How to Write Great Abstracts for SAP BusinessObjects User Conferences

Tips on how to write a great abstracts that get accepted.

As a frequent speaker at ASUG and SAP Insider conferences, I’m often asked for tips on how to write a great abstracts that get accepted. Obviously, your number one objective is to convince the selection committee that you have a great presentation. Ideally, you’ll already have a presentation in your back pocket that you’ve developed for customers or your local user group. However, that isn’t necessary – all you need at this stage is a clever title and abstract. The abstract is typically around 100 words, which requires focus. Don’t bother counting words until you’ve written an abstract that you’re satisfied with – then figure out later how to edit it down to the conference host’s word limit.

Your number two objective is two-fold – you’ll want conference attendees to be enticed enough to register for your breakout session. But- and this is important- you also want to be clear about what you are talking about so your attendees aren’t disappointed. I’m always nervous about the first 10 minutes of my breakout because that’s when many folks decide to bolt out of the room and head to their “plan B” session. For example, my 2008 presentation was entitled “CMC Essentials”. And although my session description was fairly clear, I could tell from my feedback that “CMC Security Essentials” would have been a better name. I dealt mainly with security topics, not a general overview of the Central Management Console.

Here’s a third objective – be specific, if not downright narrow. I’m sure that the committee will receive many presentations called “Crystal Reports Tips and Tricks”, “Web Intelligence Tips and Tricks”, or “Xcelsius Tips and Tricks”. These abstracts are difficult for the selection committee to evaluate and may jeopardize your selection because yours doesn’t stand out from the crowd. During your breakout, you only have about 40 minutes to talk and 5 or 10 for questions. It’s not really as much time as you think. Which is a gift. Pick something specific and cover it thoroughly.

Here’s my own story about becoming a conference speaker. After attending my first conference, Insight 2005 in Orlando, Florida, I was totally blown away by all of the great speakers from organizations from Integra Solutions (now integrated into Quorum Business Solutions) so I decided to submit a single abstract for Insight 2006. I was surprised as anyone when I received notice that I was selected to go to San Francisco, California. But I picked something that I thought was fairly unique and that the selection committee would either love or hate. After being selected, the conference organizers revised my title into something catchy and made some minor edits to the abstract. This was the final result:

Getting Personal with Publications and Profiles
If you’re considering effective ways to process and distribute personalized reports to a large audience, this session is for you. Learn how to use BusinessObjects XI Release 2 publications to minimize database resources through single-pass report bursting, and how to personalize reports according to individual user or group profiles. See live examples of both methods of traversing profiles (Tree Walk and Walk-and-Merge), and investigate several Desktop Intelligence features that will take your personalized report distribution to the next level.

And here’s another example, my abstract for Insight 2007 in Orlando, Florida:

Secure Universes Using Restriction Sets
Do you need to tailor universe security to specific users or groups within your organization? Attend this session to learn about restriction sets and how they can apply security to selected groups or user accounts for the universe. Hear how applied restrictions can control objects, rows, query types, and connections. See live demonstrations on how to use each type of restriction and the effect they have on user Web Intelligence documents.

For those of you who are IT professionals, notice that both of these are a bit “sales-y”, not just a dull technological rant. Try to make your topic as sexy as possible. But not too sexy. Yeah, I know – universe restriction sets aren’t exactly sexy. But they are useful and my presentation was able to help lots of people with real project requirements.

One last thought – I have been a consultant for most of my professional career. Consultants probably have some extra incentive to practice becoming good speakers. But non-consulting IT professionals shouldn’t feel slighted. Despite how jacked up you may think your employer is, there are always things that your team does well that other organizations struggle with. If you don’t believe me, hang out at your local user group – you really do have something to contribute. Feel free to bring your practical experiences as well as your business domain (CPG, manufacturing, retail, etc.) in to your presentation.

What do you have to lose by writing an abstract? Nothing! What do you have to gain? Some valuable experience and a free conference pass. Good luck!

Other Resources

2009 GBN User Conference – Call for Speakers

From the latest GBN e-mail bulletin:

SAP BusinessObjects User Conference Call for Speakers Opens Week of March 30. If you’re interested in submitting a presentation abstract for the SAP BusinessObjects User Conference, October 18-21 in Dallas, be sure to begin your preparation now.

The Call for Speakers opens the week of March 30 and closes Monday, April 13.

Yikes! I’d better get busy…

CMC Essentials presentation now available

For those of you who didn’t make it to Dallas, Texas for the first Global BusinessObjects Network (GBN) conference, my presentation, CMC Essentials, is now available for download from the Integra Solutions web site. It compares and contrasts Business Objects security between XI R2 and XI 3.0/XI 3.1, including new features like Custom Access Levels, Permissions Explorer and Security Query in the completely redesigned XI 3.x Central Management Console.

Visit my presentations area for more conference downloads.

2008 GBN Business Objects User Conference – Updated Presentation

As promised in today’s breakout, attendees of the GBN Business Objects User Conference in can download the final version of CMC Essentials. It contains mostly minor tweaks compared to the version that was available prior to the conference. If you weren’t able to attend the conference, all Integra Solutions presentations should be available from the Integra Solutions Library over the next few weeks.

2008 GBN Business Objects User Conference – Day 3

Today was day 3 of the GBN Business Objects conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. It was the last day, so activities ended at noon with a few box lunch sessions instead of a full day of activities. Overall, the first GBN conference was a success. Sure, those of us who have attended Insight during previous years could tell that the budget was smaller (no pyrotechnics or dance troupes), but it was still a pretty good conference. After all, we had “real” breakfast this morning – fairly yummy breakfast burritos – when breakfast on day 3 last year consisted of weak coffee and NutriGrain bars out of a box.

The first breakout I attended today was… mine. My topic was CMC Essentials, comparing the security features of XI R2 and XI 3.0/XI 3.1 and demonstrating how the new Business Objects release provides improvements to administrators. A surprising number of people filled the room given that my presentation was so early on the conference’s last day. According to my colleague Dave Rathbun, several had to sit on the floor due to the lack of chairs. A big “thank you” goes out to Dave Rathbun and Amy Betten of Integra Solutions for helping everything go smoothly. Another big “thank you” goes to my very supportive local user group friends like Sandra Brotje (NOBOUG), Tammy Datri (PGBOUG chairperson), and Eileen King (NOBOUG chairperson). Even Giles Farrow of Business Objects, a long-time organizer of Business Objects user conferences, stopped by to make sure everything was going well. It’s humbling to be selected as a speaker and even more humbling to talk to a receptive audience. I’m grateful for today’s experience and hope that it was beneficial to my listeners.

Next, Meredith McLarty, also from Integra Solutions/Quorum Business Solutions presented Auditing for Anyone. Meredith compared auditing in XI R2 and XI 3.0, noting the latter’s improvements such as Desktop Intelligence auditing.

Next was Improved Lifecycle Management for Business Intelligence by David Brockington of Business Objects, who discussed the new Lifecycle Manager available with Business Objects Enterprise XI 3.1. Although it’s packaged as a separate application in this release, Lifecycle Manager will be integrated into the CMC in its next release. Business Objects customers currently use the Import Wizard for LCM, which can be challenging. I’m looking forward to working with this new capability.

The last breakout I attended was Creating More Meaningful Data Visualizations in Xcelsius by Dan Robertson, a senior sales consultant with Business Objects. Dan presented some very helpful best practices for visualization projects. I had met Dan, a Michigan resident, at a NOBOUG meeting last year. As with Tim Ziemba’s appearance on Monday, Business Objects would do well to send more support engineers and sales consultants to these events to share their expertise. Nice job, Dan.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back to work on my exciting executive dashboard project. I’ll be creating BIAR files and taking backups as we plan to upgrade our environment from XI 3.0 to XI 3.1.

I’m curious how many of my readers attended the GBN this year and what their overall impressions were. As always, feel free to post your comments.

GBN Business Objects User Conference 2008 – Day 2

Today was day 2 of the GBN Business Objects conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. The day began with a general session with Doug Merritt, who discussed “Maximizing Performance in an Under-Performing Market”. His talk focused on the combined entity SAP + Business Objects being able to link strategy to execution. And it might be because this event is a joint conference with ASUG, but although “being open” still gets talking points, vendors such as Oracle/PeopleSoft/JD Edwards, IBM, Microsoft, etc. are never mentioned by name. Clearly, Business Objects is continuing to make strides in the number of supported data sources, but this heterogeneous message may be getting diluted in customer’s minds.

After the keynote, the unstoppable Alan Mayer of Integra Solutions presented “Extreme Reporting”. Noting that this was his first-ever use of the word “Extreme” in a breakout presentation, he proceded to clearly demonstrate how tricky reporting scenarios could be pushed down to the database layer to take advantage of the new stored procedure support in XI 3.x for Business Objects universes. The session was well-attended at one of the Hilton Anatole’s largest rooms.

After lunch, universe ninja Dave Rathbun, also of Integra Solutions, presented “Universe Designer Essentials and Beyond” to a standing-room only crowd. After demonstrating some of the cool new features in XI 3.0 such as mandatory universe conditions, he presented one of the most lucid explanations I’ve heard about aliases, contexts, and the applications for each. He concluded by demonstrating how aliases and contexts could be used to deliver date-range measures directly from the universe, simplifying end users’ creation of reports.

I also attended “Dimensional Modeling Techniques in Universes” by Derric Raggs, a first-time presenter from MCIC Vermont in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve always known that Business Objects universes can handle (in varying degrees) any relational data source. But Derric, a Kimball University alumni, provided clear direction on modeling of role-playing dimensions and conformed dimensions in a Business Objects universe.

The day concluded with Dwayne Hoffpaurir’s (think HOFF-pow-er) “BusinessObjects XI 3.0 Security for Mere Mortals”. Dwayne, a BOB Member of the Year for 2008, shared some great best practices learned from his organization’s recent migration from Business Objects 6.5 to XI 3.0. I was also curious to see if my presentation, CMC Essentials, was too similar in content to his. But XI 3.0 security is not a trivial matter and there’s LOTS to talk about. Conference attendees would benefit from reviewing both presentations.

I’m now back at the hotel, going through the final rehearsals for my 8:00 AM presentation tomorrow morning. Check back tomorrow for the final installment of news from the GBN Business Objects User Conference 2008.

2008 Global BusinessObjects Network User Conference – Day 1

Day one of GBN 2008

Today was the first day of the GBN Business Objects conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. It started with a keynote from John Schwartz, CEO of Business Objects, now a division of SAP. John used sailing metaphors to encourage organizations to continue making strides with business intelligence to help weather economic storms. There were no new product introductions, as the flagship BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 was quietly released earlier in the month. However, there were a few product demonstrations from the Business Objects Labs, such as the ability to post back data to a data source. Conspicuously absent was any discussion of the product roadmap. Also conspicuously absent was Bernard Liautaud, founder of Business Objects. No offense to John, but Bernard’s absence was yet another reminder of the consequences of adding “a division of SAP” to the Business Objects corporate logo.

Next, Ryan Goodman gave a well-attended session entitled “Next Generation of Dashboards Using Xcelsius 2008”. There wasn’t much new information for existing Xcelsius 2008 customers, but he did take the time to show off the new custom Xcelsius components developed by his company, Centigon Solutions.

One of the best sessions I attended was by Tom Nather of the Cleveland Clinic, entitled “Implement Sign On with Dashboards and Xcelsius 2008”. He was joined on stage by Tim Ziemba, a Business Objects support engineer, and discussed SSO using both Trusted Authentication and Vintela. These gentlemen did a great job going narrow and deep on an important topic that has historically not been well documented by Business Objects. Note to Business Objects: get more knowledgeable support engineers like Tim in front of customers at these events.

The least useful presentation of the day goes to Business Objects, with their “Where is Business Objects Headed with Dashboards and Scorecards”. After being promised with the latest information, it appears that the answer is “We don’t know, check back in 2010”. On the Dashboards and Visualization side, the answer is clear: Xcelsius, Xcelsius, Xcelsius!!! Oh, and Dashboard Builder, which as of earlier this year is included as “standard” on all Business Objects Enterprise and Business Objects Edge Series editions. The real mystery is regarding performance management. The end of life (EOL) has been declared for analytics in Dashboard Builder as well as the existing Performance Manager product. These features/products are being phased out in favor of the ironically named SAP Strategy Management, obtained by SAP’s February 2007 acquisition of Pilot Software. Ironic, as nobody at Business Objects seems to be clearly managing the strategy for performance management. The lights in the auditorium went out several times during the presentation, perhaps a metaphor for the current product roadmap, which consisted of black text on dark brown boxes – very illuminating indeed.

Day one of the conference concluded with “Virtually Yours, a great presentation on virtualization and Business Objects. And I’m not just saying this because the presentation was given by Alan Mayer, my manager at Integra Solutions. Alan was joined on stage by James Landis of Southwest Airlines. The breakout provided solid information about both the benefits and challenges of using products such as VMware. It was a timely topic that provided balance to the seemingly endless Xcelsius 2008 breakouts that saturate this year’s conference schedule.

2008 GBN Business Objects User Conference – Preview

Monday is the beginning of the Global Business Objects Network’s (GBN) annual Business Objects User Conference in Dallas, Texas. This will be the first Business Objects user conference since merger with SAP, the first post-Insight user conference, and (at least for me) the first user conference held during a downturn in the overall US economy.

I’m looking forward to networking with my peers, consuming fajitas and guacamole, and presenting my breakout, CMC Essentials. My presentation focuses on Business Objects security administration, comparing XI R2 against XI 3.0 and XI 3.1. I’ll begin with a brief history of Business Objects administration, then move onto the security features that XI R2 and XI 3.x share. Most of my time will be spent discussing and demonstrating the the new security features of XI 3.x like custom access levels, scope of rights, the Permissions Explorer and Security Query.

On a personal note, it’s my first breakout as a member of Integra Solutions, a business unit of Quorum Business Solutions. As Darth Vader said, “The circle is now complete.” When I attended my first Business Objects conference in 2005, I had never heard of Integra Solutions but attended several breakout sessions by Alan Mayer, Dave Rathbun and others. Now, these outstanding professionals are my friends and co-workers. Please join Integra Solutions at the following breakout sessions:

Virtually Yours, by Alan Mayer and James Landis
Monday, October 20, 2008
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM

Extreme Reporting, by Alan Mayer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
9:15 AM – 10:15 AM

Universe Designer Essentials and Beyond, by Dave Rathbun
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

CMC Essentials, by Dallas Marks
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
8:00 AM – 9:00 AM
Metropolitan Ballroom

Auditing for Anyone, by Meredith McLarty
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
9:15 AM – 10:15 AM
Metropolitan Ballroom

I’ll be blogging live from the conference. See you in Dallas!

Global BusinessObjects Network launched

The Global BusinessObjects Network officially launched this week, a rebranding of the Business Objects Community Alliance. The GBN is fully independent and an offshoot of the America’s SAP Users Group (ASUG). GBN is organizating this October’s Business Objects User Conference on October 20-22, 2008 in Dallas, Texas at the Hilton Anatole. GBN will also be the umbrella organization for local user groups, which will no longer have direct oversight from SAP BusinessObjects.