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Q&A

 

What’s changing with SAP BusinessObjects BI Tools in 4.1?

Dr. Berg's BI 4.1 Upgrade Series

by Dr. Berg

November 07, 2013

We recently hosted a special Q&A video session with Dr. Bjarne Berg, who was joined by the ComeritLabs team to answer reader questions about BOBJ tools after 4.1 upgrades.

Berg and his colleagues Rob Frye, Brandon Harwood, Brandon Lucaciu, Nick Le, Michael Barker and Michael Vavlitis took questions posted by our readers, and shared advice based on their own 4.1 upgrade experience. Watch the video replay (below) for answers from Dr. Berg and the ComeritLabs or read the edited transcript here.

Dr. Berg:  This is Dr. Berg here and I’m sitting at Comerit Labs with six of the developers who has worked on the BusinessObjects 4.0 and 4.1 in the last about two months or so. Today we’re going to take questions and answers regarding the BI 4.1 and give you the opportunity to ask questions.

I should mention that the people sitting around me here are BOBJ developer professionals and most of them are certified SAP instructors delivering SAP training classes. So this is what they do for a living. So we’re ready to take some questions!

Q. Would one be able to perform sub queries using WebI in 4.1?

Yes, sub queries and WebI are not explicitly supported in the 4.1 or the 4.0 release. I believe that the subquery functionality really does depend, in total in the BOBJ toolset, on what your data source is, whether it's coming from a relational or an OLAP connection.

And doing this sub querying on an OLAP connection causes some serious issues, as you have dimensions trying to sub query other dimensions. It’s just not something that is generally supported in the Web Intelligence Query Designer itself.  

Q. One of the features missing from BO 4.0 Dashboards is the ability to save reports in PDF format. Is there any support for this in BI 4.1? What’s the SAP view on this feature?

Now this could actually be answered in a yes or no. Yes, currently our Dashboards does have PDF to export feature, but the problem is that it embeds a Flash into the PDF. Now if you're looking for an answer if it would give you a static image into PDF, then currently that is not a feature part of 4.1 and as of right now I do not believe it is also in the SAP scope.

 

Q. A lot of customers are concerned with the ease of use and usability factors. Does BOBJ 4.1 address those concerns? I.e., WebI has a lot of features, but often the feature set is not so obvious.

 

Web Intelligence 4.1 does include new features that will make it a little easier for end users to get a hold of. Most specifically, they have the ability for administrators to dictate what interface the end user visually sees on the client tool itself, so the interface for building a report can be custom-tailored to your report-writing demographics with someone the more technical or non-useful components hidden or not displayed to them. And you can have a very custom tailored or simplified interface for building Web Intelligence reports

 

[Berg adds:] And those are really good ideas for people deploying a BI self-service, because there are different skill sets between maybe a power user, an authoring role, and an IT person. As you go through that, you might seriously want to consider what features you put into the development interface for those people.

Q. What are the points that need to be taken care of for the upgrade from BusinessObjects 4.0 to 4.1?

We can speak to that. We have a sandbox environment here locally that we recently upgraded from 4.0 environment to 4.1. Is it best to adhere to SAP’s best practices in backing  up your CMS database and your BI applications database as well, to ensure that if something doesn't go right you have a safe backup to restore from, because uninstalling the BI 4.1 platform does not automatically restore your 4.0 database.

[Berg adds:] So when you run a backup there’s something to come back to once you’ve done it.  So far, however, but the upgrade back to to the 4.1 is actually a fairly smooth one. There wasn’t a lot of issues around it.  I know from the 4.0 to 4.1 has been a couple of years now since the 4.0 release came out and it looks like SAP spent the time to basically develop an upgrade path that is very smooth and straight forward.

So we recommend that most of our customers who are planning a go-live now for December or January to go to the 4.1 platform. We didn't have much of an issue there.

 

Q. I use BusinessObjects for recording and BI design. My parent company uses SAP BW for reporting. What new features in 4.1 can I use to convince them it is efficient and viable to connect to the BusinessObjects Suite with a BW data source?

[Berg:] Well, this is a very open ended question.

I think going forward now there’s no doubt that combined with the Design Studio, this is by far the preferred method of using your BI tools. Get away from the BEx tools, the BEx Workbooks, the BEx web templates, the Web Application Designer templates, and really move into this landscape.

I think, with the features that you see in WebI, that allows you basically to tailor that to individual environments. Also, even in 4.0, you do have the ability to render it to HTML5. I know all the functionalities -- about 37 objects -- is not that comprehensive. But the ability to go to Dashboards and use that in HTML5 -- I think most people today do not question the idea of whether or not you should be using the BI tool suite instead of the BEx tool suite.

Also, to your specific questions on connecting back to BW, the preferred method of doing this both in the HANA world and the non-HANA world, is that you build the queries, the BEx queries. You pick them up in BICS connectors, the BI connection services, and that’s basically how you render them out.

That avoids some of the MDX overheads. But that has been available for quite a long time, including in 4.0.

 

Q. We have ECC 6.0 with EHP6. We want to have dashboards and some operational reports in BOBJ. What is the best possible way to connect ERP to BOBJ without having to use a data warehousing layer like BW?

 

[Berg:] Let’s just stop there. In ECC 6, you basically have, in service pack 5, BEx query designer  inside the ERP system. So technically you can build BEx queries in the ERP system.

You have to be very careful when you do this, because you’re putting a very high burden on the ERP system.

So we tell our clients  that  if you have a financial close, and during the close you have reversal entries and adjustments and depreciations, and you need to see the data right there and then – in that case, yes, you can build BEx queries in the ERP system and then expose it to the front end. You can also build queries to web servers and collect it on the front end. There are some issues around hierarchies and in that case, if you have very large hierarchies and multinodes. But, the capability is there.

The main thing is it comes back to is performance. If you roll out a bunch of queries that are sitting on top of ERP to hundreds of users, they can bring the ERP system to its knees. 

There are some companies - I know, for instance, there was a presentation at SAP TechEd - where our friends over at Pacific Drilling chose to have their ERP system running on HANA and therefore chose not to build a data warehousing solution.

They’re just querying all operational reporting - dashboards and WebI and everything else - straight out of ERP. They can get away with it because ERP runs HANA. So yes, in a limited scope, you could do it, but I would not recommend it as a default. The default answer should be a data warehouse.

Q. Can universes in BO 4.1 connect multiple databases, retrieve any data and have any relationships between tables and different databases?

 

The new 4.1 universe can connect to multiple databases via the multi-source universe and I know that BusinessObjects 4.1 is also supposed to have increased compatibility with merging tables for our relational connections between tables from different data sources in the multi-source Universe.

So, yes, it should be able to do that just fine.

 

Q. Is Design Studio going to replace BusinessObjects BI front end as a tool of choice?

[Berg:] Let me just start out with that one. I wouldn't use the term "tool of choice." It’s an IT-driven tool. It can build really complex and really awesome dashboards. It is a fantastic environment to work with and it is definitely replacing the Web Application Designer inside the SAP landscape in the long term. That doesn’t mean it disappears immediately overnight -  the Web Application Designer is still supported. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it replaces them all -- Analysis, WebI, Crystal, and all the other ones. That’s a far stretch. These are different tools for different purposes.  

[Berg to team:] Do you want to add anything?

Well, it's believed that Design Studio will replace Dashboards. In the SAP statement of direction it clearly states they have no intention of discontinuing Dashboards in the foreseeable future. But Design Studio is the tool when it comes to mobile. It's somewhat limited when it comes to features, but this version, 1.2, which comes out later this month, will really be a big step in the right direction for Design Studio.

 

[Berg:] So I think it's if you’re already using a lot of web templates today and working in the BEx, in the Web Application Designer, this is a tool that you have to put on your radar screen. It is really awesome for the mobile piece, but also for the Dashboard side. These are industrial strength dashboards, IT driven, like externalizing data Many more controls than you have in Xcelsius. But as you said, it does not replace Dashboards. Dashboards will still be out there.

 

Q. We are working with a BI 4.0 on top of a HANA study. We see that HANA is able to work with hierarchies defined on the R/3 system. However, BI 4.0 is not able to read these. Will this be possible in 4.1?

[Berg]: Well, it depends (laughs). A consulting answer.

If you’re using a BW system on SAP HANA, of course hierarchies are natively supported. It’s not a big deal. You can have alternate hierarchies or basically whatever you want.

If you’re going to build the hierarchies yourself -- like in a sidecar, where you basically model your own tables, you build your analytical attributes and calculation views, and then you access those views into your BI toolsets -- then, of course you are no longer relying on tools like BW. And as a result, you’re going to have to model those hierarchies yourself.

You have to come up with your own modeling techniques around this and how you want to handle it. But you are going to have to build it yourself.

However, if you are running this one right now in the BW world, then it’s not an issue. So it depends a little bit on the source that you’re accessing. But if you choose not to buy BW and build it yourself, you’re going to have to build it yourself.

I think personally that BW has a good future here to help you do those things – restrictive calculated key figures, authorization relevant objects.  BW does a little bit more than just storing the data for you.

 

Q. Does custom formatting within objects get any better in 4.1? Having to redo the custom format for each object is so frustrating.

I’m going to assume that on this question that we’re talking about WebI, most likely. And yes, in 4.1 that situation does improve quite a bit, with custom color palettes and custom color assignments for each dimension you have within your Web Intelligence report.

So you can apply a color palette definition to several different charts at one time. So you don’t have to go through and completely recreate your color template every single time that you change an object or add a new object to your report.

 

Q. Are there any major problems if we decide to upgrade BusinessObjects 4.0 to 4.1? Are there any considerations that must be taken care of to avoid disruptions or major problems?

There’s some best practices that SAP has put out as far as backing up your CMS database and backing up BI platform applications to a database before  performing an upgrade. We did have an issue with this as well. Upon our initial 4.1 installation, we had a running system for a while where we  had installed some new client tools. This is why we stress backing up your CMS and other application data because we had some issue go wrong and the CMS database was corrupted, and we had nothing to roll back to.

So we had the pleasure of installing it as a standalone upgrade as well, and we can confirm that the standalone installation of 4.1 installs pretty seamlessly as advertised,  vs  4.0.  And we can also confirm that the standalone, from scratch, installation of 4.1 does install much, much quicker than the previous 4.0 installation.

I think our total runtime from scratch to back up and running was an hour or an hour and 15 minutes.

[Berg adds]: So, I think you also want to do this in your sandbox. Run it in the sandbox. Get your runbook. Once you got your runbook in sandbox then I would do your go / no-go decisions.  Do it in DEV, then QA, then PROD, so by the time you hit the production system you have done it three times.

So far it’s been a very smooth one, except for that one issue we ran into with a corrupted database, where we really would have liked to have something to restore back to. So that’s a big lessons learned.

Q. What is the recommendation for migrating Deski reports from 3.1 to 4.1?

[Berg]  I’m not aware of a direct upgrade path from this client server. Deski is a client server tool not a web-based tool. Except for your sources and connections on the universe side, I’m unaware of a way for you to actually migrate the actual reports from the Deski client server versions automatically into the web versions. 

There is a compatibility pack that comes with 4.1 that allows Deski content to be put onto 4.1 and to be managed by the platform.

[Berg] So that’s more of the content -- not necessarily so much on the layouts and the controls. So expect a little bit of manual changes and manual work there, but there is the compatibility pack that should help you.

Q. Any differences between using BEx 7 queries verses universes for SAP BW data and BO reports in dashboard? Anything to look out for in either solution?

[Berg] The key message here is if we assume you have a BW 7 system – 7.3, 7.4 – then go through the BEx queries and use those BEx queries and then publish them with BEx Connectors into the front end. That is the vanilla answer.

There are some use case scenarios where you might go off the reservation but that should be your default answer on everything. Your BEx queries run pretty much the same way, the same speed, they run in the BW environment.

And query stripping, of course, has been around there for quite a while now -- I think it’s 3.2 --  and in that one you actually have query strippers that can build larger BW queries and then basically, automatically peel off the fields that are not used in the WebI report.

But avoiding the MDX interface, the OLAP universes, for performance reasons, we strongly recommend that to our customers. That has been the case since 4.0 as well.

Q. What are the key changes with 4.1 for WebI?

Some of the more standout features would be the ability to freeze the column headers -  that’s a very useful thing as well. And as Dr. Berg put it, the standardization of the color templates so branding is congruent across your BI self-service platform.

There have also been some other upgrades as far as the restful SDK web services that are available to WebI as well, which can be very helpful for developers looking to take advantage of the restful services.

Q. While leveraging BW via BICS connection, there is still the overhead of launching WEBI JAVA client. It really slows things downs for our users. Any ideas?

Leveraging the BW BICS connection, the WebI Java client slows down mainly because of Java. And most of the time that we’ve found issues with performance and the WebI Java client, it is usually Java related.

I know it’s very dependent on what version of Java you have.

Specifically for BICS connection, I don’t know of any specific enhancements with 4.1 concerning the BICS connection and loading anything into the WebI Java client.

Q. Currently when new data is pushed to BW, refreshing BOBJ reports does not reflect within the new rollout. For example, we are submitting some forecast averages for real-time BW. Unless we close and re-open the WebI, we are unable to view the new views that we have submitted via BPC.

[Berg] It’s very important to understand  the WebI’s protocol in a managed query environment like in Oracle Discoverer, or the old Oracle prompter. So what happens is you’re selecting the things on the front end, it generates a sub SQL statement, it fires up against the database and make it trip to the BW system, the BW app database and then into the BOBJ server.

Now, there’s no way for the BOBJ servers to know that the data has changed and needs to go another trip, and you really don’t want to have that overload. You’re in the middle of analyzing something and because the data warehouse loaded the data, all of the sudden everything changes in front of you - so it has to make a trip back to the database to get the new data to refresh it.

So, of course, it’s not really a bug, it’s just the way the environment works when you’re refreshing. It’s not an interactive dialog back and forth constantly on the app server. It is basically a managed query environment, and MQE system, so that’s just simply how these types of a tool works.

The same is true for all the other tools as well. So, yes, you do have to do a refresh back to the database.

Q. We have BusinessObjects 3.0 and building BusinessObjects 4.1. Is there a way we can install BO 3.0 and BO 4.0 BusinessObjects client tools on the same machine? Currently, we have installed both versions on the same laptop and this is not working for me.

We’ve run into this issue as well, more specifically with the 4.0 and 4.1 client tools. And while it may be physically possible to install both of these on the same laptop, they are competing for the same role basically as your client tools and we have not had any luck in installing an older version of client tools with a new version of client tools.

And if you try to use the newer client tools version, as we’ve experienced, on older environments -  say you try to use the 4.1 client tools with a 3.1 system or vice versa -  you run the risk of corrupting things.

For example: trying to use IDT in 4.1 and publishing that to 4.0 can potentially cause some issues just because of the client tool version difference. The universes that are output behave, I’d say, unpredictably.

[Berg adds]  Yeah, I think the only time we’ve actually seen this working in reality is with dual boot computers. Where you basically set up your system and you have almost two separate boot routines So you boot it up under one and then maybe you could even have a different operating system, if you have  Linux versus Microsoft.

But, no, you have to have a dual boot system, and we haven’t been very successful in running two separate client tools.

Q. We had WebIs and 3.1 and when we migrated to 4.0 the performance shot down. When we approached SAP they came up with: There was a complex calculation on the dashboard, and 4.0 calculation engine is still slow when compared to 3.1. How is the 4.1 version?

In the calculation engine for 4.1, they’ve actually worked to optimize that process so it actually, they’re projecting it’s going to retrieve data on the queries anywhere from 20% to 50% faster than the 4.0 version.

As far as the actual performance of that goes, we haven’t benchmarked those increases, but it is a big focus area for them in the transition from 4.0 to 4.1 .

[Berg adds:] Kind of anecdotally, we’ve seen it run faster, so that’s kind of one thing. But sitting down and clocking it one by one, maybe that’s something we should do. Maybe we should go ahead and run it in a 4.0 environment because we have many environments here, 4.0 and 4.1, and I think that’s a very good, a very good question. But anecdotally, yes, we are seeing very good performance increases and SAP is also advertising these at 20% to 50% faster.

Q. There is overhead running on WebI live since the Java client has to load for the first time. Any ideas on how to speed up the initial access? We are leveraging our BW security, which is a big plus.

[Berg adds:] I guess the question is “If I use a basic connector to load the Java, is there any way to pre-load Java almost so the overhead, when I fire it off, is kind of sitting there already? It’s already done?”

Yeah, we covered this in a similar question earlier: The Java client is heavily dependent on the Java version, and as long as your client and server side Java versions are on the same exact versions, that the best performance and reliability we’ve found through Java.

So as far as pre-loading anything with Java to speed initial load, I don’t know that there is any way that we can pre-load, pre-cache any of the Java application components.

[Berg:] And SAP has done a very good job at putting together the PAM, the product availability matrix, where they will show you what versions you’re supposed to be for everyone of the … even down to databases. We’ve got a couple questions in here about Internet Explorer and so forth and if you open up the product availability matrix, the PAM, on the SAP Marketplace, they get very, very detailed - even with versions and subversions - that should help you address those questions.

Q. What are the mobility options with BOBJ tools in 4.1. Anything new here?

Well, both Analysis tools, Excel and OLAP, provide direct export to Design Studio, which is meant to be mobile. And there are also new components and new connections within Dashboards that allow you to export to mobile.

[Berg adds:] From the Dashboards side, not much. You have the 37 objects that are available in 4.0, and Dashboards has the HTML5 components. But  there are other changes as well in the mobile piece.

Q. Upgrading from 4.0 to 4.1 question: Is it a service pack install or is it a whole new config and deployment?

It can be done either way currently. There is an upgrade path from 4.0 directly to 4.1 via an update, so you don’t have to wipe everything and start all over again.

You can also choose, say, in a sandbox environment where you’re starting from scratch, you can start from bare bones, nothing installed installation and go from there. So, it is  possible to do it either way.

Q. What are the pitfalls to be avoided during the installation of 4.1? Is it recommended to install on top of 4.0 install? What about client tools install?

As we noted earlier, we had a little bit of an issue when we installed an upgrade from 4.0 to 4.1, which resulted in us losing our CMS database. And that could be from a number of reasons but that could potentially be one of the pitfalls, as we are using a mixed environment right now with 4.0 and 4.1 servers. So, as far as pitfalls go, that would be one to look for and verify that you back up absolutely everything that’s critical and definitely start doing this in the sandbox environment first so you’re not going to wipe anything out.

So far with the clean installation, we’ve had no issues with that. It’s been very straightforward with the clean installation. No issues so far.

As far as client tools go, as we talked, we have uninstalled previous versions of the client tools and gone with a dedicated 4.1 client toolset on our 4.1 machines. By doing that we’ve avoided having any of the inconsistencies that we’ve experienced earlier when we were mix-and -matching our versions with client tools.

 

Q. There is overhead running on WebI live since the Java client has to load for the first time. Any ideas on how to speed up the initial access? We are leveraging our BW security, which is a big plus.

[Berg adds:] I guess the question he’s asking is “if I use a basic connector to load the Java, is there any way to pre-load Java almost so the overhead, when I fire it off, is kind of sitting there already? It’s already done?”

Yeah, that’s kind of what we covered a little bit to a similar question earlier: The Java client is heavily dependent on the Java version, and as long as your client and server side Java versions are on the same exact versions, that the best performance and reliability we’ve found through Java.

So as far as pre-loading anything with Java to speed initial load, I don’t know that there is any way that we can pre-load, pre-cache any of the Java application components.

[Berg] And SAP has done a very good job at putting together the PAM, the product availability matrix, where they will show you what versions you’re supposed to be running… even down to databases. If you open up the product availability matrix, the PAM, on the SAP Marketplace, they get very, very detailed - even with versions and subversions - that should help you address those questions.

Q. What are the mobility options with BOBJ tools in 4.1? Anything new here?

Well, both Analysis tools, Excel and OLAP, provide direct export to Design Studio, which is meant to be mobile. And there are also new components and new connections within Dashboards that allow you to export to mobile.

[Berg adds:] From the Dashboards side, not much. You have the 37 objects that are available in 4.0, and Dashboards has the HTML5 components. But  there are other changes as well in the mobile piece.

Q. Upgrading from 4.0 to 4.1 question: Is it a service pack install or is it a whole new config and deployment?

It can be done either way currently. There is an upgrade path from 4.0 directly to 4.1 via an update, so you don’t have to wipe everything and start all over again.

You can also choose, say, in a sandbox environment where you’re starting from scratch. You can start from bare bones, nothing installed, and go from there. So, it is possible to do it either way.

Q. What are the pitfalls to be avoided during the installation of 4.1? Is it recommended to install on top of 4.0? What about client tools install?

As we noted earlier, we had a little bit of an issue when we installed an upgrade from 4.0 to 4.1, which resulted in us losing our CMS database. And that could be from a number of reasons but that could potentially be one of the pitfalls, as we are using a mixed environment right now with 4.0 and 4.1 servers. So, as far as pitfalls go, that would be one to look for and verify that you back up absolutely everything that’s critical and definitely start doing this in the sandbox environment first so you’re not going to wipe anything out.

So far with the clean installation, we’ve had no issues with that. It’s been very straightforward with the clean installation. No issues so far.

As far as client tools go, as we talked, we have uninstalled previous versions of the client tools and gone with a dedicated 4.1 client toolset on our 4.1 machines. By doing that we’ve avoided having any of the inconsistencies that we’ve experienced earlier when we were mix-and -matching our versions with client tools.

Q. Our organization is talking about making Java 1.7 and IE9 as standard. Are these supported in 4.1?

Yes, Java 1.7 and Internet Explorer 9 are supported in 4.1, as they were in 4.0

[Berg] I know there’s a lot of compatibility questions and people want to upgrade. They are covered in the PAM as well. It’s a very good question. There are a lot of people moving in that direction.

Q. Do you have to upgrade your backend to 4.1 to see the new chart types in the mobile BI app, like combo charts?

We have run 4.1 Dashboards in particular and we’ve run that 4.1 dashboards off of an older 4.0 backend. Rhe functionality that was introduced in 4.1 dashboards is still active, it’s still included in the features, even though we’re using the 4.0 backend.

As far as the other mobile BI apps:as long as everyone in the mobile frontend and the tool that’s being used is in the same 4.1 version and compatible, there shouldn’t be any issue with a 4.0 backend for standalone tools like Dashboard like we spoke about earlier, since that is probably the only tool you’ll be able to update to 4.1 without upgrading all the rest of the applications to 4.1.

Berg: What about timing of our upgrade? Should we upgrade to 4.0 or wait for 4.1?
Many people had questions about timing here. As you know we’ve been on 4.0 release now for over two years and the 4.1 release basically has a lot of small fixes, there’s a few more things we talked about, the CMC, the wizards that are there for configuration management which is really cool.

There’s a lot more small, minor updates and user fixes. of course SAP Jam is a brand new tool and overall, internally, I think we are recommending to our clients that 4.0 is something we really want to go live with and something that we want to tell our clients that if you have a go live date in January, February, or March you should absolutely go ahead and do it.

If you have a go live date, let’s say, at the end of this month or early December you probably want to hang back on the 4.0 tools because of the test and re-test on the upgrade side.

The only issues I don’t think SAP has resolved yet, is that Analysis does not run in  the BI workspace of BOBJ and there is no doubt there that SAP is working on this.

So specifically, if you’re running your Analysis  and you’re trying to build it in the BI workspace inside the BI 4.1 platform,  that does not work. If you build something like that in the 4.0 and bring it forward it won’t work. And that’s more of a user thing, I know a lot of people are using that functionality.

But beyond that, I don’t think we’ve seen any show stoppers here. This has been very stable and extremely well executed, it’s actually one of the easiest upgrades, straightforward upgrades we’ve had.

For a mobile initiative. if are going to go live with something, even towards the end of December, but definitely if you’re into the January, February, and March timeframe, you have to put this on the radar screen. Unless you have some very simple basic stuff, I would hesitate to go live with 4.0 on the mobile platform when you know that 4.1 is out there. As we keep saying, it’s a very stable platform and not a lot of issues there.

Berg: Thanks for joining us today. To meet these  people in person, we are going to be at the Reporting and Analytics conference, doing a full, 3- day workshop on Analysis, WebI, and Dashboards down in Florida. These are hundred percent hands-on workshops. You can come in and spend a day with us: one day on Analysis, one day on WebI, and one day on Dashboards and get up to speed.

So I appreciate your time everyone - we’ll stay in touch.

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