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Create Analytic Apps Without Programming

by Patrick Dixon

August 11, 2009

SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 7 adds analytic capabilities to the initial release of the product. With the new GUI in this version, Flex from Macromedia improves the performance and presentation of SAP NetWeaver BI reports.
 

SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 7 adds analytic display and performance enhancement to the initial release of the product. Once the realm of only seasoned programmers, analytic applications can now be developed by the decision-maker who needs the data.

SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 7, which is provisionally scheduled for mid 2006, has various improvements. For example, it allows iView tabs to be defined. You define iView tabs using the SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer workbench. Previously, you could only define iViews during role creation, not at a lower granular level.

SAP NetWeaver VIsual Composer workbench

Release 7 adds an intuitive user interface (UI) that integrates SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI) with Macromedia Flex. The tabs built in the workbench screen are rendered in the portal iView; they provide a quick intuitive method of building iView menus.

The portal iView

This UI improves both the presentation and performance of the reports. The data flows between the reports and their layouts are all controlled using release 7’s UI. The final result is in the Sales and Opportunity Analytics screen. You can also use Flex to improve both the presentation and performance of SAP NetWeaver BI reports. Notice the clear, concise representation of SAP NetWeaver BI data. What you can’t see is the flicker-free transmission of the data; when you click on a drill-down value, the iView refreshes immediately with no flicker.

Sales and Opportunity Analytics final result
SAP NetWeaver BI report

Release 7 also resolves several shortcomings of the initial release:

  • Data resources such as BAPIs and reports can now be linked, allowing data to flow from one data source to another.

  • Presentation elements are now supported. Drop-downs, like the days of the week in the user-alert screen, allow a user to select a value without typing. Alerts inform a user when something happens; for example, you might set an alert to notify a particular person that a budget has exceeded a specified amount.

  • The initial release has the standard Web behavior with the screen being refreshed when the data changes. With release 7 and clever caching, Flex eliminates the flicker on the refresh, improving performance.
A user alert

SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer is aimed at two discrete development areas: the Web-enablement of R/3 content through integration with function modules, and the presentation of analytics in a high-performance environment through integration with Flex. My article on the initial release (“Create Web Applications — No Programming Required!” SAP NetWeaver Magazine, Winter 2006) looked at the integration of R/3 content. Release 7 extends these capabilities by adding alerts and drop-downs, and allows integration between R/3 and the analytics content.

Producing a Portal iView

With SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 7, analytics from SAP NetWeaver BI or any other data source that you can connect to using a Java Database Connectivity (JDBC)/Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) connection) can be integrated into an executive dashboard to give rapid presentation of critical data.

To produce a portal iView with release 7, you need to perform the following three steps:

1. Connect to the data source
SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer enables integration with data sources using the SAP NetWeaver BI Kit, which comes with release 7. This tool gives application developers access to the analytical content of both SAP NetWeaver BI and external data services through SAP NetWeaver BI JDBC, SAP NetWeaver BI Query, SAP NetWeaver BI ODBC, SAP NetWeaver BI Extensible Markup Language for Analytics (XMLA), SAP NetWeaver BI Web services connectors, and native SAP NetWeaver BI Web applications.

The Customer Interaction screen shows the connection to the data sources, which are set up in the portal. The portal URL is in the top right of the screen and the data sources are in the drop-down below it.

Customer Interaction screen

2. Design the interface
SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer provides a WYSIWYG environment that allows rapid creation and modification of the interface design using drag and drop. Content from different sources can be linked together and the final design tested using Preview mode. The design is stored in XML so that the presentation layer can be generated independent of the UI technology. If the final design is to be generated in Flex, then a number of Flex interface controls, such as tickers and alerts are available to the user. Prior to deploying the final design, Preview mode is available to test the design.

Preview mode
Flex interface controls

3. Generate the iView
SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 7 enables you to generate interfaces for:

  • Flash (which represents Flex; Flex is the product, which is compiled using the Flash compiler)

  • SAP’s adoption of HTML for business applications, Dynamic HTML (DHTML)

  • SAP Web Dynpro UI technology
Flash (Flex) at work

Since the UI design model is independent, it is likely that the supported interfaces will increase in the future. For example, a corporation may prefer other tools, such as Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax) or Laszlo Systems’ OpenLaszlo, to Flash.

The initial release of SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer provided a good starting point for organizations wanting to use the program prior to release 7. The interfaces are similar but the initial release doesn’t provide the functionality that the new one does. However, the initial release should not be used for production systems. Be aware that code for release 7 is not backward-compatible with the initial release.

SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 7 is aimed at two primary groups of users:

  • The ABAP or SAP NetWeaver BI developer who has few or no Web skills

  • The techno-functional business user who does not have a deep knowledge of Web programming

Both sets of users can use release 7 to quickly create professional-looking and functioning iViews with no Web skills. With the introduction of Flex, release 7 can also be used to improve both the performance and presentation of SAP NetWeaver BI reports and Web-enabled SAP function modules.

Should your developers be using SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer 6.0 or SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio, which produces Web Dynpros?

I am continually asked, “Should I use SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer or NetWeaver Developer Studio (NWDS), which creates Web Dynpros, for development?” The answer isn’t easy because both tools have their advantages and disadvantages.

  • NWDS is the more flexible of the two tools as it allows manual coding; however, SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer removes the potential for coding errors by generating the code from the graphical UI.

  • SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer can be locally installed on a laptop or desktop PC, and can also be installed for central users on a remote server. NWDS can only be installed locally.

  • SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer needs Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS), Microsoft SQL Server on the computer that hosts the SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer application, and both Microsoft XML Parser 4.0 and Adobe Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 3.0 Viewer on the workstation accessing SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer. NWDS needs only the Java 1.4 (or higher) Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to be installed.

I usually recommend NWDS to clients who have good in-house Java skills and SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer to techno-functional business users and developers without good Java or Web skills.

In the future SAP intends the code from NWDS to be compatible with the code generated by SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer. This will lead to the interesting situation that code development in NWDS can be reverse-engineered by SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer to allow business developers to make quick modifications.

 

Patrick Dixon is a manager with Deloitte specializing in SAP NetWeaver Portal and SAP interface design and implementation. He has more than five years of experience Web-enabling and integrating SAP systems with SAP NetWeaver Portal, SAP Internet Transaction Server (ITS), SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI), and SAP NetWeaver. Dixon has been a key speaker on portal implementation and content integration at the SAP BW and Portals 2005 Conference and other portal events.

 

 

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