. STILL doesn’t have currency formatting – could we get some before GA later this year?
UPDATE 11/09/2012: SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Support Pack 5 (BI4 SP5) was released Friday, November 9, 2012 but STILL doesn’t have currency formatting.
Here is the Object Format panel in the classic Universe Design Tool (UDT) aka Designer.
And here is the corresponding Edit Display Format panel in the Information Design Tool, taken from Feature Pack 3.
Notice anything missing? Go ahead and look closely. I’ll wait for you.
There (still) isn’t built-in formatting for currencies in the new Information Design Tool, only Date-Time and Numeric formats. Instead, semantic layer designers must create a custom display format for each object that needs to apply it, as customized formats are not saved either in the IDT or the universe and therefore cannot be reused across objects.
The last chapter of the Information Design Tool User Guide (available from the SAP Help Portal) is named Format Editor Reference. It states
The Format Editor lets you define the format used to display date-time and numeric values. You can select default formats or define custom formats…
There are enhancements and fixes in the Information Design Tool 4.0 Feature Pack 3, but I was secretly hoping for some usability improvements to some of its existing features (see related article, Ten Features that Absolutely Must be in Feature Pack 3). There are key features and workflows in the classic Universe Design Tool that users should expect in the new Information Design Tool, even if the UI implements them differently. I think currency formatting is one of them.