What Is the SAP Design Studio SDK and Why Use It? Q&A with Dr. Berg on Streamlining Dashboard Creation with Design Studio

October 23, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our Q&A on the SAP Design Studio SDK. BI Expert author Dr. Berg, along with colleagues Rob Frye and Brandon Lucaciu, took readers' Design Studio questions, including:

  • Can Design Studio replace Webi?
  • I'm having trouble with the audio and video SDKs. What's the right way to use them?
  • When do you use an SDK extension vs. standard objects?
  • How do you ensure compatibility of these custom SDK components across future versions of Design Studio?

Review all the discussion below in the chat replay and in the edited transcript.



Live Blog Q&A with Dr. Bjarne Berg on SAP Design Studio SDK October 23 12:30pm ET



M.S. Hein, BI Expert: Thank you for joining us today for our latest BI Q&A on SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio — and, specifically, the Design Studio SDK. What do you need to know about using the SDK and SDK extensions, what extensions are available, and how can the SDK improve your dashboards and visualizations? This is your chance to get answers to these and many other questions you have about the Design Studio SDK.

Welcome, Dr. Berg, Rob, and Brandon. Always great to have you join us to answer questions.


M.S. Hein: Before we start, I have a quick question. Can you tell us, briefly, what is an SDK and what components can be used?

Dr. Bjarne Berg, Comerit: An SDK is basically a “library” of objects that can be used in a development environment. Currently, nearly any component that can be viewed on a website can be used in Design Studio. This includes, but is not limited to: maps, gauges, slideshows, tickers, and sliders.

The SDK is a development kit that allows developers to create custom components for their applications. This allows applications to be enhanced using a mix of JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and XML. The SDK provides the flexibility needed in many scenarios. When the components that are provided by Design Studio are not able to fulfill a project’s requirements, the SDK can get you there.

M.S. Hein: Thanks so much for that overview — it’s very enlightening. It looks like readers have already posted a number of interesting questions. I’ll let you get to those now without further delay.

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Fire away.... :-)


Comment From Joyce Chan: I have a request to build a dashboard for stockpile material to be published to our mining supervisors in 2 sites. I am keen to build custom components.

Brandon Lucaciu, ComeritLabs: Thanks for the interesting question, Joyce. Using the FLEX SDK with Adobe Flash Builder is the main way of creating components for dashboards. However, any component created will be a Flash component, which is not recommended for Design Studio due to its use of HTML5. Most components that can be created in Flash can be re-created in HTML5. It’s not impossible to use the Flash components, but the application will no longer be usable on mobile devices and setting or changing properties will be near impossible.

Knowing Flash Builder is a great skill to have, but knowing JavaScript and HTML for the SDK will be much more beneficial in using Design Studio. Thanks again for the question!


Comment From Gerhard: Can Design Studio replace Webi?

Rob Frye, ComeritLabs: Good question, Gerhard. Design Studio is a powerful tool, but it is meant to create more visually appealing and complex applications. Many times, Design Studio passes parameters to Webi documents to view a more detailed report of the data. They coexist very well and are two very different tools. Can it replace Webi? It is possible. Will it replace Webi? Simply put, no.


Comment From Allan: Is the development of custom components a good practice, as at each new product version compatibility may be a concern?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Great question, Allan. Compatibility has not been an issue, and it shouldn’t be because the code used to create these components very rarely changes. Since Design Studio uses your IE installation, any updates to IE may cause your components to look different, but making necessary changes to the component by anyone familiar with JavaScript and HTML should be quite simple.


Comment From Edward Garst: Really big fan of DS and the SDK. I’m having trouble with the audio and video SDKs. Could you please discuss the correct way to use these two items? I have been able to get several of the other SDKs to work.

Brandon Lucaciu: We’ve dealt with that same issue. The video and audio tags used for these components are a bit picky. To make things easier, I turned the URL properties to visible in the contribution.xml file for both the audio and video in order to manipulate the URL in Design Studio. The video that you use must be mp4 or ogg and the audio must be mp3 or ogg. I uploaded an audio and video file onto our servers and used the links and they both worked properly. Thanks for joining us!


Comment From Guest: Is there additional documentation regarding the audio and video SDKs?

Brandon Lucaciu: The developer guide gives a small description of the audio and video components. Hope the document helps!


Comment From Guest: What about mapping with Design Studio and SDKs?

Brandon Lucaciu: That’s a great and common question! Recently we developed a mapping extension for a client that is tied to live data and it works very well. The sample extension available from SAP features Google Maps. There are a large number of JavaScript maps out there that can be easily integrated into Design Studio using the SDK. Thanks again for the question!


Comment From Guest: When do you use an SDK extension vs. standard objects?

Rob Frye: The simple answer is, you should consider using an SDK whenever the standard objects don’t have the capabilities you need. For example, as Brandon mentioned previously, we developed a mapping extension for one of our clients using the SDK, because there is no mapping template included in the standard objects.


Comment From Guest: Do we need to use extensions when developing Design Studio applications? Are they required?

Rob Frye: A well-built Design Studio application does not require the use of extensions. However, in order to satisfy any project requirement and really impress the users, extensions are crucial. With the strong JavaScript language and the new HTML5 features, custom components can really enrich any application. Thanks for the question!


Comment From Guest: Will an SDK extension affect/improve performance?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Performance is rarely hindered when it comes to adding these custom components. Usually the browser can complete the code rather quickly. If you have very complex and sophisticated functions, your application can be adversely affected, but we are generally speaking of a few seconds difference.


Comment From Guest: How is live data used with extensions?

Rob Frye: There are four data-bound properties that can be set to connect your extensions with live data. You can retrieve just a single data value using a ResultCell, a full row or column of data using ResultCellList, many different columns and rows using ResultCellSet, or just use the entire data set using ResultSet. Just create the databound property in the contribution.xml file and use a simple property setter, such as in the Google Maps sample extension, to retrieve the data.


Comment From Jeff: Are there any plans to make and publish presentation-worthy template dashboards?

Rob Frye: There are already a number of quality templates available with Design Studio. These templates just need data connected to them, and you have a very nice presentation-worthy dashboard. With 1.4 coming next month, you will be able to use flatfile data, which will make templates even easier to use and demo. Great question, Jeff!


Comment From Guest: What skills are required to develop custom components?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Web programming skills are a must. It is also important to have a strong familiarity with JQuery, HTML, and CSS.


Comment From Sutapa: If SAP logon is used to connect to data sources, how do we publish the application developed in Design Studio? I’m using 1.2 and I don’t see any option to publish in an SAP portal or equivalent.

Rob Frye: In order to publish an application to the BI platform/NetWeaver, you have to have an add-on for that server installed specific to the target environment. You should be able to download that add-on from the SAP Marketplace. Thanks for the great question!


Comment From Sutapa: Currently, I can’t find any dynamic visibility option in Design Studio like we’ve had in Xcelsius. Can this be achieved with this SDK?

Brandon Lucaciu: Dynamic visibility can be achieved using scripting. Any component can be set to invisible, and using IF statements and other scripting, charts can be dynamically viewed based on a number of different categories and data.


Comment From Joyce Chan: Will the Design Studio SDK be able to incorporate the custom component shared in the article “SAP HANA Performance Monitoring Using Design Studio”?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Not 100% sure until we give it a try, but I don’t foresee a major issue in adding objects to the SDK. Brandon and I are actually in the process of writing a lengthy article for BI Expert on SDK integration. That should give you some ideas on how to do that. So, again, I am 90% sure that we could do that, but would have to give it a try first.


Comment From Sutapa: How will the Design Studio SDK help developers to create highly interactive dashboards?

Rob Frye: Because Design Studio uses JavaScript and HTML5, your options for creating highly interactive dashboards are nearly limitless. If you can do it in HTML5 or JavaScript, you can implement it in Design Studio. Thanks for the question!


Comment From Sutapa: Is there any utility from SAP or any partner to convert Xcelsius dashboards to Design Studio applications as much as possible?

Brandon Lucaciu: We’ve had that same question many times. There are Xcelsius dashboard converters out there that use the SDK, but it would be much easier in most cases to re-create the dashboard in Design Studio. This will allow you to make changes to your application at any time and make further development much smoother. Here is a dashboard migrator if you are interested. Thanks again for the question!


Comment From Guest: What are the specs/requirements for running the Design Studio server?

Rob Frye: Design Studio uses IE9 and newer in order to display components. The system that the client tool is installed on must have this browser installed. The add-on for the BI platform can be installed on Windows, Solaris, Linux, and AIX. The installation is less than a GB. The server needs to have the platform installed first so that the service can be installed. Excellent question!


Comment From Chris: Are there any books that you can recommend that help teach us how to create custom components?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: As I mentioned before, we are working on an SDK article for BI Expert that will be published soon. You should be able to get the basic from that. In addition, SAP currently offers 2 Design Studio courses:

  • BOD310 — SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio: This is the primary course that familiarizes students with Design Studio and its capabilities. It is offered frequently, both as an online course and in classroom format. The course duration is 3 days and the price is $1,800.00 per person
  • BOD31S — SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio SDK Development: This course covers basic SDK development using Design Studio. It is an e-learning class, but SAP does not currently have it scheduled for the foreseeable future. They are likely still developing the content or waiting for demand to arise.


Comment From Guest: For someone completely new to Design Studio and beginning to look at it as a possible platform to design reports to be used on the iPad, where would you recommend I start? I have Web Intelligence and BEx experience, but have not played in Explorer, Design Studio, or Lumira at all. Yet.

Rob Frye: When we were first starting out with Design Studio, we took the course offered by SAP. It was an online course, so it was quite convenient, and it was a huge help in accelerating our learning for the tool. As mentioned previously, SAP currently offers 2 Design Studio courses: BOD310 – SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio; and BOD31S – SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio SDK Development. 
The Reporting and Analytics INTERACTIVE conference is also a good resource.


Comment From Jeff: Where can a newbie go to get information and tutorials about the SDK and application creation?

Brandon Lucaciu: My go-to website is the SAP help portal. Here you can find application designer guides and SDK developer guides to give you the basics you need to know to get started with developing your own extensions. An article about creating custom components and using live data will soon be released on SAP Experts from Dr. Berg and myself. Great question!


Comment From Ben: In your opinion, what’s the most in-depth documentation on Design Studio, both for its SDK and how to use/create Design Studio objects?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: The information exists in many location, courses, and websites. But a good place to start is Ingo’s book from last year called “Mastering SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio with SAP NetWeaver BW.” I would also take a look at the developer guide.


Comment From Guest: With the SDK, can I display items from the document store, like variance comments?

Rob Frye: If your comments are stored in a field, you can use scripting to display the text as part of your application. Great question!


Comment From Sutapa: I’m aware of the BI platform add-on, but not of the NetWeaver portal add-on. Would you please give some detail about the NetWeaver portal add-on?

Rob Frye: You can check the SAP help portal for the administrator’s guide. This will have information about the NetWeaver portal add-on. It should be a simple installation, much like the BI platform add-on. Good question!


Comment From Michael: Is there a way to burst/schedule/email Design Studio dashboards with an SDK or otherwise?

Brandon Lucaciu: Design Studio applications cannot be scheduled, however the applications tend to run quite quickly. It’s very rare for the document to take more than 5-10 seconds to load, so scheduling isn’t usually necessary. You can retrieve the open document link for the Design Studio application on the BI platform and email it at any time.


Comment From Ryan: This is a follow up to Michael’s question about bursting/scheduling/emailing Design Studio dashboards. Earlier it was mentioned that Design Studio can drive Webi. Could you create the dashboard in Design Studio and then build a Webi report to utilize the publishing feature?

Rob Frye: We haven’t tried anything like that, but our opinion is that your suggested approach would be problematic. While you can schedule a Webi report to prerun, we doubt if this could be used as a shell to force Design Studio to prepopulate it with data. It’s an intriguing question, but there’s really no interface between the two tools to allow this.


Comment From Guest: How is it possible to test SDK development without having Design Studio available (e.g., a customer does not work with DS)?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Testing SDK development on DS without having access to Design Studio is hard. I would recommend that you contact SAP for a quick quote. I just bought it for ComeritLabs and it was relatively reasonable.


Comment From Ed Garst: The Document Store items are not stored in a table, but in a file on the portal. WAD comes with a web item to display comments. It would be great if there was an SDK for doing the same type of document retrieval.

Rob Frye: JavaScript can open most text-based documents, but whether or not you can pull comments from a file will depend on the format of your comments file. In other words, it should be theoretically possible to read from a file on the portal using JavaScript, but we haven’t had the chance to try it out yet. Good question!


Comment From Allan: Can you provide an overview about Design Studio adoption across the world?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Great question! From what I have seen at conferences and at my own clients, we are seeing fewer and fewer Xcelsius-based dashboard projects and hardly any WAD-based ones. Actually, probably 80% of what we see is now Design Studio. We also get the same feedback when we do training classes: DS is far more intuitive than Xcelsius. So I would say the adoption is around 10-20% (pure guess), but among new projects I would guess 70-80%.


Comment From Sutapa: My experience shows that if I connect to the BI platform for data sources, the application is really slow compared to connecting to SAP. Is there an option to improve this performance?

Rob Frye: Fortunately, there are a couple of great articles — here and here — on how to improve Design Studio performance. Good question!


Comment From Guest: Are there still some SDK elements available to collect comments in a dashboard, built with DS, around planning (BI-IP things, etc.)?

Brandon Lucaciu: Great question! There are input fields available in Design Studio that allow users to put comments into the application. Also, with version 1.3, BI-IP was introduced, so any query that is input ready can take new values and even save them back to the data source. Using integrated planning in Design Studio is quite simple and only requires minor property changes to use the input features.


Comment From Guest: Most of the clients using BI-IP planning like to make a huge amount of comments, maybe with versioning. Do you think that the available input field is enough?

Brandon Lucaciu: Since they like to make a large amount of comments, I would honestly have to say that the input field would not be enough, since it is only a one-line input. With the SDK, you can put a simple textarea HTML tag, which will allow multiple lines of input. With the save features that were introduced in version 1.2 of Design Studio, these textareas will be saved for each user and they can see the comments at any time.


Comment From Lynn: A dashboard can be created either using DS or Webi. What is your guideline to decide which tool to use?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Easy one. :-) The answer is DS. Webi is a managed query environment (MQE) and not really a dashboard tool, even if you can make some basic graphs there as well. On our dashboard projects we almost always use DS and then also have a set of “canned” prerun Webi reports that are linked to the dashboard, so that users can drill down to more details in Webi.


Comment From Guest: When developing dashboards, does it make sense to rebuild “old” WAD templates with DS without changing the previously used “old” queries? Do you have recommendations for this?

Brandon Lucaciu: Interesting question. Since BEx doesn’t change much, we say to go ahead and use the same queries. They should still work quite well. You may have to make minor changes but I don’t see much of a need to re-create your queries.


Comment From Guest: Are SDK custom components compatible with browsers other than IE?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: You can run the application on most browsers, but to develop, you must use IE9 or higher. And newer in order to display components. The system that the client tool is installed on must have this browser installed.


Comment From Todd: Are there capabilities within the SDK toolset to customize or adapt Design Studio to take custom or otherwise unstructured data sources into your developments? Or is the reliance more on setting up web services or other external tools to structure the data for input into Design Studio creations?

Rob Frye: That’s a great question, Todd! The answer is that you’ll need to wait for Design Studio 1.4, which will be released at the end of next month. For a preview of what’s new in version 1.4, see our blog on this topic.


Comment From Guest: Do capabilities exist to incorporate a sense of “state” of the DS dashboard, so a user can send a link or other means and have it open to the same “view” that the sender was seeing?

Rob Frye: You could export the data to an Excel or CSV file, but that will only include the data, not the visualizations. The only other option would be to take a screenshot. We understand that SAP is working on offline report capabilities, but it’s still in the distance and is not planned for any close release date. Thanks for the question.


Comment From Shabir: I am hearing about Lumira. How does it compare with DS?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Lumira is a “data visualization” tool and not really a Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tool. It can create some really cool graphs, but you have to “live” within the available objects and the ability to customize is really not as strong as DS. We just published an in-depth demo of Lumira on YouTube that shows how Lumira works.


Comment From Lynn: I noticed some SDK components have a small fee to use them. Is this true?

Brandon Lucaciu: Yes, it is true that some companies sell extensions, and it makes sense because a lot of work goes into them. However, with access to Design Studio, developing in the SDK is free of charge. So any component that may cost money can be re-created and customized to your company’s requirements. Thanks for the question!


Comment From Guest: What are the pitfalls to avoid when working with SDK components?

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Avoid getting the components too complicated. It can be easy to add too much to the extension and it gets to the point where making any minor changes can become a nightmare. Also it is vital that you follow the SDK developer’s guide. One small error can adversely affect your entire application.


Comment From Guest: Do you know if there was something new shown at d-code with DS 1.4?

Brandon Lucaciu: Actually, before d-code, there was an ASUG session about the new features of DS 1.4. There are a large number of new, interesting features such as using flat file data sources, new components, report-report interface, global scripting functions, and fragment bookmarking. Dr. Berg and I published a blog about the new upcoming features. Thanks for the question!


Comment From Lynn: Is there a plan for SAP to incorporate SDK components to become DS standard objects?

Brandon Lucaciu: That is a great question! We don’t honestly know. I think they leave many components as extensions to allow developers to customize them and make them more useful, instead of forcing you to use what they think you should use. We are actually glad that the components remain extensions instead of standard objects. Thanks again!


Comment From Allan: May a developed SDK extension be incorporated as a standard component in a new version? What is the process?

Rob Frye: When you upgrade to a new version of Design Studio, the content you’ve developed will still be available for use in the new version. You shouldn’t have to modify your extensions for the new version. If you’re asking if an extension you built can be added to the Design Studio standard objects, I don’t know if there’s a pathway in place with SAP to make that happen yet, but once you’ve installed it, it will always be there.


M.S. Hein: Thanks to everyone for some great questions. And an even bigger thank you to Dr. Berg, Rob, and Brandon!  For more BI tips, I invite you to view SAPinsider’s BI Channel and check out the Reporting & Analytics INTERACTIVE conference. And don’t forget to read Dr. Berg’s BI Expert article, “SAP HANA Performance Monitoring Using Design Studio.”

Dr. Bjarne Berg: Thanks, guys and gals....

Rob Frye: Thank you all so much for all your great questions. Have a great day, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @Comerit.

Brandon Lucaciu: We appreciate everyone joining us for this Q&A! We are glad we could help you all. Have a great afternoon!

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