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?