At ComeritLabs, we have upgraded and been using BI 4.1 for the last eight weeks. In that time, my team of developers and I have had a chance to test some of the new features of WebI. In this blog we are highlighting the most interesting ones and those that you are most likely to benefit from.
New Customizable WebI Application Interface
The new customizable WebI application interface is a really good feature for those who are rolling out BI self-service and want to reduce the complexity of WebI for their PowerUsers and Authors.
BI administrators are now able to use the Central Management Console (CMC) to edit the appearance of WebI for defined user groups. The scope of the customization includes interface elements such as toolbars and toolbar components, as well as access to particular document modes.
Table Columns, Headers, and Rows Can Now Be ‘Frozen’
When a WebI report is viewed in Quick Display mode, it is now possible to freeze the columns, headers, or rows in tables to retain their presence as the data is browsed. This is similar to splitting the display in Excel where you can scroll in the data without losing the display for the headers.
Furthermore, users can freeze multiple zones of a table, depending on the type of table used. The new Freeze button can be found in the main toolbar.
New Custom Color Palettes and Color Assignments in Charts
The appearance of charts in WebI reports can now be personalized by setting colors to dimension objects through the use of customized color palettes. That can be very useful when building standard templates for corporate reporting based on the branding of the organization.
The color assignment can be set on multiple dimension objects for all charts within a document using the Set as Default Colors option. The default colors are not changed when a report is refreshed or when a document is drilled or filtered.
Newly Augmented Integration with SAP Applications
SAP has provided some new cool features in the integration of WebI and the most common sources for SAP users (such as BW, ERP and HANA). There are also improvements to single-sign-on (SSO) back to these platforms. Let me explain:
For SAP BW there are several new tasks that can be executed in SAP BW that enhance performance and reliability. Notably, variable values can be retained in the query panel and in turn be consumed in the HTML viewer; members can be selected in the Hierarchy Node variable based on the relative depth for the BW Hierarchy Node Variable; and members can be selected in the BW Hierarchy Variable based on levels. It is also possible to toggle between the technical nomenclature and the member caption for BW variables.
For ERP, notable modifications to SAP ERP connections include that the SAP ERP driver offers a simplified mapping of the ABAP function parameters as they relate to optional input columns. Optional parameters can be set without a default value in universes, offering a more tailored solution.
For HANA, numerous enhancements have been made to SAP HANA connections including the ability to establish connections to the new SPS 05 release of the SAP HANA 1.0 database and to create OLAP connections to the SAP HANA database.
Users can create connections using the SSL protocol to connect to an SAP HANA database, and connections can also be established to an SAP HANA database on 64-bit UNIX operating systems. It’s also possible to retrieve data from a HANA database by executing stored procedures using JDBC or ODBC. Single sign-on is now also supported through SAML and query stripping, which has been around for a while now, and can improve the speed of query execution even more.
For single sign-on (SSO), users now have the ability to use single sign-on authentication to connect to the following databases: Teradata 13, Teradata 14, and Sybase IQ 15. Either Windows AD with Kerberos or the SAML protocol can now be used with the BI platform to facilitate single sign-on connections to the SAP HANA 1.0 database. That is going to make employees working on security very happy.
It is cool to see that processing speeds between BI 4.0 and 4.1 have improved for several common tasks. For example, in BI 4.1 (with BW 7.30), we found that it is up to 80% faster to create or edit reports on BW/BEx queries than 4.0.
Also, we found that in BI 4.1, it is up to 20% faster to display the BW/BEx variable screen and up to 50% faster to execute queries in comparison to BI 4.0 (this is not BW improvements, but on BOBJ tasks). Please note that these figures are approximate based on what we found in our system.
It seems that SAP’s latest focus on centered on improving the features of the tool by encouraging feedback from clients and acting on that feedback, is really paying off.
In particular, with BI 4.1 SAP has increased their efforts to improve the overall quality of the tool to improve developer support, to simplify reporting for a more personalized experience, to facilitate global deployments, to ease the migration of desktop Intelligence deployments, and to improve integration across other SAP applications.
Another great change is that the developer community has now been granted the ability to include WebI functionality with RESTful Web services API. This allows developers to create, consume, and schedule documents. It also enables developers to create and edit data providers.
Developers will also enjoy a more tailored WebI user experience with the option to customize UI elements and functions, as well as to define settings in the CMC. Also, the existing reporting capabilities have been supplemented with new functions including freezing table headers, editing merged objects, merging objects in hierarchies, creating custom color palettes, and selecting members from the formula editor. All of this makes it much easier to quickly deliver cool reports that look much better than in earlier versions.
Looking toward the future, the planned availability of Desktop Intelligence features in WebI includes custom grouping, exporting to HTML and TXT, scheduling exports to HTML, and the addition of Excel data providers. All these features are expected in late 2013, and in 2014, freehand SQL is also scheduled to be added to WebI. SAP is not sitting still, but is evolving WebI at warp speed (sorry, I am a trekkie). :-)
Frankly, all of the new features bring much-needed enhancements to WebI that should allow SAP to leapfrog competitors like QlikView, Tableau, Oracle, Cognos, Microsoft and MicroStrategy. This is awesome!