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How to Use BICS to Connect SAP BusinessObjects Client Tools to SAP BW (Part 1)

by Shreekant Shiralkar, Global Head, SAP Analytics CoE, Tata Consultancy and Deepak Sawant, Leader of SAP BW CoE, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and Jyoti Jain, Associate at Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

October 24, 2016

Learn how the Business Intelligence Consumer Services (BICS) connection works internally, and connects Business Explorer (BEx) Queries to SAP BusinessObjects 4.1 client tools.

SAP BusinessObjects and SAP Business Warehouse (BW) technology are evolving at a rapid pace. Enterprise architecture has to keep pace with this evolution and integrate new applications and products to meet changing business needs. The traditional methods for integrating or connecting the two platforms are being replaced by new, more efficient methods. Performance, advanced feature support, and flexibility are the primary objectives of these new connection methods. In this article, we take a deep-dive look at Business Intelligence Consumer Services (BICS)—how it works and how to use it to connect SAP Business Objects reporting tools to SAP BW.

(Note: The detailed, step-by-step instructions that show you the process for setting up connectivity between SAP BusinessObjects client tools (Web Intelligence, Design Studio, and BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office—from here on, simply referred to as Analysis Office) and SAP BW Business Explorer (BEx) Queries, will be covered in the second article of this two-part series.)

First, here’s a brief overview of the SAP BusinessObjects platform and its client tools.

The SAP BusinessObjects Platform

SAP BusinessObjects is an enterprise reporting platform comprised of a suite of tools used across business units. It provides ease and flexibility of usage to business users for accessing data on the go or offline. BusinessObjects give business users self-service options and access to data via various tools. There are various tools under its product portfolio catering to a variety of users’ interests and scenarios. The portfolio is distributed as follows: Reporting, Dashboarding, and Self-Service Analysis. This broad portfolio offers a wide range of options to the users to choose the appropriate tool for different information analysis scenarios.

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence

Web Intelligence (also called Webi or WebI) is an easy-to-use reporting tool with ad-hoc analysis capabilities. It has a web-based user interface (UI) and supports multiple sources of the Semantic Layer, which helps to bring together different sources of information without having to know the underlying database structure or Structured Query Language (SQL).

SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio

The Design Studio tool is used to create reporting applications with intuitive visualizations. It connects directly to SAP data sources, like SAP BW, SAP HANA, and BusinessObjects Universes. It provides a scripting language for building complex scenarios and custom planning applications. Applications built using Design Studio can be rendered on mobile devices along with regular computing devices. It also provides the Software Development Kit (SDK) to create your own analytic components as per your requirements.

SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, Edition for Microsoft Office

Analysis Office is a Microsoft Office add-in tool that allows multidimensional ad-hoc analysis for online analytical processing (OLAP) data sources with great connectivity to SAP BW and SAP HANA. It empowers business users with the ability to use Business Explorer (BEx) Queries and perform analysis in Excel workbooks.

SAP BW 7.4 as the Source System

SAP BW can transform and consolidate business information from virtually any source system. SAP BW InfoProviders such as DataStore objects (DSOs), InfoCubes, MultiProviders, and BEx Queries, can be consumed directly in any BusinessObjects tool. BEx Queries are the primary choice of data consumption from an SAP BW system. User-input variables, data authorizations, key figure calculations, and many other complex reporting needs can be handled in BEx Queries.

Types of Connections Available with SAP BusinessObjects 4.1

SAP BusinessObjects 4.1 offers three different options for connecting to SAP BW:

  1. Relational connection: This connection is used to connect data sources (SAP BW or non-SAP) and build a Universe (UNX) using the Information Design Tool (IDT). This Universe is then consumed by the SAP BusinessObjects reporting tools to create reports. This connection also gives flexibility to combine heterogeneous data sources, such as SAP BW or SAP HANA, and relational database systems like Oracle or MS-SQL-server using the IDT. This connection uses SAP Java Connector (JCo), which enables the creation of new dimensions, measures, or filter objects at the Universe level. When combining multiple data sources, the data federation feature is used, which flattens any hierarchies or multi-dimensional structures created on data sources, thus allowing the combining or merging/federation of data.
  2. OLAP Business Application Programming Interface (BAPI) connection: This was the traditional method for connecting to SAP BW from BusinessObjects version (3.X). It uses MultiDimensional eXpressions (MDX) query language statements to parse the data to SAP BW. As a result, many of the SAP BW metadata elements are not exposed through the OLAP BAPI interface. It is required to create a Universe (UNV) using the Universe Design Tool to access SAP BW data in SAP BusinessObjects tools.
  3.  BICS connection: A BICS connection is explicitly available to connect to SAP BW BEx Queries since the release of BusinessObjects version 4.0. It allows BusinessObjects tools to access BW OLAP functionality. The BICS connection is the primary focus of this article and is discussed in detail in the following sections.
About BICS

A BICS connection is the most suitable option for connecting BusinessObjects client tools to SAP BW. Its uses a direct-client connectivity mechanism, as compared to the traditional approaches of MDX or SQL, both of which have performance issues.

Internally, BICS uses two different ways to connect BusinessObjects client tools:

  1. BICS (transient Universe) connection – A BICS transient Universe connects BusinessObjects client tools to SAP BW data sources, like BEx Queries, via a generated transient Universe. This type of BICS connection is used for connecting SAP BW to Web Intelligence.
  2. BICS (direct) connection – A BusinessObjects client tool connects to SAP BEx Queries directly without any Universe. This type of connectivity is used by Design Studio and Analysis Office.

BICS is an optimized data-access protocol used by SAP systems to communicate within its internal technology platforms. There are two types of BICS—Java BICS and ABAP BICS. The Java-based BusinessObjects platform uses Java BICS, whereas the SAP BW system uses ABAP BICS. The Java side of BICS uses SAP JCo to connect to BW (via a remote-function call [RFC]) and trigger ABAP BICS. ABAP BICS gets the result from the BW query and sends it back to Java BICS, which then presents the result back to the BusinessObjects client tool.

All hierarchical structures and metadata in SAP BW are retained when accessing data through BICS. As SAP BusinessObjects client tools and SAP BW communicate over the same protocol, there is no need for an additional translation layer, thus optimizing overall performance. As the protocol is internal to the SAP system, it is not supported for use by third-party tools.

As shown in Figure 1, the Web Intelligence tool connects to the SAP BW query via the Dimensional Semantic Layer (DSL) Bridge. The DSL Bridge is hosted inside the Adaptive Processing Server (APS) in the SAP BusinessObjects platform. When a BICS connection is established by Web Intelligence, the BEx Query metadata is transmitted from SAP BW to Web Intelligence via a DSL Bridge. This enables users to select required attributes, measures, hierarchies, and so forth, in the report. On execution of the report, based on the fields selected, a transient Universe is generated at run time and, as explained earlier, data movement happens between SAP BW and Web Intelligence.

Figure 1
Web Intelligence connecting to SAP BW using a BICS connection

If a BICS connection is used to connect BusinessObjects Design Studio and Analysis Office (Figure 2), there is no Universe generated at run time. The Design Studio and Analysis Office run time sends the data request to the Analysis Application Service hosted by APS to obtain the current data. The Analysis Application Service launches the Java side of BICS using SAP JCo to connect to BW via a RFC, and triggers the ABAP BICS. The ABAP BICS gets the result from the BW query and sends it back to Java BICS, which then presents the result back to the BusinessObjects client tool.

Figure 2
Design Studio connecting to SAP BW using a BICS connection

The advantages of using a BICS connection are:

  • No effort is required to create a Universe for the SAP BW data source
  • Direct interaction of SAP BusinessObjects tools with SAP BW without an intermediate Semantic Layer.
  • The structure of the SAP BW data source (i.e., BEx Queries or InfoProviders), does not get flattened and therefore OLAP function remains intact.
  • Allows reuse of SAP BW data sources

Some disadvantages of using a BICS connection are:

  • No custom fields (dimensions or measures) can be created
  • Customization of metadata is not available

The prerequisites for setting up a BICS connection:

  • SAP BusinessObjects 4.1 client tools, SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office 2.0, and Design Studio 1.6
  • SAP BusinessObjects platform 4.1 (server side)
  • SAP BW 7.4

In this first part of this series of two articles, we explained the BICS connection and its internal details and prerequisites for connecting SAP BusinessObjects reporting tools, namely Web Intelligence, Design Studio, Microsoft Analysis, to SAP BW. In the second part of this article, we will explain the step-by-step process to connect SAP BusinessObjects reporting tools using the BICS connection.

Be sure to read the second article in this two-part series:

"How to Use BICS to Connect SAP BusinessObjects Client Tools to SAP BW (Part 2)"

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Shreekant Shiralkar

Shreekant W. Shiralkar is a senior management professional with experience on leading and managing business functions as well as technology consulting. He has authored best selling books and published many white papers on technology. He also holds patents for innovations. Presently he is global head of the SAP Analytics Centre of Excellence at Tata Consultancy.

Deepak Sawant

Deepak Sawant is an SAP analytics professional with 16 years of experience designing, developing, and maintaining large and complex BI programs for a variety of Fortune 500 companies. He played a key role in the design, development, and deployment of business analytic solutions in financials, supply chain, product costing, production, and planning functions. Deepak has performed multiple roles in technology consulting, delivery management, pre-sales, and operations management for leading organizations, namely Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., IBM, Reliance Industries, and Wockhardt Group. Currently he is leading the SAP BW Center of Excellence at Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., where he has been instrumental in establishing innovative consulting service offerings.

Jyoti Jain

Jyoti Jain is an associate at Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., with 10 years of experience in IT, primarily serving the banking, manufacturing, life-science, and travel and hospitality industries. She is part of Tata Consultancy Services’ SAP Center of Excellence and is engaged in architecting and designing solutions on the SAP BusinessObjects platform.


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