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Choose Where, When, and How You View Business Data with Information Broadcasting from SAP NetWeaver

by Claudia Weller | SAPinsider

July 1, 2004

by Claudia Weller, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2004 (Volume 5), July (Issue 3)
 

Claudia Weller,
SAP AG

With this new column, SAP NetWeaver Unleashed, each issue of SAP Insider will include information on how SAP NetWeaver components work together to increase the value of IT solutions powered by SAP NetWeaver. This column will focus on real-life uses of SAP NetWeaver technology at work — some designed by SAP, others reflecting the creativity of our customers — and how combining the strengths of SAP NetWeaver capabilities brings benefits that are greater than the sum of the individual parts.

With all the business information that is constantly being generated throughout your business, how do you ensure that users are getting exactly the information they need? And how can they share this information with the right people, through the right channels, and get it out to others when it's needed most? For most companies, this is a time-consuming and labor-intensive chore — for everyone from an end user trying to get answers to a single query, to managers and power users who need big-picture data from across their areas of authority, to administrators charged with pulling together information on demand.

Imagine, for example, that you start a new job as a controller of a multinational company. How would you spend your first day? You'd probably devote a good chunk of time to putting your personal "information network" in order. You undoubtedly have specific preferences on formats and channels, as well as how often you would receive cost center information such as the current state of key figures, personnel costs, travel expenses, procurement data, and other reports that are critical for decision-making. You also want to ensure that you can distribute this information as needed to your COO and to your staff, quickly and efficiently.

Or perhaps you are a salesperson who sporadically receives a sales report that eventually makes its way from your manager. But what you really need is regular, weekly sales data, incoming sales orders, and open sales contacts for your particular region — waiting in your inbox each Monday morning in ready-to-use templates.1

These kinds of requests traditionally have meant a highly involved set of manual requests, and automated delivery of information has been hard to come by. As an alternative, SAP now offers Information Broadcasting, a new scenario that harnesses a set of SAP NetWeaver's key capabilities to provide self-services, wizards, templates, and other resources for more efficient delivery of business information when users need it most. What's more, Information Broadcasting gives users more control over how they receive and share business insights, whether the users are:

  • Information consumers — Any recipients of business information

  • Knowledge workers — Managers, C-level users, and other decision-maker users who rely on business intelligence

  • Administrators — Analysts or authors responsible for creating reports and managing authorizations and workflow chains

Introducing Information Broadcasting

Information Broadcasting is a powerful scenario that comes with SAP NetWeaver 2004. By capturing elements of SAP NetWeaver, including business intelligence, knowledge management, portal access, and collaboration, it provides individual users and administrators with greater control over information dissemination and supports collaboration among users inside and outside the company.

This scenario allows end users to personally define how they receive information, in an environment that gives them the ability to share insights with others across locations and time zones. And in their specific areas of authority, decision-makers can act on their insights by defining rules — for instance, by using workflow structures to manage person-to-person interactions leveraging SAP NetWeaver Ad Hoc Workflow, an SAP Enterprise Portal tool for creating a workflow on the fly in a simple, intuitive way.2

What would that mean for the controller in our example? Let's assume the controller receives a consolidated report of the cost center planning. He wants the plan data checked and released by the individual cost center owners. Using the Ad Hoc Workflow wizard, he could construct a one-time approval process specifically for that report. He can define a workflow containing the task Check and approve data to automate the approval process. Within the portal the end user not only has control over workflow creation, but can also track status and monitor participation and completion.

Information Broadcasting leverages the tight, multilevel integration of SAP NetWeaver's business intelligence, portal, collaboration, and knowledge management capabilities — including SAP BW and its Business Explorer toolkit — but it also introduces a set of new features:

  • Business Explorer (BEx) Broadcaster — A Web application that includes a wizard for broadcasting personalized BI information portfolios to diverse end-users via different channels, in different formats (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Determining Information Format with the BEx Broadcaster Wizard
  • Business Explorer role — A new role that integrates a variety of SAP NetWeaver capabilities allowing users across the company to access BI information through the portal, further analyze it, and resolve business issues by collaborating within the portal environment (see box below).

The Business Explorer Role

This new role supports users as they:

Access: Users assigned to the Business Explorer role gain access to reporting documents stored in the Knowledge Management (KM) Content Repository.

Analyze: An integrated Web Analyzer lets users navigate within a query (reporting document) and further analyze the information to answer specific business questions. In fact, users can apply a number of interactive options — such as sorting, filtering, swapping characteristics, or calculating values locally — to permit flexible navigation through data at runtime. In addition to analyzing the structured data, users can add ratings, evaluations, feedback, and personal notes to reporting documents.

Collaborate: Built-in collaboration capabilities give decision makers a variety of options for working together in the context of a particular business question. They can, for instance, publish the reporting document to a collaboration room or hold discussions based on the documents.

Scheduling and Distributing Information

With Information Broadcasting, power users and decision makers have a highly accessible interface, the BEx Broadcaster wizard, to select and schedule information dissemination. Broadcasting sources may be BI Web applications (such as dashboards), BEx Analyzer workbooks, or queries. Broadcasting services include scheduling options — whether these are ad hoc queries (on-demand; see Figure 2), reports based on data loads (on-event), or time-dependent scheduling (on-schedule; see Figure 3).

Figure 2
Distributing a Report On-Demand Through Information Broadcasting

Figure 3

Scheduling Reports with the BEx Broadcaster Wizard

Information Broadcasting also supports precalculation of queries and workbooks, or sending precalculated queries and Web templates as email attachments. For optimized query response time, this information can then be provided in precalculated mode and stored locally in the Content Management (CM) store. In addition to the precalculated documents that contain historical data, it is also possible to send online links to queries and Web applications with current data.

For example, for the salesperson to regularly receive his report each Monday morning, the data is set to automated precalculation for 4 pm the previous Friday night. It is then formatted and sent on its way — all automatically. In addition, data can also be made available online via a link to an executable query or Web application.

Receiving Broadcasted Documents

Broadcasting targets can include email recipients or the SAP Enterprise Portal. This allows personalized access to the BI information portfolio to a variety of end users inside or outside the company. Output formats3 embedded into email include HTML, MHTML, and BEx Analyzer workbooks. Output as a zip file is also an option for email attachments, while the other formats are embedded into the email and are instantly visible.

Accessing Role-Based Views of Business Information

The SAP Enterprise Portal offers a role-based navigation environment for users to retrieve business-specific information. To serve a wide range of BI users, the portal role Business Explorer has been created. SAP has assembled this role from different iViews, so it comes as a ready-to-use template that provides business content and services. The result is a specialized portal page with a complete set of collaborative BI functionality, which can be personalized depending on the individual user's needs.

The Business Explorer portal role, which contains the BEx Portfolio iView, among other things, makes various options available to users when working with BI content. It provides access to BI information from a central start page, presenting the contents of the KM folder Public Documents with the special layout Broadcasting. The Broadcasting layout, which you can use for any KM folder, has been tailored to the special needs of users of BI content in the SAP Enterprise Portal.

The BEx Portfolio iView (see Figure 4) also provides a predefined layout to instantly use content management services such as subscription, ratings, evaluations, feedback, and/or personal notes to those documents. In addition, the iView allows for executing query and document searches, which could be attached to an object within the query using TREX, the search and classification capability of SAP NetWeaver.

Figure 4
Viewing Reports and Unstructured Documents via the BEx Portfolio iView

Collaboration Using Information Broadcasting

Broadcasting documents stored in the KM Content Repository can also be published in collaboration rooms. This brings together members of project groups, regardless of time and location. They use virtual rooms for accessing and organizing common documents (such as broadcasting documents), applications, and ideas. Users can hold discussions online in real time based on the documents and links.

Serving a Variety of User Roles with a Single Scenario

Information Broadcasting leverages SAP NetWeaver to allow all users from across the company to combine structured data (business objects such as customers and products, key performance indicators like customer profitability) with unstructured and operational information (documents, Web sites, personal comments), so that decision makers can understand the broader context and gain deeper insights into the information at hand. Depending on their authorizations, users can exploit the features listed in Figure 5.

Recipient (Information Consumer)
  • Receives broadcasting information via a specialized channel either by email or via a self-service (user-subscribed, personalized) in the SAP Enterprise Portal.

  • No system login required for email recipients when a broadcasting document is attached.

  • Uses collaboration and knowledge management functions.
Manager or Decision-maker (Knowledge Worker)

All the above, plus:

  • Schedules broadcasting of documents on demand (at any time) using the BEx Broadcaster wizard depending on his/her particular authorizations.

  • Defines an ad hoc workflow for a specific reporting document.All the above, plus:

  • Schedules broadcasting of documents on demand (at any time) using the BEx Broadcaster wizard depending on his/her particular authorizations.

  • Defines an ad hoc workflow for a specific reporting document.
Author or Analyst (Administrator or Report Developer)

All the above, plus:

  • Creates process chains that trigger information broadcasting events.

  • Sets up predefined time points for running reports, which report developers and other users can then use for scheduling. This helps spread the load to periods when fewer users are accessing the system.

  • Maintains authorizations that determine the scheduling options for the users, defining the services via SAP NetWeaver design tools (Business Explorer).

  • Handles administration of underlying systems.
Figure 5
Information Broadcasting Offers Features Across User Roles

Information Broadcasting supports team-based decision making and helps eliminate information overload by delivering role-based, personalized information and services. And it does not stop when the information is at the user's fingertips; its integrated platform helps them react to new and perhaps even unforeseen situations by applying rules or taking actions.

What's more, all functionality is provided within a single user interface; there is no need for the user to switch back and forth between applications.

The Enabling Technology Framework

To make full use of the information broadcasting capabilities within SAP NetWeaver, these technical components must be in place (see Figure 6): SAP Enterprise Portal 6.0 on SAP Web AS 6.40, which includes Collaboration and Knowledge Management, and SAP BW 3.5.

Figure 6
Technology Framework for Information Broadcasting

By providing predesigned, integrated templates including the Business Explorer role and the BEx Portfolio iView, and plenty of tool support such as the BEx Broadcaster wizard for administrators, SAP NetWeaver frees BI information throughout the company. It also allows the IT team to focus on the quality and timely delivery of information and to ensure that mappings are in order, rather than concerning themselves with the presentation of information.

Why Embrace Information Broadcasting?

In today's economic conditions, even more critical, savvy, and timely decision making is required. Information Broadcasting provides technology that impacts both the speed and quality of decision making, leveraging information as a key business asset and making businesses more efficient. There are basically three broad business trends that Information Broadcasting addresses:

In an era of information democracy, where information access and distribution is based on competency rather than hierarchy, Information Broadcasting enables better decision making. For example, the pace of today's commerce requires faster decision making to retain customers: Imagine that a customer speaking to a call center agent orders an expensive, customized product. The agent needs immediate insight into the customer's buying behavior, satisfaction, and loyalty to put together this tailored offering. The decision must be made in real time, without calling on an executive or a manager to analyze this information. For the call center agent to accomplish this, he needs BI tools.

With SAP NetWeaver, business information now serves a larger number of users, including users outside the enterprise (email distribution, external-facing portal). The result reduces the information bottlenecks that can slow down decision making.

Decision networks allow shared insight more quickly for faster decision making. A group-based approach is enabled by preintegrated SAP NetWeaver technologies — business intelligence, collaboration, knowledge management, and portal technology all work in concert.

Decision-makers have the authority to act within their domain and want to take immediate steps based on the insight provided, so they require process support and metacontext that shapes this information based on business owner, report author, source system, update information, etc. SAP NetWeaver provides process support in both ways — in a structured, automated fashion as a defined workflow or as spontaneous interaction in a discussion or ad hoc workflow. It further enables a deep dive into the transactional system via drag and relate (based on the metadata context) when very granular information is required.

For more on Information Broadcasting, visit the SAP Service Marketplace at http://service.sap.com/ nw04. In the Capabilities folder, see the How To... Guide, consult the SAP BW — Functions in Detail document, or view a demo.


1 For more on business content — including the templates providing the metadata that structures user information — see "Integration Isn't Just About Technical, Backend Connectivity" by Sylvia Lehnen in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com).

2 The Ad Hoc Workflow tool includes a wizard that allows individuals to create their own ad hoc processes, using generic services, such as a common inbox. Work items that appear in these inboxes can span a range of business activities, from administrative processes like a vacation request to more in-depth processes like the evaluation of a sales opportunity. By simply choosing one of these work items, such as Approval task request or Check and approve data, the user can determine the process by simply selecting the desired activity in the wizard.

3 The components of the HTML page are generated by the system in single files. The recipient can navigate between the various filter views for the query or the Web application. For the MHTML file, all of the components of the entire HTML page are combined in one file, and recipients cannot navigate further. For workbooks, the output format is an MS Excel file. Recipients open the formatted workbook for navigating.


Claudia Weller is Product Manager for SAP NetWeaver at SAP AG. Before joining the SAP NetWeaver team, she worked for five years in Product Management for SAP Business Intelligence. She has a background as a business economist.

 

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