No matter what version of SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence (WebI) you use, you rely on its analytical capabilities to make decisions. But each iteration — from 3.x to 4.0 to 4.1 to the upcoming 4.2 release — includes very different functionality and processes, which may result in confusion among the user base as they upgrade or migrate.
Alan Mayer of Solid Ground Technologies recently answered questions on all things WebI. Whether you are preparing for an upgrade to 4.1 or are investigating what’s on the horizon with 4.2, you can learn what to expect and how changing technology will affect your reporting and analytics capabilities. In this live online chat, Mayer answered questions such as:
- Why doesn’t my new version of WebI do what I’m used to?
- What are the main features of 4.2 specifically for WebI?
- What are the calculation engine changes in WebI, and how can I tell what documents they have affected?
- What can you tell us about linked universes in 4.2?
- Will the WebI Applet have the ability to query HANA calculation views without the use of a universe?
You can view the chat replay and edited transcript below.
Scott Priest, SAPinsider: Hello! Welcome to our Live Q&A on changes in SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.x. Please feel free to post your questions at any time for our panelist, Alan Mayer, Founder of Solid Ground Technologies. Alan will be online to answer your questions live in our one-hour chat on October 29! Thank you for joining and we look forward to a great chat.
Alan Mayer, Founder, Solid Ground Technologies: Hello everyone. Thanks for attending the event. I’ll start reviewing the questions and answering them shortly.
Comment from TH: We have many large WebI reports migrating from XI 3.1 to our current BI 4.1 environment. Our BO users are mainly WebI Rich Client users and prefer using the WRC tool in 4.1 for report writing. Our shop is still on 32-bit PC with 3.5GB usable RAM. In 3.1, our users did not experience any problem editing these large WebI reports. However, ever since we migrated to 4.1, we received a lot of complaints from users about the usability of the WRC tool in 4.1 when editing these large WebI reports. There are a lot of peculiar errors that popped up or frozen screen when they attempted to perform simple tasks such as opening, editing, and formatting large reports. To get around these issues, they often have to purge all data in the report, close out all other applications and/or reboot the PC, then launch just the WRC tool to do the job. We have tried to increase the Java heap space as much as we can but it only
helped to some extent. I am curious if other customers are having the same experience? Is WRC in 4.1 now such a thick client that requires much more RAM to handle the workload? The SAP Product Matrix didn’t emphasize on the increase of the minimum requirement for client PC configuration.
Alan Mayer: Hi TH, I think the main problem here is that WebI Rich Client is a 32-bit program and can only address up to 2GB of memory per document (really more like 1.7GB in real life). There is a way in 3.1 and 4.1 that you can measure the amount of memory being used by Rich Client — turning on a debug mode as it were. I’ll have to look up that shortcut for you and you can confirm the amount of memory being used in each version. One thing you might want to try is creating/editing your WebI docs using Rich Client, then refreshing them in three-year mode using BI 4.1 Enterprise. This will allow you to use the 64-bit nature of that Enterprise server and memory
should not be an issue. To use three-tier mode, you’ll have to adjust your WebI Preferences to Desktop.
Alan Mayer: Hi TH, The Debug window for WebI Rich Client can tell you the memory consumption for any open document. To use it, press and move your mouse to the lower-left-hand corner of Rich Client. There is a lot of information this interface gives that I don’t know, but this has been handy while trying to measure memory requirements between versions.
Comment from Manohar: What are the major changes we can expect in WebI when compared to the previous release?
Alan Mayer: Hi Manohar, There are many improvements in the 4.2 version of the product. The most exciting that I’ve seen are related to query execution. Up to now, all queries are processed in sequence, one after the other. With 4.2, we’ll have the ability to process all SQL statements from a document in parallel. Think of a document that has 20 queries where each query takes a minute to refresh. In 4.2, rather than taking 20 minutes to process, it might take 1-2 minutes. There would be a little time added for organizing the parallel runs in the beginning and coordinating the refresh results at the end.
Alan Mayer: Other changes include:
- Commentary added to reports
- Shared report elements
- Creating geo maps
- Cascading input controls
The shared report element innovation alone could start changing the way companies build reports. Rather than build from scratch, you could start with an established library of predefined elements (tables, cross tabs, etc.) and the queries associated with them. First real way that allows use to reuse WebI content.
Comment from Srini Vasan: Hi, Does 4.2 WebI content render in HTML5? And is the plan to support the Google Chrome browser will commence again from this version (i.e., 4.2)?
Alan Mayer: Hi Srini, We’re about to start the 4.2 Ramp-Up program at the client that I’m at, so I can’t give you a definitive answer on these questions. In two weeks, we’ll have more information
(especially after reviewing the 4.2 PAM).
Comment from Manohar: Will there be any Alerts in WebI that can be subscribed like we had in Crystal Reports for Enterprise?
Alan Mayer: Hi Manohar, That would be an awesome addition to the WebI product line. I have not seen this feature listed in any literature or presentations that I’ve seen. I’m assuming you’re talking
about the content-level alerts that warn you if a value reaches a certain level in Crystal Reports.
Comment from Guest: How is the calculation engine changing and how can you identify reports that might be impacted?
Alan Mayer: The calculation engine has been changing for years as WebI has matured as a product. I remember changes as far back as Version 3 of the product (1998?). The presentation I am giving for SAPinsider’s Reporting & Analytics 2015 INTERACTIVE event this November will cover most of the changes from XI R2 through current day. Most of these changes are bug-related. I’ve been told by Product Management that calculation engine changes should not
be an issue going forward, so that is good news.
As far as identifying the reports that have been impacted, the simplest way is to use several inexpensive comparison tools (diffEngineX for Excel, diffPDF for PDF). The idea here is that you would schedule WebI reports in both systems at
the same time for those formats. The Excel comparator would catch the data-level changes and the PDF comparator would isolate the formatting level changes.
Comment from Guest: We’re just moving to BO 4.1 SP4. What further changes are being planned for 4.2?
Alan Mayer: There are many new features being included in BI 4.2. I’ve just answered a question that was more WebI-related but if you’d like to explore the current roadmap on your own, they are available on the SAP Service Marketplace site. I’ll try to find the URL for you in a minute.
Comment from Francois: What is the future of the BEx with the new version of WebI?
Alan Mayer: One new 4.2 feature is the ability to auto-generate the semantic layer (universe) from a BEx query. Objects and folders can be renamed, and unneeded metadata/objects can be removed/hidden. The BICS connector would be used as the communication mechanism.
Comment from OK, I’ll start: Will the features unique to the Java client (e.g., changing the data source) be available in the HTML client?
Alan Mayer: That’s a great question. SAP has publicly stated that they are moving to a fully operational HTML client. Right now (as you know), there are features in one editor that are not in the other. Since there is still a fair degree of catch-up, I think this feature parity will take place with future 4.2 service packs.
One disclaimer from my experience: We’re still waiting for DeskI-to-WebI parity, and that effort has taken an extremely long time to get this far. I’m not sure that 100% parity would happen but that is only my opinion.
Also, parity catch-up sometimes brings with it unintended consequences. For those of you using Structure mode to edit your reports, you may have noticed that some of the more complex ones take longer to edit, even in the Java applet. That is because certain operations are now being processed by the respective server-based components (WebI Processing Server, Adaptive Processing Server) rather than the Java applet itself. In this case, the push to HTML client actually slows down Structure mode processing.
Alan Mayer: Just checked for you — the following catch-up features should now be included in 4.2:
- Changing data source (your original question)
- More data providers (including BEx queries)
- Number formatting
- Conditional formatting (alterers)
Comment from Mickey Grackin: Hello. We are aware geomapping and visualizations are features in 4.2. What cost is there, if any, to use these features in 4.2? Is there any geomapping data included in 4.2?
Alan Mayer: Hi Mickey, We’re about to find out in the Ramp-Up, which should begin mid-November. I believe there has to be geomap data in order for this to work, but not sure on the grain — how detailed. I’ve read that you can map to cities that have 100k population or more, but have not been able to put this to the test.
Comment from JP: Contexts seem to be handled differently in 4.1 than in 3.1. We have several reports that rely on a migrated universe (unv). These reports fail when scheduled. When viewed on demand, they go to an endless cycle of selecting contexts. We have had to open the reports, reset the context, choose the correct context, then schedule the report. This solution is not always successful. Are others experiencing similar problems? What is the correct solution?
Alan Mayer: Yes, we’ve had the same problem with several of our customers. You’re not imagining things. The one solution that you’ve mentioned for scheduling (selecting a context prior to scheduling) has worked for us so far. Make sure that you or your users are not resetting contexts for each refresh — that will bypass your context choice.
Comment from Nagasatya: We are doing a greenfield implementation of SAP on HANA. Since there are many tools available for reporting, would WebI reports be relevant with the updates coming to Design Studio on the 4.X platform for
Alan Mayer: I would definitely consider WebI for the following reasons, at least for pure reporting:
- WebI can use the universe semantic layer for ease of querying
- In addition, 4.2 offers the following modes for interfacing with HANA:
- HANA Direct Access: Use WebI against the HANA models directly (no universe required, but you still have a query panel to fashion the query)
- HANA Online: Query HANA models directly without a query panel. Calculations take place on HANA rather than on WebI when possible
Think of how the tools fit against your needs. Design Studio is meant more for application building (portal-based)/dashboarding. It would not be the best choice for more than simple reports. But it would be a great complement to
an SAP-based system that offers visualizations and reporting via WebI or Crystal.
Comment from SD: Hi Alan, Do you know the timing for GA of BOBJ 4.2? Also, what are the main features of 4.2 especially for WebI? Thanks.
Alan Mayer: Hi SD, As far as timeframe, the ultimate general release date still has not been decided. SAP is about to take 4.2 into a Ramp-Up phase, which will allow selected customers to use the software against their systems with the goal of bringing those systems to Production in 4.2. If there are problems during Ramp-Up, that would push out the final release date. With that said, I think that you’ll see 4.2 by Q2 2016 latest (my own opinion — no crystal balls on my side).
As far as main features, I’ve covered several questions already where I’ve listed some of the biggest innovations. There’s still a few left, so I’ll list them below:
- Big number support (up to 40 digit numbers)
- Visualization extensions (think about coming up with your own chart/graph components using the SDK)
Comment from Guo: Is parallel query execution automatic or do we have the option to choose?
Alan Mayer: Hi Guo, It’s set by default, but that’s just from what I’ve read. There hopefully will be a way to change the default — one of things we’ll be testing in a few weeks. Parallel SQL is awesome for BO users, but can cause a few sleepless nights for your DBAs. Those companies that throttle the number of queries per user may have to rethink their original strategy.
Comment from What can you tell: What performance impacts do you foresee when including the advanced mapping and geolocation intelligence engines in WebI reports? Will there be a major change in Lumira’s geomapping capability due to this?
Alan Mayer: Great question. From what I’ve seen comparing the roadmaps, several of the WebI improvements for charting are also listed on Lumira’s roadmap. At what level of parity, I’m not certain.
Comment from What can you tell: What can you tell us about linked universes in 4.2?
Alan Mayer: This one I know more than a little about. I participated in the ASUG semantic influence council that helped bring this feature back. The reincarnation should be much better than the original, with many of the old drawbacks/gotchas erased. There are a few restrictions that I would still like to see included, like links that persist through multiple levels. This would allow us to treat semantic universe development like software design that has a development lineage. One of the exciting features here is the ability to treat links from the data foundation layer as well as the business layer. Hopefully this made it into the 4.2 release from the mockups that we saw on the council.
Comment from David Hudgins: One of the features I’m looking forward to is WebI new parallel query processing. I heard it’s on by default, however how many parallel processes can be going at one time?
Alan Mayer: Yes, parallel queries will be a game changer. We will be testing that feature heavily during Ramp-Up and will have more information in a few weeks. Not sure today how many queries can be parallelized. Hopefully this is a parameter that we can set.
Comment from David Hudgins: Will the WebI Applet have the ability to query HANA calculation views without the use of a universe?
Alan Mayer: Hi David, I think you’re referring to the two HANA-based modes of interfacing with WebI (HANA Direct Access using a query panel, HANA Online viewing the models directly and skipping the query panel). Though not stated, I would think you would have the ability to use the Java applet to access HANA in these ways. The push is to HTML report editing, but I think that full feature parity is still a ways off.
Comment from JP: Can WebI chart data on 2 different y-axes with 2 different scales?
Alan Mayer: Hi JP, Could be wrong, but can’t you do that today in many of the current versions?
Comment from David Hudgins: How does the WebI Recycle Bin work? Does it retain recycled/deleted revisions? If I modify a file and save it, then delete it, modify the original file again, and realize it was done correctly the first
time, can I grab the trashed version after I deleted the current version?
Alan Mayer: Hi David, Haven’t tested that feature myself. We are talking to the Platform Product Manager tonight on several other issues and I can bring that up.
Comment from Mickey Grackin: We are aware that geomapping and visualizations are features in 4.2. What cost is there, if any, to use these features in 4.2? We are a WebI-only shop.
Alan Mayer: Hi Mickey, Very similar to one of your past questions. Hopefully we’ll have more insight in a few weeks during our Ramp-Up trial.
Comment from JP: Can date filters be displayed as dates without a timestamp (ex: YYYY-MM-DD)?
Alan Mayer:Hi JP, I think you’re referring to native datetime objects. Here are two possible approaches:
- I think in the next Information Design Tool version, you can create date objects without the time. Just tried to find the supporting information behind that assumption and can’t find it at the moment.
- You can create a character-based object that removes the time. You’ll be comparing strings but in your format should still sort correctly.
Comment from SK Mohanty: Can we run WebI reports on ECC systems without going through BW?
Alan Mayer: Hi SK, I’m going to attempt at answering this one, though my information may be dated. Years ago, prior to BW, we did exactly that. No problems other than the fact that we had to handle all manipulations and calculations ourselves.
Scott Priest: That’s all the time we have for today’s Q&A. Thanks to Alan Mayer of Solid Ground Technologies for joining us. You can hear more from Alan at SAPinsider’s Reporting
& Analytics 2015 INTERACTIVE event in Las Vegas, November 17-19.