Live from SAPinsider Studio: Alan Mayer on Web Intelligence 4.2

December 17, 2015


Alan Mayer, President of Solid Ground Technologies, joined SAPinsider Studio during the 2015 Reporting & Analytics event in Las Vegas to discuss new functionality in SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.2.

This is an edited transcript of the discussion:

Ken Murphy, SAPinsider: Hi, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and I am here at the SAPinsider Reporting & Analytics 2015 event. Here with me is Alan Mayer, the founder and president of Solid Ground Technologies. Alan, thanks for joining us.

Alan Mayer, Solid Ground Technologies: Thanks for having me.

Ken: Can you start out by telling our viewers a little bit about Solid Ground Technologies, and what is it you do?

Alan: Solid Ground Technologies is an SAP BusinessObjects consulting, training, and re-sell practice. It’s actually my second company; my first company was Integra Solutions. So when you combine Integra Solutions with Solid Ground, I’ve been in this for over 22 years. So not an expert on everything, but definitely been around the block, like 50 times.

Ken: You’re a speaker here at the event with a few sessions on Web Intelligence. There’s a lot of confusion today about functionality and processes available in different versions of BusinessObjects Web Intelligence. I was hoping you could take us through the main new features available in the 4.2 release?

Alan: So the really new, sexy, exciting stuff that’s truly innovative? I’ve got you covered. We’ve waited for a long time, over so many years, a lot of the features for not only WebI but a lot of the products focused on integration with existing SAP technologies which I guess makes sense when SAP buys BusinessObjects. But true innovation – and I’ll qualify this by saying innovation that works – we’ve waited for a long, long time. Now with the 4.2 release, we see some really exciting additions to that. So probably the No. 1 for our company and our clients is the ability to do parallel queries. Let me explain a little bit what’s that about. What this gives us the ability to do; in Web Intelligence if you have a document that’s say 20 queries and maybe it lasts during a refresh for 20 minutes, but each of those 20 queries if say the longest one lasts for a minute, in the past we’ve had to sequentially fire query 1, query 2, query 3 and all the way through to query 20. Now, we’re going to have the capability of firing all 20 queries all at the same time. So you can imagine a run-time of 20 minutes being shrunk down to a minute, two minutes. It’s earth shattering from a reporting perspective. And now it even begs the question of even though we’re not supposed to think of Web Intelligence as a dashboarding-like tool, we can start to get into dashboard-like speeds for some of these reports where we couldn’t (before) because of the sequential addition of time. Now, it’s a game-changer. It’s huge.

Ken: Does that speak to or align with the shared report innovation?

Alan: And that’s probably my No. 2, is the ability to have shared report components. You think of it, over the years people have developed gazillions if that’s a word WebI reports, and they haven’t really been able to beg, borrow, and steal from the stuff they’ve already created. So now we’re going to have the capability – and again this is just the start – to take components of those reports, say the blocks of the queries associated with the blocks that you’ve created and you can consume those in other reports. The world is trending to green technologies, reuse, recycle whenever we can – now we’re going to be able to do that with the intellectual capital that we’ve already created through past WebI reports. And so that is a big game-changer from the standpoint that it can change the way people develop reports. Because I don’t have to start from scratch anymore. I have a library of components that I can use and reuse. Now again, this is just the start with the advent of 4.2. Hopefully where I’d like to see this go is a lot deeper, even to the point of being able to re-share formulas and variables. And so every time we talk about that with SAP’s higher powers to be it sounds like it’s going in that direction but you can never guarantee it. That would really be exciting. At that point it would be as close to Nirvana as we’re going to get for the next little while.

Ken: That does seem like some pretty significant innovations.

Alan: And that’s just two of many.

Ken: Now what about changes to the calculation engine in the new or upcoming new release and how that might affect reports, or which reports that might affect?

Alan: This is one of those dark evil topics. Star Wars is coming out in December so you’re going to get reacquainted with the dark side of the force. Calculation engine changes have been considered the dark side for a long time. And they’ve been occurring forever and ever. Twenty years ago we had calculation engine changes. First let me kind of define that, what it is. Then I’ll talk about bringing it forward and what’s happening. Calculation engine changes are brought about because either bugs or challenges within the software that the developers realize they have to fix, or they could be brought about by enhancement requests and a well-heeled customer wanting the software to do a particular thing so they’ll throw in an enhancement request which will change the way that Web Intelligence calculates. The simplest example I can give when we talk about calculation engine changes – and by the way I’m giving a presentation on this later today –  is that you develop a report and let’s say you’ve got one calculation. One plus one equals two. And everybody pretty much expects that’s going to be the answer, right? Well what happens if you upgrade and all of a sudden one plus one equals three? Do you think you might be shocked or scared? So defining what a calculation engine change is, and the basis for how it happens – it’s either through trying to remedy a bug, or a challenge, or brought about by an enhancement request. In fact, probably 75% of these that I’ve seen are all bug-related. But what they try to do as they go from version to version they try to tighten the rules a bit as far as what WebI can do so it’s more predictable as you upgrade. So all the way up through 4.1 we had this list of challenges that were addressed – again 75% and mostly bug fixes – but if customers didn’t test after they upgraded they’d never catch them. And we can talk about that in a little bit, but from 4.1 beyond and we’re talking about ramping up on 4.2 now, the development team has promised that there is no more calculation engine change. I’m one of those that sit in the back seat and say “I’ll wait and see.” Just because it’s happened so many times in the past and plus because so much of it has been bug-related. I absolutely believe they’ve got a much tighter governance on what’s happening now with the engine, but to say it’s completely 100% gone?

Ken: That’s not just a concern for people moving to 4.2? This is for people on 4.1 as well?

Alan: Or about to move to 4.1, you bet. If you haven’t migrated to 4.1, absolutely. If you weren’t here at the session, download it and become an SAP subscriber, whatever you have to do. Learn what you can about calculation engine changes and test for the effects of these before you actually cut live with 4.1. If you’re already at 4.1 and you haven’t done your due diligence in testing, go back to square one again, because my guess is that you’ve got reports out there that are no longer being calculated correctly. And I’ll give you some stats. The last big installation that we migrated, we had over 700,000 objects and out of those maybe 400,000 were WebI documents. Of that, we had problems with a confirmed 10%. And you might think 10% isn’t a big deal, 90% is good. But what if one of those 10% reports is going off to the CEO or CFO? All it takes is one.

Ken: Lastly, Alan, is changing or updates to linked universes functionality?

Alan: With the advent of 4.2, like I said there was some really innovative thought put into that particular release and linked universe is one. It’s actually a feature, a functionality we had way back. So back in version 3.0 of BusinessObjects and it just carried forward with 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0 and then we lost the capability for awhile and now they’re bringing it back. Linked universes was always a two-edged sword. The idea behind linked universes, much like we talked about WebI shared components, is if I have a universe, a semantic layer, why not borrow what I’ve already created and use it to build something else? Now maybe that something else is just a wrapper around the original universe, maybe it’s a portion and not the whole thing. There are many ways you can take it. Linked universes in the past gave us that capability so you didn’t have to bring your entire design team to fore, you didn’t have to develop the entire universe from scratch. The problem back then though is it didn’t work as good as it could have. There were some problems that caused some companies not to use it. Those problems have been addressed in 4.2, and I was lucky enough to sit on the semantic influence council and I got to see some of this unravel before our very eyes. We talked about all the problems we had in the past. The design team took heed to everything we talked about and at least what I say a year or year-and-a-half ago looked pretty darn good. It allows you to use linked universes like you should have in the past without all the repercussions. There’s one thing – and if anybody from SAP is watching, it’d be a great addition – we still have a limit where you can only link from say a base universe to a new universe, one level. I’d love to be able to see multi-level linking where you could go from universe A to B to C, and the reason for that is that companies now that have made the investment in this universe technology they develop it like software programs, and when you develop a software program you don’t just go from version 1 to 1.1, you have 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, and they kind of need that multi-level link to carry forth. When we discussed it during the semantic influence council it was a complicated concept for everybody to think about, but as far as real-world application, it’s absolutely needed.

Ken: Maybe we’ll have you back next year to find out more about what happened in the interim. Alan, thanks for joining us.

Alan: Thank you very much.

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