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Provide Business Information Tailored to Your Users' Needs with Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis

by Barbara Neumann | SAPinsider

April 1, 2006

by Barbara Neumann, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2006 (Volume 7), April (Issue 2)
 




Barbara Neumann,
SAP AG

When a company is unable to quickly manage and distribute critical business information to the right users at the right time, the results can include delayed decision making, slow reaction times, and missed opportunities in key business areas. But addressing this information-distribution need is a challenge, since data spans not only multiple sources but also various users:

  • Information consumers, such as C-level executives and line-of-business (LOB) managers, want quick, at-a-glance information available when they need it to make strategic, informed business decisions

  • Analysts and other business users need to scrutinize information in greater detail and create reports on the Web or in Microsoft Excel with tools they can intuitively manage on their own

  • Power users, namely a small group of business intelligence (BI) experts, require powerful tools to provide information for other users, tailored to their needs

Companies want to meet the information needs of these disparate users with minimal strain on IT, while at the same time leveraging the infrastructure they already have in place.

SAP NetWeaver is designed to help meet these information challenges. With the enhanced BI capabilities available with the SAP NetWeaver 2004s release, you can easily combine data from different sources — including both SAP and non-SAP systems1 — and transform it into information tailored to the needs and work habits of each end user.

So that your IT team can quickly make the most of the capabilities of SAP NetWeaver, SAP provides "IT scenarios" that introduce IT to the tools and process steps they need to address broad business challenges and IT activities (see sidebar below). Within every IT scenario, you will find different variants that focus on more specific IT processes. For the Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis scenario, these variants describe how to make BI information available to the various users within your company in particular ways and empower users to work effectively with that information, relying less and less on the IT department (see Figure 1). In the scenario's documentation, available at SAP Service Marketplace (http://service.sap.com/netweaver -> IT Scenarios -> Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis), IT can access information on how to implement, run, and use this scenario and the SAP NetWeaver tools highlighted within it.

Scenario Variant Description
Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis This variant enables business experts to provide queries and query views in order to explore BI data in a user-oriented and flexible way using the Business Explorer (BEx) Query Designer. It shows how BEx queries and query views can be made available via comprehensive Web applications using the BEx Web Application Designer and how to use the BEx Report Designer to create formatted reports optimized for presentation and printing.
Ad Hoc Query This variant provides business experts with a broad range of functionality for creating and analyzing ad hoc queries and creating and deploying views on top of various data providers (SAP NetWeaver BI and non-SAP BI) via the Web using the BEx Web Analyzer.
Microsoft Excel Integration This variant provides business users with convenient functions for evaluating and presenting BI data interactively within Microsoft Excel.
Information Broadcasting This variant allows business experts to make objects with BI content available to a wide variety of users in different formats (online links or precalculated data in MHTML, Microsoft Excel, PDF, etc.) and different destinations (Knowledge Management folders in the portal, emails, printer, etc.), according to their needs.
Modeling Business Intelligence Data with SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer This variant allows business users to easily configure BI applications in a visual modeling environment and deploy the results in the enterprise portal (will be available with a further SAP NetWeaver support package stack).
Figure 1 Scenario Variants Included in the Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis Scenario

A Refresher on IT Scenarios

In a previous "SAP NetWeaver Unleashed" column, we discussed the new IT scenarios and practices fully supported by SAP NetWeaver as of the 2004s release. IT scenarios provide important deliverables, including configuration information in SAP Solution Manager and scenario-based documentation, that your IT team can use to take advantage of the functional capabilities built into the SAP NetWeaver platform.

For more information, see the article "IT Scenarios Provide a Guided, Business-Oriented Approach to Maximizing SAP NetWeaver Use" in the July-September 2005 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com). IT teams can access scenario deliverables at SAP Service Marketplace (http://service.sap.com/netweaver --> IT Scenarios).

Because SAP NetWeaver IT scenarios begin with customers' business needs and provide information about the SAP NetWeaver capabilities that address these issues, they give IT teams a valuable alternative to one-off custom development. IT scenarios offer a structured approach to providing business-aligned capabilities to users across your company, using the SAP NetWeaver technology already at your disposal.

To see how an IT scenario can be implemented in order to help meet end-user requirements, let's look at an example: Don Mayer is a business user whose focus within his company's controlling department is on sales, though he is also part of a team responsible for the entire company's controlling. Don not only needs predefined, at-a-glance information, but also requires capabilities to create his own queries, analyze BI data in depth on the Web and in Microsoft Excel, and provide other users, managers, and controlling department colleagues with the results of his analyses in appropriate formats.

With an eye on the upcoming quarterly close — just three weeks away — Don wants to check sales figures now to address any problems that could negatively impact the quarterly closing. He noticed that sales numbers for France were down in the last two months and wants to closely monitor this trend. The Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis scenario guides Don to the SAP NetWeaver capabilities that enable him to regularly watch these numbers and inform colleagues about any major changes or potential problems.

To illustrate the capabilities of Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis, this article will walk through Don's day-to-day responsibilities. You'll see how this scenario — and all of the SAP NetWeaver tools and functionality that support it (see Figure 2) — enable Don to create, analyze, format, and deploy BI information on his own, without relying on the IT department. You'll also see how other users — information consumers, including C-level and LOB managers — can benefit from SAP NetWeaver's BI capabilities.

Figure 2

Overview of Tools Included in the SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence Suite, the Business Explorer (BEx)

Note!
While this example introduces all of the tools highlighted in the Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis scenario, you need not employ all of them at once to reap the benefits of SAP NetWeaver's BI capabilities.

Easy Query Creation

So how does it all work? To start, Don creates a query (based on an SAP BI InfoProvider) that contains the current sales and revenue data for all European countries from his company's mySAP CRM system. To create this query, he uses the BEx Query Designer, a desktop tool that allows him to define — simply using drag-and-drop — the required key figures and characteristics he needs to analyze. After selecting the information from the InfoProvider, Don saves his query.

For casual business users, the BEx Query Designer provides help and correction options — via the context menu or message panel — for all objects used in a query definition. This functionality enables Don to create his query by himself, without contacting the IT department.

For business experts, the Query Designer provides a large number of analytical functions, including calculations and restriction options for key figures and characteristics, options to create exceptions or conditions, and the ability to define structures of key figures and characteristic values that can be reused in other queries. BEx queries can be executed directly on the Web or in Microsoft Excel. But they also can be used to create reports that business experts and information consumers can view in the portal (as an iView) or for ad hoc analyses (on the Web or in Excel).

Streamlined BI Information Distribution

Now that Don has prepared the query, he wants to deploy it to his Personal Documents folder in SAP NetWeaver Portal (see  "Why SAP NetWeaver Portal for Access to BI Information?" sidebar below). To do this, he starts the BEx Broadcaster directly from the BEx Query Designer.

The BEx Broadcaster is a tool that allows end users to distribute predefined BI information via different channels (through online links or as an HTML, Excel, or PDF document) to different targets (Knowledge Management folders in the portal, email inbox, printer, etc.), customized for the recipient. Users can schedule their distribution cycle: regular distribution, event-driven distribution, or distribution based on alerts defined in the BEx Broadcaster. And to guide the way for information consumers and casual users, the tool offers a broadcasting wizard for even easier distribution (see Figure 3).2

Figure 3

BEx Broadcaster Wizard Enables Simple Information Distribution

In the BEx Broadcaster, Don creates a broadcasting setting that immediately sends the query to his Personal Documents folder. He also schedules an HTML version of the query to run every time new data is uploaded to the InfoProvider from the source system (which happens twice per week) to ensure that he always has current information. Finally, Don opens his Personal Documents folder and subscribes to the query document. Now he will be informed via email every time a current version of the query is available.

Why SAP NetWeaver Portal for Access to BI Information?

SAP NetWeaver Portal provides employees with personalized access to the systems and information they need to do their jobs. From the portal, users can access folders provided by SAP Knowledge Management (KM), where they can store and access documents in a personalized way — for example, a controller could access only documents relevant to the sales regions he is responsible for. KM also provides, among other functions, a subscription function that notifies users whenever a particular document is updated.

To learn more about the capabilities and advantages of SAP NetWeaver Portal, refer to the IT scenario Running an Enterprise Portal. KM capabilities are part of the IT scenarios Enterprise Knowledge Management and Enabling User Collaboration. Information about all of these scenarios is available at SAP Service Marketplace (http://service.sap.com/netweaver --> IT Scenarios).

Simple, Web-Based Ad Hoc Analysis

Now that he's set up to receive current European sales figures, Don gets a message in his email inbox notifying him that a new report is available. Don opens the document in his Personal Documents folder to check up on the status of the French sales figures. Unfortunately the numbers are still underperforming, so Don decides to analyze the data in detail. He starts a query online in the BEx Web Analyzer using the link available within the document.

The BEx Web Analyzer is a preconfigured pattern that allows business users to perform comprehensive ad hoc analyses of BI data on the Web via drag-and-drop. Thanks to its close integration with SAP NetWeaver Portal, the Web Analyzer can also analyze non-SAP BI data.

Users can choose to view the data as a table, graphic, or a combination of table and chart, and can easily adapt the display to their liking (see Figure 4). Users can also filter analysis results in an intuitive, friendly manner. Web Analyzer wizards are available to guide business users as they create exceptions and conditions as well.

Figure 4

BEx Web Analyzer Results Formatted as a Table

click here for a larger version of this image

After navigating through the data, Don discovers that sales in Northern France have decreased yet again. To highlight this result, he quickly starts the exception wizard and creates a trend exception so that a downward-pointing arrow appears alongside Northern France's decreasing numbers. Don now starts the BEx Broadcaster wizard — using a button within the Web Analyzer — and sends the analysis results as a PDF file via email to the responsible sales manager, asking him for an update on the situation.

Comprehensive Information via Web Applications

While waiting for a response from the sales manager, Don now needs to start preparations for the quarterly closing report and inform his controlling department colleagues of the overall sales situation. He goes to a sales controlling cockpit, which he accesses through a portal iView. This cockpit presents data from different BI queries, presented in various formats such as tables, which can be navigated via drag-and-drop, charts, and maps. The cockpit can also combine plan and actual data, so Don can immediately view the effects of planning data alongside the current numbers (see Figure 5).3

Figure 5

A Web-Based Planning Application Built with the BEx Web Application Designer

click here for a larger version of this image

Power users can build this cockpit using the BEx Web Application Designer, a desktop tool that enables users to create Web applications quickly and easily. The BI data can be presented in various Web items (including those tables, charts, or maps) that can be grouped using tab pages and container items. These presentation components can be enhanced with navigation panes, a filter menu, drop-down boxes, buttons, and other components that help users find the information they need in a customized way — available at a glance for information consumers, or with options for further analysis for business users and analysts.

With the BEx Web Application Designer, Web applications can be created without entering a single line of code, providing predefined Web items that can be customized very easily. At the same time, Web designers can also use the tool to design sophisticated cockpits, complete with an editor mode and auto-complete functionality.

Effective Microsoft Excel-Based Analyses

Now Don wants to further discuss the results of his analysis with the controlling team. Because Don and his colleagues are very familiar with Excel, he wants to download the results of a query available in his cockpit to Excel and share the Excel document.

To do this, Don simply clicks a button and the query opens in the BEx Analyzer, a Microsoft Excel add-in. This tool combines the analytical functions of SAP NetWeaver BI with options to build applications in Excel and use Excel's formatting and calculation functions. Don then creates a BEx Analyzer workbook containing the data he wants to discuss with his team (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

BEx Analyzer Workbook — Income Statement

After enhancing his workbook with some Excel formulas, Don starts the BEx Broadcaster again and sends the workbook to a KM folder in the portal that can be accessed by all members of the controlling team.

Formatted Reports Optimized for Presentation and Printing

A few days later, Don receives a response from the sales manager responsible for Northern France. This manager has analyzed the figures using a sales cockpit that combines BI data with information from the CRM system (see Figure 7). He has learned that some opportunities in the pipeline were not finalized, so he has started pursuing these opportunities in order to raise the numbers for his area. Don, now expecting increasing numbers from Northern France, returns to preparing the quarterly closing report.

Figure 7

Sales Cockpit, Created with BEx Web Application Designer, Containing Both BI and Transactional Data

The quarterly report needs to be presented in the portal, and membersof the board have requested a printed version of it in advance of an upcoming board meeting. Don then uses the BEx Report Designer to design a formatted report that is optimized for presentation and printing.

The BEx Report Designer is a desktop tool used to design formatted reports that contain different font styles and colors; present group-level changes, hierarchy nodes, and hierarchy leaves with individual formatting; and combine various layout options (for example, multiline column headers, flexible positioning of fields, etc.). Users can set rules to present special characteristic values and integrate text, charts, pictures, and logos into the report. Report headers and footers can also be formatted separately.

After Don finishes designing his report, he converts it into a PDF file and prints it for the board meeting (see Figure 8). Once the board members sign off on the report, Don can again use the BEx Broadcaster to deploy it to the portal through a KM folder that can be accessed by all employees.

Figure 8

Formatted Report — Income Statement

Conclusion

So there you have it. Don has successfully prepared his quarterly closing statement. He can further investigate any problems on the Web and in Microsoft Excel using a broad range of analytical options. He can distribute his findings through reports customized for various users with the integrated set of BEx tools. And thanks to close integration with SAP NetWeaver Portal and Information Broadcasting, he can easily collaborate with his colleagues to solve problems and make strategic decisions.

Perhaps even more important, though, is that Don has accomplished all of these daily tasks without the help of the IT department. This is the real beauty of this IT scenario: Once IT has consulted the scenario documentation and configured these BEx tools, business users can go about their daily tasks without getting bogged down by the technology working behind the scenes.

Through Don's example, you can see how the Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis IT scenario uses the capabilities of SAP NetWeaver to leverage important business information for all users within your company. For more information about the IT scenario, please visit http://service.sap.com/netweaver --> IT Scenarios g Enterprise Reporting, Query, and Analysis.


1 For more information on managing heterogeneous data sources, as well as modeling and running an enterprise data warehouse with SAP NetWeaver, please refer to the IT scenario Enterprise Data Warehousing at http://service.sap.com/netweaver --> IT Scenarios --> Enterprise Data Warehousing.

2 For background information on the BEx Broadcaster wizard and SAP NetWeaver's support for Information Broadcasting, see Claudia Weller's SAP NetWeaver Unleashed column, "Choose Where, When, and How You View Business Data with Information Broadcasting from SAP NetWeaver" in the July-September 2004 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com). Please note that the information in this article is based on SAP NetWeaver 2004, not the 2004s release.

3 For more information on the planning capabilities available with SAP NetWeaver, consult the Business Planning and Analytical Services IT scenario at http://service.sap.com/netweaver --> IT Scenarios --> Business Planning and Analytical Services.


Barbara Neumann is a product manager for SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence and is based in Walldorf, Germany. She joined the SAP NetWeaver Product Management team in 2001, and her focus is on analysis and reporting with the Business Explorer.

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