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).


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?

First Impressions of SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1

Any chance we could sneak in a couple of enhancements before BI 4.1 GA?

After kicking the tires of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 for a few months, I wrote back in January 2012 about the Ten Features That Absolutely Must Be in Feature Pack 3 (FP3) that was released in mid-year 2012. Although the feature set of FP3 was already set by then, I hoped that some of the items were either no-brainers or good enough ideas to get into the product before the end of 2012.

I’m really glad that BI 4.1 is almost GA and promises more features and more stability. But here are some of the high-level items that I identified after just a few hours with the new release.

BI41 Default BI Launchpad

Top Ten Annoying Features of SAP BI 4.1

  1. Lack of single installation program – SAP BusinessObjects Explorer installation is still separate from BI Platform
  2. MOBIServer web app is still lurking about.  Can’t we get everything into MobileBIService? I’m looking right at you (again), Explorer team
  3. Lack of currency formatting in Information Design Tool for UNX universes
  4. Poor UI for universe selection in Web Intelligence (see #1 & 2)
  5. An Information Design Tool “project” should remember where a universe should be published, but doesn’t. My customers and I routinely (and mistakenly) publish UNX universes to the root folder.
  6. Sample content is still a disorganized mess (see #10)
  7. Apache Derby still lurking about in monitoring and promotion management (see Greg Myers’ Derby, Maybe?)
  8. After a brief hiatus, Desktop Intelligence has returned
  9. Platform Search default setting is still “Zombie BI” (see Greg Myers’ Ghosts in the Database)
  10. The 23-year-old BusinessObjects brand is nearly completely scrubbed from the product.  I know, I know – get over it.  Just being honest.

I’d love to see some of these opportunities rectified by the time BI 4.1 goes GA.  But if not, I’ll be revisiting these topics when we all start talking about BI 4.2 next year.

Which features do you think are still missing from SAP BI 4.1?

SAP BusinessObjects Snow Leopard edition?

Imagine the SAP BusinessObjects BI suite, but smaller, faster, and ready for the future.

Imagine reading the following article on ASUG News in early 2014:

For a company known for breakthrough products with cool features, SAP this week is doing something unusual: It is introducing a key product with very few new features that are visible to its users. This new release, the latest major version of the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence suite, looks and works almost exactly the same as its predecessor, but has been heavily re-engineered under the covers for greater speed and efficiency, and to add future-oriented core technologies.

Sound far fetched? Probably. But those are the (slightly altered) words that the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg wrote in August 2009 about Apple Snow Leopard. For those of you unfamiliar with the Apple Macintosh and its OS X operating system, Snow Leopard, also known as OS X 10.6, was released in June 2009. It was the first OS X upgrade to cost $29 instead of the then-usual $129 and didn’t bring many new features. But it did do a lot of work under the hood that we’ve come to appreciate in OS X 10.7 Lion and the upcoming OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Here’s what David Pogue wrote about Snow Leopard in the New York Times, in Snow Leopard Takes a Page From the App Store Playbook:

Snow Leopard really is faster–and smaller. Yes, smaller: The OS occupies only half the disk space of the previous version, saving you a cool 6 gigabytes. That’s a first in the history of OS upgrades. Apple says that everything is faster, too: Snow Leopard installation is 45 percent faster, shutting down is 75 percent faster, waking up 50 percent faster, 55 percent faster joining Wi-Fi networks, and so on.

Imagine being able to make similar claims about the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform.

Last week on March 16, 2012, SAP began the ramp-up of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 (BI4 FP3), a marriage of Support Pack 3 and what was previously called BI 4.1. Although as easy to deploy as a support pack, it contains a lot of new functionality (think increased user adoption) and new code (think bugs). But it also contains a lot of fixes for last year’s BI 4.0. Feature Pack 3 is slated to go into general availability (GA) in the third quarter of 2012.

Support Pack 4 is most likely already locked in from a feature perspective and will be focused on stabilizing the Feature Pack 3 release. But what then?

I’m proposing Snow Leopard for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0. Let’s call it SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.5. Now is a good time for SAP to take a step back, look for opportunities to refactor bloated and hastily written code, reduce system requirements, shorten installation times, increase performance, and address UI consistency. A great time to clean up issues normally tagged as low priority and pushed to the bottom of the fix list.

There’s plenty of time to wait for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 5.0. If my instincts are correct, that release will be fully 64-bit and therefore jettison legacy products like the Universe Design Tool, Business View Manager, and Crystal Reports 2011 (see related article, Thoughts on BI 5.0). That will be a large pill for many enterprises to swallow. And my proposed BI 4.5 would be a great code base to leap from.

So what do you say SAP? Your developers are probably barely clinging onto sanity after two large back-to-back releases (BI 4.0 and BI 4.0 FP3). And your users are a bit stressed, too. We would enjoy some time to actually use the software instead of constantly upgrading it.

I, for one, would love to see a snow leopard running through my data center. How about you?

Many thanks to Jody Bankston, Josh Fletcher, Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald, and Eric Vallo who provided invaluable feedback to earlier drafts of this article.

Ten Features That Absolutely Must Be in BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3

My wish list for SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3. Or 4.

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 (BI4 or BI 4.0) went into general availability in September 2011 after a lengthy ramp-up period. But despite the delays, there were still many features missing or deferred to what we now know as Feature Pack 3 (FP3). Here are my picks for “must have” features in Feature Pack 3, based on my experiences so far with the current release. I have no inside information about Feature Pack 3’s final feature list,  I’m just making the case that these ten features should be coming, if not in Feature Pack 3 then in Support Package 4.

1. Tree control for Web Intelligence universe selection

When choosing a universe in Web Intelligence, the user is presented with (cue fanfare of trombones) a list. This sad situation has been the case for far too long. Although the universe folder is displayed next to the universe (in the most confusing way possible), the current UI doesn’t help users navigate through our purposefully constructed universe folder structures. This situation is also a problem on the BI Launch Pad home screen, where I may have recently used universes with the same name but in different folders. Users need to always quickly grasp the universe’s location.  And more detailed information via a mouse-over of the universe name would be a nice touch.

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

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 introduced the Information Design Tool (IDT) and its new semantic layer. Universes created by the IDT have a UNX extension rather than the legacy UNV extension. But in the current UI, the only way to tell the difference is that the UNX suffix is appended to a new universe while the old UNV universes have none. I am finding the process of testing converted UNX universes versus their unconverted counterparts to be very tedious. I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for here (unique icons?) but would like some usability improvements.

3. OLAP universe support for Explorer

Not sure whether this is coming in Feature Pack 3 or not, so I’m mentioning it. Currently, Explorer 4.0 can only create information spaces on relational UNX universes, not OLAP ones (UPDATE: see SAP KB 1559221).

4. UNX universe support for Live Office

Live Office didn’t receive a lot of enhancements in BI 4.0, although the ability to push a spreadsheet back to Explorer is an interesting addition. Live Office currently supports classic universes. Will the situation be changed in Feature Pack 3 to support UNX universes? UPDATE: According to SAP KB 1582061, UNX functionality “is in the roadmap but [has] no confirmed date from the [SAP] product group” (although the rumor mill is suggesting we’ll see this feature in BI 4.1 SP6).

5. Improved qualification selection in Information Design Tool

While there are many new workflows in what is essentially a brand new product, there are several from the old Universe Design Tool that I miss. One is the ability to easily change an object’s qualification from dimension to detail (now called an attribute) to measure. In fact, I have so far been unable to figure out how to convert an existing dimension to a detail (uh, attribute) or vice versa.

6. Corporate customization of Central Management Console

Feature Pack 3 includes vastly improved customization capabilities for the BI Launch Pad, which will be greatly enhanced from what existed for InfoView in SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1. But what about the Central Management Console (CMC)? I would like to be able to choose from multiple pre-defined “themes” that tastefully change the color scheme of the CMC to indicate which environment I’m using (Development, QA, Production, etc.). These themes should be based on which cluster I’m logged into, not which web application server I’m using. I frequently have multiple browser tabs open to multiple environments but visually they’re alike- indistinguishable. Literally seeing red, for example, would help me remember that I’m working with the production cluster and shouldn’t do anything stupid. I’d also like to see the cluster name at the top of each web page, perhaps next to my login name. And maybe a long “pretty” name for the cluster if my organization has cryptic standards for cluster name. Lastly, the cluster name should appear in the browser <TITLE> tag, so I can infer the environment on minimized browser windows, too.

7. No more monolithic Adaptive Processing Server

The BI 4.0 installation program creates a single, beastly Adaptive Processing Server (APS) that according to “best practices” should be divided into multiple APS’s. Regardless of whether the current situation is a result of the BI 4.0 installation team trying to meet a deadline or concern about minimal memory requirements, this situation must be handled by the Feature Pack 3 installation program. XI 3.0’s revised CMC introduced the ability to view services by application (Crystal Reports, Web Intelligence, etc.) and the out-of-the-box configuration of the APS should continue to support this important idea. For example, if I’m a non-SAP ERP customer, I want to see APS’s clearly defined for SAP that can be safely turned off, just like I could turn off clearly labeled Desktop Intelligence servers if I didn’t need them.’

UPDATE: Early adopters of BI4 will want to read SAP KB 1580280,  a chipper article entitled “Adaptive Processing Server and Adaptive Job Server in SAP BI 4.0 are using high amounts of memory and are hard to manage and troubleshoot.”

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

8. Improved control of Web Intelligence default paper size

For those readers outside the United States, A4 paper is as unfamiliar to most Americans as the metric system or soccer (which you call football).  So one of our first post-installation tasks is switching the default paper size to A4 (see my related article on the EV Technologies blog).  Ideally, the paper size should be controlled via the Central Management Console and not by the web application tier per current practice. While we’re at it, let’s add printer support to the Web Intelligence Job Service identical to the Crystal Reports Job Service, both of which are now part of the BI 4.0 Adaptive Job Server.

9. Improved browser support

Everyone assumes that Feature Pack 3 will finally bring Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.0 compatibility to the BI 4.0 platform. And SAP has promised to accommodate Mozilla’s need to update Firefox versions what seems like every 48 hours. These are all good developments.

But I’d also like to see Apple Safari for Windows officially supported for the same versions as supported on the Macintosh.  And I agree with Jamie Oswald (see related SAP Community Network article One App to Enable Them All) that we need support for mobile browsers, not just mobile applications.

UPDATE 02/14/2012: Google Chrome support was rumored for Feature Pack 3 but does not appear in the official supported platforms document.  Google’s browser adoption strategy appears to be “make Google Docs flaky enough in IE so enterprise customers will use our browser”.  SAP should officially support Google Chrome in Feature Pack 3.

UPDATE 01/08/2013: Support Pack 5 improves the browser support for both Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Sadly, Apple quietly discontinued the Safari browser for Windows platforms.

10. Improved and better organized sample content

BI4, just like XI 3.1 before it, has two versions of the eFashion universe. To make matters worse, they point to slightly different Microsoft Access databases with different year ranges.  But the final insult for me is that the installation program rudely places content in the root universe folder.  So for Feature Pack 3, I’m asking for:

  • No universes placed in the root universe folder
  • A single top-level Samples folder, both for content (objects) as well as universes and connections
  • A single eFashion.unv universe, not two
  • An Information Design Tool that properly converts eFashion.unv to eFashion.unx.  Don’t include eFashion.unx because I think it’s valuable for a customer to try out the IDT conversion feature.
  • A new sample UNX universe that brilliantly shows off all of the new features of the Information Design Tool. And not eFashion, which has become as out of fashion as eBusiness.  Unlike eFashion, this new universe will have at least one date object as part of a date hierarchy. But I hope it still includes party pants.

So that’s my list of ten features that absolutely must be in Feature Pack 3. What’s yours?

SAP BusinessObjects Universe Designer Wish List

Will my wishes become reality in the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Information Design Tool?

I’ve been using Designer since my BusinessObjects career began in 2003 with version 5. Designer hasn’t changed much in that time, although derived tables and index awareness were added in version 6.5, restriction sets were improved in XI R1, and smart measures added to XI 3.x.  At the recent 2009 SAP BusinessObjects User Conference, SAP indicated that the next major release of BusinessObjects Enterprise (code named Aurora and headed our way Q4-2010) will integrate Data Federator.  We’ve been promised that future versions of Designer will assume all of the capabilities of Crystal Reports Business Views so that semantic layer can be retired in favor of the universe, and Data Federator could certainly make that possible.  And as with all other BusinessObjects products, it’s a given that adding new SAP-centric features is at the top of the priority list. But how about some desperately needed usability improvements? I humbly offer the following list of recommended enhancements.

Disclaimer: Some of my friends were able to sign an NDA and check out Designer XI 4 at the recent SAP BusinessObjects user conference.  However, I was not one of them.  So I have no idea if any of the ideas below will actually appear in the next release.  But with another year before the product is shipped, there’s still time to code some of these up… 😉

Usability Enhancements

  • A read-only field on the object properties tab that displays the class hierarchy for the object (ex. class namesub-class namesub-class nameobject name). This field should make it easy to cut and paste from Designer to other applications.
  • Ditto for the class properties
  • The ability to use the standard Windows shortcut CTRL-A to “select all” of the contents of any field in the object properties
  • A spacer object that can be inserted into large classes to indicate related items. Many developers resort to kludgy objects with hyphens to accomplish this feature.  Sometimes subclasses just aren’t an option (or requirement). In Web Intelligence, the spacer object should have a small icon to collapse/expand the objects from the spacer to the next spacer (or end of class).
  • An enhancement to the integrity checker that warns when a measure object does not have a database aggregate function in the SELECT clause. Should be a warning, not an error, because some folks (sigh) actually like measures w/o database aggregates.
  • An object comment editor, with a filter button to show only classes and/or objects that do not have comments.
  • A faster way to grab an object’s SQL than navigating to the object Properties tab, clicking on the Edit button for the List of Values (LOV) and viewing its SQL.
  • Move the Refresh Structure menu option from View to Tools. I know it’s been there for years, but “View” implies that the menu choices don’t affect the universe but only it’s display in the application. Refresh Structure most certainly alters the universe and should be classified as Tool. Add a toolbar button while you’re at it.
  • Put some space on the toolbar between the helpful List Mode button and the evil Arrange Tables button. It’s too easy to hit the latter and I generally prefer to not use it at all. And per my friend Andrew Koller, why can’t we undo the effects of the Arrange Tables button, anyway?
  • Allow user to right click in schema window and zoom in to exactly that spot (or table, if selected)
  • Allow user to right click in schema window and center the display at that spot (or table, if selected)
  • Allow paste from clipboard to text blocks in the schema view
  • Allow designers to create “groups” of tables, similar to groups of objects in Microsoft Visio.
  • In addition to placing comments on the schema itself, allow comment blocks to be tagged to tables, joins, or table groups so that comment blocks always remain associated with the appropriate object(s), regardless of how they are arranged
  • Allow designer to assign a unique color (not just Windows grey) to individual tables or groups of tables (Should these colors also be applied, maybe as an option, to object names?)
  • Allow for multiple fonts, block colors, and block outlines for text blocks in the schema view. These enhancements will facilitate better documentation
  • Variable zoom, please? Maybe a nice slider instead of the current drop-down with limited settings?
  • When I right click on a table and choose View Associated Objects, please pop up a box to tell me the table is unused. Currently, the universe pane stays stuck on its previous object, which misleads me into thinking that it belongs to the table.
  • View Associated Tables should cause the universe window to scroll, not jump. Currently too easy to lose ones place when seeing where various objects in a class come from.  The current version simply “jumps” to the correct (mostly) location and it’s easy to get lost in a larger universe.
  • If I right click on an object and choose View Associated Table and that table is on the screen, do not center on the table if the table is already on the screen but just highlight the new table. Very confusing as it alters the user’s frame of reference. Or, the screen should re-center by gently scrolling to the new position, so the designer can maintain his or her sense of direction in the universe.
  • Right click on class name and choose View Associated Table(s), similar to what’s available for objects. This option would help a developer clearly identify all tables utilized by the class.  Like my other suggestions, screen should “gently” center/resize to help designer maintain their frame of reference.  Universe window should scroll out slowly to show all tables.
  • Similar to the properties tab in Web Intelligence, add toolbar buttons to the top of the universe pane that close all classes simultaneously and open all classes simultaneously. Also, could we filter by qualification (dimention, detail, measure), data type (char, integer, date, long)?
  • Add toolbar button to filter hidden objects, as many times these are candidates for deletion.
  • The ability to find joins without defined cardinality (suggested by James Halligan)
  • A wizard to construct @prompts (suggested by James Halligan)
  • Better date handling (suggested by Josh Fletcher)
  • How about adding a tabbed interface so that unconnected portions of schema could be stored on separate tabs for easier maintenance. Or, if that’s facilitating too much poor design, how about a right click option that allows me to right click on either a bunch of objects or tables and choose to build a new universe from them? Copy objects wizard would have options to control how many tables are brought over.
  • Back to the tabbed interface… How about a separate tab for “original” tables that are aliased but not used, per best practice. And a wizard on the tools button that identifies tables that have been aliased elsewhere, replaces those tables with an alias, and recodes any dependent objects?
  • And a recycle bin tab… With a wizard that identifies unreferenced tables (not part of a valid join path) and moves them there.
  • Just like a road atlas, and instead of rulers in applications like Microsoft Word, allow designers to turn on a grid of letters and numbers. Right clicking on an object’s properties should tell me that the table is on the “map” at B6, etc. This “map” would also be helpful for those of us who have to print large universes and tape multiple sheets of paper together.
  • Regular expression support for Find and Replace
  • When Find locates an object in a large classes, the item identified by the Find/Replace function is at the bottom of the screen and partially obscured by scrollbars. Could we see the whole object, please?

And while we’re at it, a few related improvements in the other tools…

  • Improved abilities in the Web Intelligence and other query panels to get the class hierarchy, object SQL (not just query SQL) and data lineage. Although it’s a bit tech-centric for a user-centric tool, some customers put this technical information where the non-technical help text is supposed to go. Having separate containers, and client tools that access them, makes everyone happy.
  • Allow version control history for each object, without totally cluttering the interface (might be challenging). This data should also be available through Metadata Manager
  • Add reporting capability to Metadata Manager that searches all universes on a given universe connection and identifies multiple universes that point to the same underlying SQL but have different names (consistency checker). Should have option to determine if aliases are included or not.

So what would you like to see in the next version of Designer? Feel free to post a comment.

  1. Allow table groups to be named. Still thinking about what an end-user might do with such a name…

Save Me!

One of the primary topics in the SA210 Administration and Security course (formerly known in its XI R2 incarnation as Administering Users and Content) is the chapter on managing content. There are four basic methods for adding content to BusinessObjects Enterprise: InfoView, Central Management Console (CMC), Publishing Wizard, and the Save As command in various client tools. Many of the students that enroll in the SA210 class are full time system administrators, not universe or report developers. So it’s a worthy goal to familiarize them with tools that they may be unfamiliar with and how those tools add content to the BusinessObjects Enterprise system.

What’s not cool is the lack of consistency in the Business Objects client tools. In this post, I will describe the good, bad and – yes – the ugly of the Save As command across the product line. Let’s first begin with the good.

Crystal Reports 2008 – the good

The most elegant Save As implementation is in Crystal Reports 2008. Crystal Reports is a Windows application used to design – you guessed it – Crystal Reports. I never used Crystal Reports until Business Objects acquired Crystal Decisions in 2004. But look at the simplicity and clarity of their Save As dialog. Specifically, notice the Enterprise icon on the left hand side of the dialog. To a Crystal Reports user, saving a report to BusinessObjects Enterprise is as simple as saving to a local or network drive.

Crystal Reports 2008 Save Me Xcelsius 2008 – almost as good

Crystal Xcelsius 4.5 used the same Save As UI as Crystal Reports. However, Xcelsius 2008 varies slightly to accommodate the feature set changes between the three flavors of Xcelsius 2008: Present, Engage, and Enterprise. This is immediately apparent from the File menu, as Save to Enterprise is clearly segregated from the usual Save As. Only Xcelsius Enterprise is capable of saving to Business Objects Enterprise. Likewise, there are two “open” options, the standard Open and Open From Enterprise.

Xcelsius 2008 Save MeCuriously, the Export option is not labeled Business Objects Enterprise but Business Objects Platform. Perhaps as not to offend Business Objects Edge Series customers? However, it is inconsistent with Open from Enterprise/Save To Enterprise.



Xcelsius 2008 Export Save MeDesktop Intelligence – the bad

Desktop Intelligence, formerly known as BusinessObjects Reporter or “the full client”, used to be the only client application used to publish content to a Business Objects system. Although it’s the first Business Objects tool I learned to use, it tends to be a bit confusing with it’s distinction between Save, which is local, and Import From Repository/Export To Repository. The mantra at Business Objects has been “We’re not making any additional changes to Desktop Intelligence”; however, the workflow to “export” documents into the “repository” changed radically enough between version 6.x and XI R2 that it became a significant end-user training issue.

Desktop Intelligence Save Me Menu

Desktop Intelligence Save Me Export

It would be far more elegant to abandon Import/Export in favor of Open/Save as is done in Crystal Reports. However, this is the current Save As dialog. No Enterprise in sight.

Desktop Intelligence Save Me

Web Intelligence Rich Client – the ugly

So that covers good and bad. Now for ugly. I’m bestowing that honor on the new Web Intelligence Rich Client (Webi RC). It’s the latest end user application in the Business Objects suite. Which is why it is such a profound disappointment that the Save As feature shares little consistency with any of the other tools, nor does it embrace the elegance of Crystal Reports 2008.

As you can see from the screen shot below, Webi RC is most similar to Desktop Intelligence with its distinction between saving and importing/exporting.

Web Intelligence Save Me

Personally, I find it a bit confusing to non-technical users on what a “repository” or “CMS” is. And why a separate workflow is required for something that is more analogous to choosing a local vs. a network drive to save a Microsoft Word file?


I am hopeful that the disparate development teams for these various products can come together, save our sanity, and add some consistency and simplicity to a basic workflow that users use everyday – saving their work. Assuming that Desktop Intelligence is going to remain in the suite for one more release, it would be great if it adopted a new Save As workflow as well as gained the support of the Publishing Wizard application. Let’s see where the Business Objects product road map leads us in 2009 and beyond…

What I miss in the Query as a Web Service (QaaWS) and Live Office query panels

I’ve been using Query as a Web Service (QaaWS) as the means to bring live data into executive dashboards. Sometimes, I get frustrated by features that I appreciate in the Web Intelligence query panel that are missing from QaaWS. The Query as a Web Service user guide documents several limitations with the QaaWS query panel.

  • Multi-cubes cannot be used
  • Combined queries and subqueries cannot be used
  • IndexAware prompts are not implemented

And although it isn’t explicitly mentioned, developers will quickly notice that:

  • There is no View SQL button in the QaaWS query panel

Because of the query limitations, it has often been necessary for me to add a derived table to my universe to achieve the SQL that I’m looking for. Today, I discovered yet another limitation:

  • Query filters cannot use universe objects as operands

The QaaWS Query Panel:


Query Panel Query as a Web Service (QaaWS)The Live Office query panel, although it is visually different from the QaaWS query panel (different development team?), is functionally identical. There are buttons for sorting and ranking, but combined queries, subqueries, and view SQL are nowhere to be found. And as with the QaaWS query panel, it is NOT currently possible to build a query filter that uses a universe object as an operand. (The screenshot below shows the three supported options: constant, list of values, and prompt).

Query Panel Live Office

Although I’ve focused on design time limitations in this post, it’s worth noting at run time that neither product currently supports object restrictions (restriction sets) defined in Designer.

Clearly, QaaWS and Live Office have similar capabilities and similar deficiencies as compared to the Web Intelligence query panel. Although the QaaWS application has been redesigned in XI 3.1, it does not contain any new query functionality compared to previous versions. It appears that we’ll have to wait longer (XI 3.2? XI 4.0?) for the query functionality gap with Web Intelligence to be closed.

For now, I’m grateful for derived tables in the universe. However, I sometimes feel that I am doing “unnatural” things to the universe that I wouldn’t have to do if these query panels had the functionality I’m accustomed to in Web Intelligence. Fortunately, the only “user” of the universe is our QaaWS-enabled Xcelsius dashboards – there are no “real” users of Web Intelligence.

Do you have similar experiences with Xcelsius + QaaWS? Feel free to post your experiences and clever solutions.

You’re not as smart as you think you are

The formula is correct – maybe.

You’ve got to admire the new confidence-building features of Business Objects Enterprise XI 3.0. When you validate a Web Intelligence formula (I’m using the Web Intelligence Rich Client here), you receive the following message:

Web Intelligence The Formula Is Correct

I must admit – receiving a message such as this one boosts your confidence, kind of like a Hallmark moment from Business Objects. It’s nice to know that Business Objects thinks you’re smart. Unfortunately, the message only means that your formula is syntactically correct. Whether or not the formula results are correct requires logical thinking and thorough testing.

If only Web Intelligence could ascertain that I had done my job correctly. Now that would be true Business Intelligence. Until then, perhaps “The formula is valid” would be a more accurate message.

Some suggestions for SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards 4.0

I’ve been working on creating executive dashboards using Xcelsius 2008 combined with Business Objects Enterprise XI 3.0. Business Objects, an SAP company, is to be commended for really listened to customers, incorporating a lot of “wish list” features from Xcelsius 4.5 users into their Xcelsius 2008 release. But here’s hoping that some suggestions can be incorporated into Xcelsius 2010 or whatever the next major release of the product will be called (NOTE: The official product is now SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Design 4.0). But heck, feel free to slip some of these into Xcelsius 2008 SP2!

1. Allow Xcelsius users the option to clear or keep the existing Definition mappings when re-importing a WSDL that has changed (for example, maybe parameters were added or removed from the query).

2. Provide distinct security groups (or granular application rights) for QaaWS producers (users of the Query as a Web Service application) and QaaWS consumers.

3. Allow QaaWS to be stored in folders/subfolders in the Central Management Console and assign security accordingly. This may already be in the Business Objects Enterprise XI 3.1 beta – I’ll have to do more research.

4. Add a tab in the Xcelsius data manager for a large comment field to facilitate documentation.

5. Indicate from the Xcelsius data manager if a QaaWS WSDL is different from (more recent than) the version mapped into the Xcelsius visualization. Maybe add a “validate” button?

6. Fix the Save to Enterprise so the description in the document properties (File->Document Properties) appears in InfoView. Currently with Xcelsius 2008 + XI 3.0, the description in InfoView is blank. Ditto for exporting the SWF to “Business Objects Platform” (File->Export). The default description of the SWF in InfoView should match the description of the source XLF file. On a related note – shouldn’t “Business Objects Platform” be changed to “Business Objects Enterprise” for consistency?

7. Allow queries in the Xcelsius Data Manager to be easily disabled, which would be useful during debugging and testing.

8. When using prompts and BETWEEN (ex. between start date and end date), QaaWS builds the input parameter list of the web service with the end date first followed by the start date. This becomes mildly confusing when mapping columns to the Excel model. Especially late at night, but I digress. The two prompts should be mapped in order. I’ll go a step further here – could QaaWS be enhanced to allow developers to rearrange the input parameter order to their liking?

9. When saving an Xcelsius file (File->Save to Enterprise) or exporting a SWF file (File->Export->Business Objects Platform) the display of folders and objects in Business Objects Enterprise is a single alphabetical sort, intermingling folders and objects. Instead, Xcelsius should mimic standard applications like Microsoft Office and first sort the folders alphabetically followed by an alphabetical sort of the documents.

10. Also regarding File->Export->Business Objects Platform… I’m currently working over a VPN connection and the export process is slow. After the dialog box for the SWF generation disappears, the only indication of progress is the Microsoft Windows busy cursor, which is not very helpful. There needs to be helpful status from Xcelsius itself. Could we have a progress bar? Oh, and could Xcelsius tell me upfront that it’s not going to be able to overwrite the SWF because it’s being locked/accessed on the server, rather than making me wait for a long time out?

What suggestions do you have for the next release of Xcelsius? Feel free to post a comment.

BusinessObjects XI 3.0 Hits and Misses – Part 2

Change is not only a theme for the 2008 U.S. presidential election, it is the theme for BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.0. One of the dramatic new features of the new release is the new icon for measure objects. Gone is the emasculating hot pink sphere in favor of a more masculine yellow rectangle. Perhaps the product managers felt a new shape and color were needed to reinforce the introduction of new “smart” measures with database delegated computation? Or is this just change for the sake of change?

[UPDATE: it’s a ruler, stupid.  Measure.  Ruler.  Get it?]

In everyday usage, I’ve noticed that the color yellow is confusing because it is the color shared by condition objects (the standard yellow filter icon). Yes, I realize that there are two different shades of yellow, but I’m still confused. In Web Intelligence, condition objects (or predefined filters) appear at the end of the class list, which is frequently where measure objects are placed. I’m noticing that my brain is going for color instead of shape or object name. So I’m grabbing a measure object when I want a predefined condition or vice versa. I would much prefer if all four object types (dimension, detail, measure, and predefined condition) would have unique colors, which was the case prior to XI 3.0.

Who wants to join me in the campaign to restore the pink sphere to its former glory?