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kirby.leong

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2011 has been another stellar year for the Business Analytics/BusinessObjects community. We hit new milestones in terms of contributors and activity, again making the community one of the most vibrant areas on SAP Community Network – and it’s thanks to you and all the other analytics professionals on the community. A lot happens in a year so I’d like to look back at just a few of the highlights.

  

A New Name and Additions

Last spring, we rebranded the BusinessObjects Community to the Business Analytics community to reflect an expanded focus. With this expanded focus, came new areas such as enterprise information management, data warehousing, and the more technical BI client product areas. Instead of having to navigate to different communities, members could now access all their analytics areas from one community. Additionally, we took this opportunity to re-organize and simplify the forums and blogs categories.

  

Webinar Series

Another significant addition to the BA community was the highly successful SAP Business Analytics Webinar Series. In total there were over 35 webinars with thousands of attendees, both offline and online. Topics included SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Jumpstart, Innovations in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0, What is Enterprise Information Management? Overview and What's New in 4.0, SAP BusinessObjects Information Steward, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer featuring Exploration Views - On Premise, On Demand, and On Device, and Data Quality Management for SAP Solutions. If you missed any of the webinars, you can still view the recordings although a simple registration is required.

  

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 Launch

Starting in late 2010 we started working with the community presence for the SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 launch – the biggest release in SAP BusinessObjects history! From featuring some of the latest information and resources, to community elearning content, to social media activities, SCN was one of the key avenues to helping new and existing customers learn about this milestone release. The numbers reveal the interest in this release:  over several months, there were over 250,000 views of launch activity content, alone!

 

SAP BI 4.0 eLearning

Speaking of the BI 4.0 eLearning content… this is absolutely one of the most valuable additions to the community this year. The Official Product Tutorials – SAP BO BI Suite (and a few other areas) cover these products:

When we published them starting in late 2010, the interest in them was and continues to be high. The team behind them has done an excellent job (as evidenced by the ratings and feedback) of creating modular, accessible, and substantive content. For this year, the BI elearning content has generated several hundred thousand views. Like the webinars, if you have not had a chance to view them, I highly encourage you to do so as they are a great learning resource (and they’re free!).

  

Other Highlights

A few other highlights to mention…

 

The "Tops" List

As I mentioned at the start, it’s thanks to the members who support the Business Analytics community that makes these highlights worth mentioning. On this note, I want to call out the top 10 contributors for the BusinessObjects and Crystal Reports/Xcelsius points categories. I wish I could include everyone in the Inclusiveness in Online Communities but please refer to the complete list of top contributors.  Further down, I’ve also included a list of the top 10 analytics-related blogs and community areas for your perusal. Any surprises?

  

Top 10 Contributors (BusinessObjects point category)

  1. Tammy Powlas
  2. Ingo Hilgefort
  3. Tim Ziemba
  4. Adam Stone
  5. Shawn Penner
  6. Json Everly
  7. Felix Port
  8. Denis Konovalov
  9. Rbert Twigg
  10. Efstratios Karaivazoglou

  

Top 10 Contributors (Crystal Reports and Xcelsius point category)

  1. Don Williams
  2. Ludek Uher
  3. Jason Long
  4. Ian Waterman
  5. Brian Dong
  6. Sastry Duvvuri  
  7. Abhilash Kumar
  8. Jamie Wiseman
  9. Saurabh Pathak
  10. Coy Yonce

 

Top 10 Business Analytics Blogs

  1. SAP Integration Update 12 - SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 Solution Architecture
  2. Infocubes and Data Store Objects ... and HANA
  3. Top 10 SAP Business Intelligence Demos
  4. SAP Integration Update 9 - Should you start with SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 or wait for 4.1 ?
  5. Building Dashboards in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0
  6. SAP HANA - Chuck Norris of Enterprise Software?
  7. Crystal Reports .NET 2010 : 3 Tips To Keep You Sane
  8. Following the "Ingo Lights" To See the Road to BI 4.0 SAP Integration
  9. SAP BusinessObjects BI and EIM 4.0 Launch - Save the Date
  10. Vital Outlook of 2011: Speculations for SAP BI Professionals

 

 

Top 10 Business Analytics Areas

  1. Business Analytics home page
  2. SAP Crystal Solutions Support
  3. Business Intelligence on SDN
  4. SAP Crystal Solutions Downloads
  5. SAP Crystal Reports for .NET on SDN
  6. SDK Library                                    
  7. Dashboard Design                      
  8. BusinessObjects eLearning
  9. Xcelsius Sample Dashboards                   
  10. Crystal Reports Samples

 

 

And that’s the year in review. Our gratitude to all those of you who helped contribute to the success of Business Analytics community this year!

Embracing Inclusion - Driving Innovation Event

I attended the “Embracing Inclusion - Driving Innovation Event” at the recent SAP TechED/SAPPHIRE NOW in Madrid. While the theme was about driving innovation, my breakout group discussions focused on creating a more inclusive work environment for “non-high fliers”; that is, those who are more than competent in their roles but who choose not to take on significant additional responsibilities. Some of the key themes we discussed included

 

  • Organizational policies – for example,  matching non-high fliers with the right roles
  • Reward systems – for example, implementing “personalized” rewards that may include a combination of financial bonuses, time off, recognition, and other rewards
  • Balance – for example, allowing for telecommuting and flexible hours


Here’s a picture of my amazing team from that night:

 

Another key highlight was hearing the personal stories a few (brave) audience members shared. One member spoke about her challenges wanting to excel in a technology company but with a strong set of non-technical skills.  Another member shared her story of being actively discouraged by her husband at the time from pursuing a highly technical field of study because “it would be too difficult for a woman” (she did it anyway). Finally, someone shared interesting research indicating that when starting out in the workforce, women tend not to negotiate salaries, which automatically puts them at a compensation disadvantage.

 

Inclusive Online Communities

Heading out of the event just past midnight and still energized after a long day, I started to think about the topic of inclusiveness, as it relates to online communities. One could define inclusiveness as the extent to which an online community incorporates and encourages diversity in viewpoints, beliefs, backgrounds, interests, gender, culture, age, and status to name just a few. Inclusion also means trying to ensure that members are heard and not shouted down or marginalized. On the flip side, there is also self-imposed exclusion. By default, staying on the sidelines but then feeling excluded from the community group. A friend of mine once said, “When you feel like an outsider, you start acting like one. And when you start acting like one, then you are one.”

 

Sometimes online communities can seem like the wild frontier where individuals, feeling emboldened by a degree on anonymity, inflict their own viewpoints on others and in the process shout down differing viewpoints. With an increased ability to broadcast our own opinions, we have correspondingly grown intolerant to hearing differing opinions. What I learned from the event is that you also need to have a strong sense of common mission, guiding principles to facilitate passionate and inclusive dialog, and shared norms that dictate what is and is not acceptable behavior, with corresponding corrective mechanisms. It’s never pleasant or easy to tactfully impose corrective actions given that there are often ambiguous scenarios where you have to balance individual rights of expression and the good of the community.

 

All this pontificating aside, here are some points about creating more inclusive (online) communities:

 

  • Be clear about the mission and guiding principles for the community and ensure that diversity and inclusion are part of the core values the community lives and breathes
  • Actively encourage and value differences in views/opinions
  • Reach out to those who are less vocal but who have something valuable to contribute
  • Know when to stop the dialog and when to redirect the dialog when it’s no longer productive or supportive of the community’s mission and spirit
  • Know when to “exclude” but err on the side of inclusion. As much as possible , “Live and let be”
  • Get to know the strengths of members as much as possible and reach out to them especially if the issue/topic relates to their core strength
  • Lots of trial/error/success – communities are dynamic, changing, evolving – inclusion is something to be managed on-going rather than something that can be solved
  • As a community member, don’t exclude yourself from the topics that (could) matter to you
  • Use simple language for those who do not speak the standard language as a first language
  • Specifically reach out to groups, where needed, to broaden diversity
  • Give leeway to people to express opinions since different cultural, socio-economic, gender, ethnic, and other factors have different norms
  • Be aware of our own level of inclusiveness. We may not realize our own discriminatory patterns we have learned
  • Help keep the spirit of the community in tact by gently and sometimes not so gently enforcing shared norms
  • Everyone has something valuable to contribute but be open to what “valuable” could look like

I recently spoke with Nic Smith, Director of Marketing, to get the latest news about Mobile BI. First, a little about Nic Smith: he’s been with SAP for over a year but his tenure in the BI space extends to the Crystal Decisions and Business Objects days where he spent time doing solution marketing for BI, EPM, and analytic applications.

 

Mobile BI is a “super” hot topic in the marketplace. All of the pure-play BI vendors are battling it out with their own BI on mobile devices. What’s not that well-known is that BusinessObjects has been involved in mobile BI solutions for over 10 years. Today, customers are able to extend Crystal and Web Intelligence reports, and dashboards to Windows Mobile, Symbian, Android, and iOS. The “big value” is that they have access to information on the fly to keep up with the rapid pace of business and information and respond on the spot. Mobile BI brings insight and decision-making and collaboration anytime, anywhere.

 

Mobile Platform

With the acquisition of Sybase, the SAP mobility includes the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) which brings the back-end infrastructure (“the plumbing”) to carry out management and security functions. There are four key aspects to SUP:

 

  • Connecting to information – the ability to communicate with any source, including transactional systems such as ERP and  CRM
  • Development studio – allowing partners and developers  to build applications that integrate with LoB systems for specific use cases
  • Management and security of devices – Sybase Afaria helps IT manage and secure applications and devices. For example, IT can remotely wipe a mobile device if it is lost.
  • Consumption – consuming information from any device

 

In addition to BI, other aspects of the business analytics portfolio such as EIM, EPM and GRC are also available on mobile devices. For instance,  SAP BusinessObjects  Strategy Management  available on iTunes today. SAP will continue to extend additional functionality across the business analytics  portfolio to mobile devices in the months to come.

 

How can you start working with Mobile BI? There are several apps available for download for various devices. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for the iPad and iPhone is a fully supported application and one of top business apps on the market (over  200,000 downloads to date). Explorer allows end users to search and explore data and come up with answers (or even the question!)they might not have known. Customers can also upload their own data to BI OnDemand and then use Explorer to navigate any data, making the possibilities for data exploration endless.

 

With augmented reality, a feature within Explorer,  users can connect to data points on a map using GPS to overlay data points. The Google Maps integration takes the points of interest (for example, national monuments) and overlays their locations on a map and then displays data for each monument. You can also use the built-in camera (iPad2) to view a visual representation of a location  and have data overlaid on the visual  using GPS technology.

 

SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 Release

Mobility is a key part of the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 release, now users can extend   as  Web Intelligence reports to the iPad, via SAP BusinessObjects Mobile.  The deployment model for extending these Webi report in BI 4.0 has also been dramatically enhanced to just simply saving your Webi document to a mobile folder.

 

The Mobile BI roadmap includes exploration views, a feature in the next version of Explorer, availablein the newfeature pack 3 (link to blog details: http://blogs.sap.com/analytics/2011/10/07/sap-businessobjects-bi-release-plan-update/ . Also included in feature pack 3 will be platform integration between Mobile BI and the Sybase Unwired Platform.  Additional documentation for setup and configuration of Mobile BI deployment can be found on the SAP Service Marketplace.

 

Additional Resources and Demos

  

SAP TechED for new (or not so new) attendees can be a little bit overwhelming:  thousands of unfamiliar faces moving in all different directions, hundreds of educational sessions, and many pods/rooms to locate. Since there are just a few weeks to SAP TechED Madrid, how can you quickly jumpstart your conference experience?

 

Building on the success of an impromptu gathering run by Marilyn Pratt at SAP TechED Las Vegas, the SCN team is organizing a New Attendee Meetup at SAP TechED Madrid. Join us at Lounge 6 in the Expert Networking Lounge (Clubhouse) on Tuesday, November 8th from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. for an orientation to the conference. We’ll share some highly practical tips for maximizing your conference experience and you’ll get to meet other new attendees and kick-off your networking. Plus, you’re guaranteed to meet some friendly faces! :-)

 

In the meantime we’ve started a wiki for tips and suggestions. Whether it’s SAP TechED, SAP Inside Track, ASUG User Conference, or other event, let’s share our best advice in this wiki or blog comments to help other attendees make the most of their conference experience.

I had a chance to speak with Pierpaolo Vezzosi, Solution Manager , and Didier Mazoué, Group Product Manager, for the Semantic Layer about the four year journey to the 4.0 release.

Background

First a little background about my interviewees. Pierpaolo Vezzosi started with Business Objects in 2000 as a Technology Alliances Manager. In this capacity, he worked with partners such as IBM and Oracle to understand their technology in order to help Business Objects use it as well as possible, and at the same time, evangelized the Business Objects technology to influence their roadmap. After this role, he joined the Offshore Management Team, setting up a partner development team in Bangalore which led to the eventual purchase of the company by Business Objects. In 2006, he became the product and then solution manager for the Semantic Layer.

Didier Mazoué joined Business Objects in May 2000 as a strategic presales representative. He was hired primarily for his strong OLAP (and data modeling) skills. In January 2005 he became the Senior Program Manager and then in July 2006 he became the Senior Product Manager for the Semantic Layer and worked on BusinessObjects Voyager. Finally, in January 2007 he took on his current role as Group Product Manager for the Semantic Layer.

Didier and Pierpaolo worked in a team of product managers which included Ayhan Ulusoy and Frederic Vanborre during the definition of the BI 4.0 Semantic Layer.

Power to the Business User

For those new to the Semantic Layer (Semantic Layer), it gives greater power to the business user to access, analyze, and share data. Thanks to the Semantic Layer, business users are able to access any kind of data (relational, OLAP, files, web services, etc.) with a unique simple interface that exposes only the business concepts available in the source and hides all technical complexity of the connection method. 

With the release of 4.0, the development team had the opportunity to redesign and re-write the Semantic Layer from the ground up in Java as opposed to C++. The overall goal was to make it more open and accessible outside of the universe. In version 3.x the architecture was strongly coupled with the Web Intelligence client tool but in 4.0, however, it became a service, independent from Web Intelligence, thus freeing it to be accessed and used by a host of business intelligence client tools. On the very first release of this new technology there are already four tools accessing the service:  SAP Crystal Reports Enterprise, SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, and of course, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence.

In BI 4.0, the Semantic Layer universe is authored using the new Information Design Tool (IDT), which has been designed for teamwork development and improved user productivity. Working in a team, the designers and data stewards will share a common ‘BI project’ made of multiple resources describing the data sources and their business information and which is then published to a universe for consumption by the BI client tools.

Challenges along the Way

Any major release has its challenges along the way and the Semantic Layer in 4.0 is no exception. Given that it connects with every SAP BI client, one of the persistent key challenges was (and is) to co-define, prioritize, and develop new features with each of the other client development teams based on a limited set of resources. Different geographies, time zones, countries, and cultures inject complexity into the mix, not to mention different development schedules. Where there was no clear decision, Semantic Layer product management team escalated the issue to senior management to make the decision.

Additionally, before the SAP acquisition of Business Objects, the Semantic Layer did not have strong functionality on top of OLAP sources.  At the time, approximately 80% of customers were using relational and 20% using OLAP (mainly those working in finance, marketing, and sales) which led to relational access as the continued main focus for development. It took some effort and an unexpected opportunity to increase the focus on OLAP.

SAP Opportunities

Fortuitously along the way of planning the 4.0 release, the SAP acquisition of Business Objects happened. While this presented a major change in operations and processes, it also offered significant opportunities. Given that SAP BW is OLAP-based, post acquisition it was much easier to convince the decision makers that the Semantic Layer needed to evolve along these lines. While the planning and development had already started on BI 4.0 a year before, it is likely that there would not have been such a strong Semantic Layer (OLAP) strategy and roadmap as we do today had the acquisition not happened.

There were of course, other opportunities beyond OLAP. Originally there were two ways to connect to BW in a multi-dimensional fashion. One was via an MDX connection to BW using a public API; however it did not perform well, contain sufficient features, and take advantage of customers’ existing investment in BEx queries. The other option was a new technology – direct access - that leverages BEx queries and was faster. Based on customer feedback and internal analysis, the team determined that the best way to support customers was to

  • Leverage their investment in BEx queries and
  • Take advantage of an existing Semantic Layer using direct access.

With the direct access technology, SAP customers now have a high performing, feature rich, and flexible way to access BW, which is one of the most important data sources for our customers. Other opportunities include embedding analytics into Business Suite, embedding industry-leading SAP standards of lifecycle management, monitoring, and auditing, and having the Semantic Layer the primary means for accessing data from HANA.

Looking Ahead

While BI 4.0 is a significant and major release, it is just the beginning of a new roadmap. Like with many projects around re-designing a product from the ground up, there were many ideas considered and many difficult choices to make. One component that did not make it into the 4.0 release is the SDK, which would have enabled OEM partners and others to develop add-ons. Given the choice of ensuring a robust user experience vs. spending time on an SDK, the team had to make the choice to leave it out but it is planned for a near future release. The team is also hard at work on other features and functionality such as even better integration with HANA to ensure that the Semantic Layer is the best access technology to this new SAP technology.  The Semantic Layer also retains its strong agnostic support for any data source and will add Essbase and Oracle EBS in an upcoming release.

Other ideas on tap include making the Semantic Layer more business user friendly – that is, helping them be more self-sufficient in managing the data access instead of having to rely on IT to intervene. Examples include creating, sharing, and re-using parameters, queries, and list of values.

Early Feedback

The early feedback from the over 100 ramp up customers has been positive. In particular, the multi-data source capabilities, performance of business intelligence consumer services (BICS), ability to leverage BEx queries, information design tool (IDT), more flexible architecture of universes, and the ability to test a query in the IDT without having to go back and forth between the IDT and client to do so.

You’ll be able to try out these new features and capabilities when BI 4.0 is released for general availability this year.

The debut of Crystal Server 2011 marks an important shift in the entry-level BI landscape. I recently spoke with Geoff Bazira (Senior Product Manager, SAP BusinessObjects BI Portfolio, focusing on SME and SDK products) and Daniel Haver (Director, Solution Management, SAP Crystal Solutions) about the road leading up to this release.

 

About Crystal Server 2011

But first, let’s look at the end result. Crystal Server 2011 is a unique product in that it’s a subset of the BI 4.0 platform so mid-market customers are getting enterprise-quality software, with the same management and administrative capabilities. The name change from “Crystal Reports Server” to “Crystal Server” was made to indicate that it has evolved from being a report management platform in Crystal Reports Server 2008 to a true entry-level BI platform in Crystal Server 2011. A summary of the key features are as follows:

  • Entry-level BI solution - Access reports, dashboards, and explore corporate data to get the critical information you need, all from a single solution
  • Guided data exploration - Find critical information across all your applications and data sources with simple keyword searches and intuitive exploration capabilities
  • Common semantic layer - Make your corporate data easier for business users to access
  • SAP Crystal Reports for enterprise - Create presentation-quality reports quickly with a new version of SAP Crystal Reports, optimized for accessing data through Universes
  • Data-driven publishing - Deliver personalized reports to a dynamic list of recipients
  • Integration with Microsoft Office and Microsoft SharePoint - Provide users with information inside the applications they work with the most
  • Security and integration - Integrate reports and dashboards into an existing security infrastructure

In comparison to SAP BusinessObjects BI Platform (Enterprise/Edge), Crystal Server 2011 is limited to deployment to a single server and does not support connectivity to SAP Business Suite applications. It does however provide up to 250 Concurrent Access Licenses (CALs) and 100 Named User Licenses (NULs).

Here is a helpful diagram that shows the positioning of the SAP BI Platform suite of products:

 

For more details about Crystal Server 2011, see Blair Wheadon’s blogs:

SAP Crystal Server 2011 - Update #7

SAP Crystal Server 2011 - Update #7

 

The Road to Crystal Server 2011: My Conversation with Geoff and Daniel

For Geoff and Daniel, the journey to deliver Crystal Server 2011 was challenging but in the end rewarding. New with this release (unlike past releases) were some new ambitious goals for delivery. Firstly, the solution management organization wanted Crystal Server to be delivered within the same release window as the large enterprise release to harness the same marketing momentum. Secondly, the development organization decided that development should be handled by the same team responsible for the large enterprise release, in order to better integrate and engineer Crystal Server requirements into the product earlier in the development lifecycle, thus reducing the need for special customizations, duplication of effort, and out-of-cycle signoffs for the mid-market release. However, this new way of working presented new challenges. It required a much higher level of effort to prioritize backlog items between the large enterprise and Crystal Server. The fact that the planning for Crystal Server 2011 did not start in tandem with the enterprise version meant that everyone involved had to work quickly and under significant deadlines and milestones if they were to deliver in the targeted three to four month time frame. 

 

Centralizing development efforts had additional challenges - Geoff and Daniel had to adhere and apply new processes to the mid market product whose details, relevance, and risks to the mid market release timelines had to be constantly assessed and discussed in order to deliver the product on time without compromising on quality and scope. Each step of the way felt rather intense for all stakeholders, but in the end it really helped foster an improved understanding or appreciation of the nature of work and pressure that each contributing team within the product delivery cycle goes through. The solution management team had to learn a whole lot more about the development process and people and likewise the development teams gained an appreciation of what it takes to market and ship products.  They also learned a lot about the SAP ramp up program. This new synergy is something that they hope to leverage even more for future releases. Speaking of future versions, the team is evaluating opportunities with to integrate with in-memory, mobile, and on demand technologies.

 

When I asked Geoff and Daniel what they are most proud of in this release, they said that the fact that the team was able to dramatically shorten the release cycle given all the changes to processes, people, and location. You can see the end result for yourself by visiting the online store where you can purchase a copy and/or download a free trial version.

 

Related Resources

For the June 2011 edition of the Letter from the Editor, SAP Business Analytics Community BI Newsletter, I recently sat down with BI Platform product manager, Derek Wang, to talk about the journey to the SAP BI 4.0 launch. 4.0 is the first major release after the SAP acquisition of Business Objects, which meant that there was much learning and sharing on both sides in order to combine their respective best practices. From the Business Objects side, they had to learn how to produce a product that was compliant with industry leading SAP standards, such as security. In return, they shared their experience for simplifying the processes such as for product standard compliance.

 

Challenges and Decisions

 

One of the key challenges that Derek and his team of nine product managers faced with the 4.0 release was how to be well-integrated within the SAP landscape yet still maintain (and increase) the presence in heterogeneous environments, where Business Objects has traditionally been and continues to be very strong. It was not an easy goal to achieve but he and his team are pleased with the results that they achieved. Resource constraints were and are always a challenge, requiring trade-offs with design optimization. While Derek and his team were able to find a happy medium, one instance where they had to make trade-off was with the Solution Manager (a tool for support). The dilemma was about how to create the best out of box experience for traditional SAP customers familiar with SAP landscape and tooling, while not introducing a lot of new tools and bigger package for the traditional Business Objects customers who may not have other SAP systems. While it would have made integration easier, they decided to ship Solution Manager as an optional component.

 

Another dilemma the team faced was with respect to SAP Enterprise Portal integration. The goal was to make BI a key part in the portal (that is, as native as possible) but they were not able to tightly couple the product because of the different release cycles. BI, in general, has a much more iterative release cycle, therefore the decision they faced was how to enable customers to access the BI capabilities – does the team create a customized visualization for the portal, for instance? In the end the team decided to make the BI launch pad accessible in the portal, thus avoiding the requirement to have lock-step development with the portal. Having it loosely coupled also enables shorter release cycles.

 

Working in a geographically-dispersed team across time zones is always an ever present challenge. To adapt, the team has continued to learn how to be leaner and faster – providing direct feedback, granting trust, and providing support to each other. Much of the positive team culture is a direct result of what Herve Couturier, Executive Vice-President, Business Technologies and Research, has put into place at SAP. The team also values being transparent to stakeholders (what they are developing and whether they are on track), understanding the business priorities, and importantly, executing them well. Product managers are very hands-on and live with the product to get a clear understanding of what the customer experiences (and their potential pain points).

 

The SAP ramp up process has presented a sometimes steep learning curve not only for the BI platform team and developers, but also for traditional Business Objects customers. That said, Derek cites that the key benefit has been more direct involvement with customers has resulted in much more and better feedback. The typical beta programs tend not to be long enough for customers to provide as much quality feedback.

 

Feedback from Customers

 

At the time we spoke, the team had already received significant and positive feedback about the 4.0 BI Platform from many customers, including the more than 100 customers who are in ramp up. For example, customers have responded well to the new semantic layer, seeing it as a welcome addition to the product suite. The increased administrative capability, such as monitoring system to check the health of the system, and life cycle management (LCM) capability have also been well received. That said, the BI Platform team acknowledges that they need to communicate more to customers about the platform and its new capabilities.

 

From a personal point of view, Derek is most proud of the new BI launch pad in the 4.0 release. The XI releases had InfoView but for the 4.0 release, the team spent significant time up front on usability studies to truly understand what customers want in a front-end client. Using user centric design, they built the launch pad from the ground up and like the new semantic layer, administrative capabilities, and LCM, it has also been very well received by ramp up customers. The BI Platform team learned so much from user-centric design that they have decided to continue using it in future development.

 

What’s Next?

 

What was not included in 4.0 that they wished they could have had? At the top of his list is embedded analytics which can help customers bridge BI and business processes. For subsequent releases, the team is working on more capabilities to “close the loop between insight and action”, where the users of BI can quickly and seamlessly invoke the next logical step of the business process after doing the analysis and decision, with all the business data context passed along. Pique your interest? Stay tuned for new capabilities that Derek and his team creating for their customers!

Kirby Leong

Missed SAPPHIRE 2011?

Posted by Kirby Leong May 20, 2011

If you’re like me and were not able to attend the SAPPHIRE 2011 conference this week, you can still watch on demand replays of the sessions, including keynotes, via SAPPHIRE NOW (registration required). Of all the sessions you can narrow results by industries, solutions, hot topics and quick links, SAP content categories, focus area(s), and original air date.

 

Here is a sampling of the sessions available to you:

 

 

But there’s more – you can also download many of the presentations and documents to gain further insight and understanding. For example, you can download these presentation materials:

 

  • Hear How We are Delivering Quality and Trusted Information to Our Business
  • Integrating SAP BusinessObjects Solutions into Your SAP Software Landscape
  • Launch of SAP BusinessObjects EPM Solutions 10.0

 

And finally don’t forget about the blogs!

I’ve been using Dashboard Design (formerly known as Xcelsius) on and off since version 4.x (circa 2055). While I was mainly focused on functionality with a little bit of design, more recently I’ve come to appreciate the importance of good visual design. There’s no point in trying to add new design tips since there is a strong body of work out there by established experts. I’m just going to highlight some of the useful tips I’ve learned from Stephen Few’s book "Information Dashboard Design" and the User Interface Guidelines: Dashboard Design document, which is available on SAP Design Guild:

 

1. Reduce the non-data pixels, by eliminating unnecessary non-data pixels and de-emphasizing the remaining non-data pixels.

 

  • Graphics that are just for decoration
  • Borders to separate sections when white space would suffice
  • Use of gradient colors when solid colors would do
  • Grid lines in bar graphs when white space would suffice

 

2. Enhance data pixels by eliminating unnecessary data pixels and highlighting most important data pixels

 

  • Remove data that is less relevant
  • Condense data by summaries and exceptions
  • Emphasize important data by visual attributes like color intensity, size, line width
  • Emphasize important data by its position on the dashboard:  top-left and center are sections with greatest emphasis

 

3. Group KPIs Logically - For example, by component or KPI type, such as availability or performance. Spatially separate different groups if they are in one panel.

 

4. Keep to Single Screen - By fitting the dashboard onto a single screen, you allow a quick overview at a glance.

 

5. Use Appropriate Themes - Use an appropriate theme which defines the visual design of the components, like fonts and colors and deviate from its default settings only when necessary.

 

6. Use Few Selectors - Use as few pure selectors as possible (e.g. radio button, combo box, or tab strip

 

7. Use a Compact Design - Use a compact design to gain space for additional valuable information:

 

  • Avoid gauges (speedometers) - Provide as much useful information as possible but avoid unnecessary data or decoration.
  • Often forms or tables serve the same purpose as a Cartesian chart but require less space:
  • Use Linear Gauges instead of Speedometers - Linear display of measures is better than radial display since lengths can be evaluated more easily than angles and less space is required.

 

 

To get the latest BI tips and news delivered to your inbox, subscribe to the SAP BusinessObjects BI Newsletter.

I suppose one could argue that the term “personal work projects” is a bit of contradiction but I think you know what I mean. I’m referring to those projects that are somewhat under the radar that you feel passionate about but which can contribute to the organization.  However, they also tend to mean little/no resources and something you sometimes have to do “off the side of your desk” in addition to your regular tasks. They can be a test of your commitment and resolve.

 

The Opportunity Presents Itself

In the spring of 2010 when I was given the option of doing one personal project, I jumped at the chance. While I loved (and still love) the opportunity to start something new and to fail forward/upwards, I soon learned that a strong but flexible vision and a lot of help play a large part. First things first, however; since it was already well into the year, I had to make a quick decision and start executing. I settled on a developing a pilot student dashboarding club that you may have read about on SCN, primarily through Tammy Powlas’ blogs

 

Having been a recently reformed life-long student, I saw opportunity in reaching out to this audience especially since most of our (very good) work has primarily been with faculty. I spoke to a handful of colleagues and each thought it was a good idea – but many ideas are likeable – can this work and if so, how? Here are some of the questions I pondered at the start:

 

  • Since I’m based in North America, do I stick with North American schools or go beyond? If outside North America, how will the logistics and coordination work?
  • Which schools and what type of students do we want to work with?
  • How do I quickly “recruit” students and faculty given that the summer break is fast approaching? Am I too late since school terms are planned well in advance?
  • What we will offer that students would find valuable? What do they get out of it and what does SAP want out of it?
  • How will we fit this club into the academic life of students?
  • How will this club scale to become mostly self-sustaining?

 

The Scope

To narrow down the scope for the pilot, I settled on dashboard design as the focus since it’s a fairly self-contained, not overly technical, and highly practical topic. Further, there was a free version of SAP Crystal Presentation Design (Xcelsius) available until the end of 2010 that I wanted to capitalize on. Next, I contacted our University Alliances Community team who recommended 25 business schools in North America. I chose business students to focus more on the practical business application and less on the technical implementation of our solutions since we already have a strong and growing technical community. Limiting the pilot program to North America was out of practical necessity, unfortunately, but the plan was and is to expand globally.

 

Over two months, I was able to get interest from about 10 of the 25 schools although I knew strong participation was a different matter. There were going to be a host of obstacles to face – different school terms, scheduling conflicts, and academic demands, to name a few. With the pilot schools on board, I approached a few of our leading dashboard design experts in the community to help, and without hesitation they graciously agreed to be mentors for the students. This pioneering group included (in alphabetical order) Ingo Hilgefort, Tammy Powlas, Kumar Subramanian, Kalyan Verma, and Mico Yuk.

 

Summer Break

By now summer break was well underway and to complicate matters I committed to a non-SAP project in Kenya, Africa for 5 weeks, starting late July, which meant that I had to find some way to coordinate the tasks while I was away. This meant many calls over a (low bandwidth wireless) Skype connection. Note to self:  it helps to be around leading up to the launch!

 

On a related note, I tried to recruit the #2 business school in Africa, Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. I met with a professor who expressed enthusiasm for the program and then promptly asked for my dashboard design book. When I followed up with him over the next several weeks, I was repeatedly told that there were technical issues installing the software and that he would contact his IT department to resolve them. I never heard from him again and never saw my book again. I’m not sure if he actually called his IT department and in the absence of further information, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. :-)

 

Start of the School Year

The launch was scheduled for Monday, September 13th when the club would be announced to the students. Over the following week, students were asked to apply for one of 25 volunteer student dashboarding club representative positions. To my pleasant surprise, I received interest from over 60 high quality applicants. To get them orientated to SAP Crystal Presentation Design (Xcelsius), the mentors held a series of 5 Saturday training sessions ending in mid-October.  From this point on leading up to November 19th, students were assigned in groups to four of the mentors, asked to promote the club, help other students learn the dashboard design software, and to participate in the small dashboarding contest. I also set up a StreamWork room to facilitate communication, coordination, and knowledge sharing. The goal was to keep things a low touch as possible to make the program manageable for the students. If at the end of the pilot the students achieved active contributor status on SCN and made meaningful attempts (if appropriate) to incorporate dashboarding into their projects, then they would receive a recognition certificate.

 

While I knew that the students would be fully engaged with their studies, I was still hoping that they would take advantage of the opportunity to fully engage their mentors – they didn’t, really. Even the small dashboarding contest to wrap up the pilot had low participation. I heard from the students afterwards that they did not know where to get data sets to build models and that in comparison to other competitions, this one had lower incentives. Lesson learned.

 

This year the scope was expanded beyond dashboarding and our initial group of schools. The club was open to other UAC-affiliated schools and included other BI client tools such as Web Intelligence, Analysis, Crystal Reports, and Explorer. Ingo Hilgefort gave five webinars on the integration of these tools (and Dashboard Design) on SAP ERP/BW. Derek Loranca (Aetna), Brian Durning (PepsiCo), and Tammy Powlas (Fairfax Water) each presented universe design, Crystal Reports and universes, and BusinessObjects Analysis, respectively, on Saturday afternoons no less! The feedback about the content, real-world experiences, and presenters has been very positive.

 

Reflections

Despite the challenges along the way, I think that this personal project was worth it for the students and for SAP. The students get to learn highly valuable and marketable skills and SAP is able to teach future business users how to use its BI tools. Considering the level of enthusiasm and positive feedback, my belief in the club is even stronger than when the mentors and I started this journey. As the song goes, “this time a ripple, next time a wave”.

 

Here are a few reflections:

  • Make it directly applicable, practical, and simple - When working with students and faculty, a program cannot be seen as simply an “extra” activity to tack onto their many other activities. Make it easy for your audience to get on board through applicable, useful, and reusable samples and data sets (I wish I had had more time and resources to develop this).
  • You won’t get all(most) of them - No matter what you do, the club will likely never be the a focal point for many of them
  • Don’t be overly enamored with the idea – Even if you and others think it’s a great idea, your audience may not feel the same, which leads me to my next point…
  • Be prepared to pull the plug – You need to be prepared at the start of the new idea to pull the plug on a personal project, especially in light of other, changing priorities
  • Choose your most passionate audience first  - In retrospect, I would have approached the student technology clubs first since they would likely be the most passionate about merging technology and education
  • Provide symbols of achievement – For students entering the workforce, some way of showing their competence using our solutions would be helpful. At the time we launched the club, the dashboard design certification was under review.
  • Talk about the value – It’s important to talk about the value in learning BI in terms of their future careers

 

2011/2012 Student BI Club

For this year, I’m looking into the feasibility of a student business case competition, perhaps working with a non-profit organization to develop a real-world business case which would require the use of an SAP business analytic tool to solve. There will be a strong emphasis on providing 4.x learning materials, growing a dedicated collaboration workspace, and recruiting student leaders. Do you have any other ideas?

 

What have you learned working on personal work projects? What would you have done differently in my case? 

 

SAP BusinessObjects BI Newsletter

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From time to time we like to share a few numbers from the Business Analytics community to let you know how much you are contributing to its success. Recently there was a flurry of activity around the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 launch on the community, and here are a few numbers that show how much interest there is around this major release:

 

• Nearly 200,000 page views generated from the 4.0 launch campaign (all SCN), leading up to the February 23rd event

• 83 SCN blogs generating 103,000 page views and 271 comments

• Over 42,000 views of 4.0 eLearning content in just two months

• Over 3,000 views on the SAP BusinessObjects BI and EIM 4.0 in the first week

• 33% more activity on the Business Analytics Community home page on the 4.0 launch day versus the previous week 

 

Please feel free to share the "good news" with the rest of the community via Twitter, FaceBook, etc.

On Monday, February 28, 2011 you’ll see a very different SAP BusinessObjects Community. Change to community always takes some time to get used to and it's not something we take lightly. With the upcoming launch of SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 and the pervasive use of the term "Business Analytics", we decided to take this opportunity to align with how SAP presents BI, EIM, EPM, and GRC (among other) solutions. You'll be hearing a lot about SAP business analytics, if you have not already (for example, the recently launched EcoHub Business Analytic MarketPlace).

  

What to Expect

 

The most obvious change will be the rebranding of the community as the Business Analytics Community (BAC). This means that the top-level tab will change from "Business Analytics" and all references to the community will be updated. In addition to the rebranding, you’ll see the following navigational changes:

 

  • Addition of Crystal Reports for .NET, Crystal Reports for Eclipse, BusinessObjects BI Platform, and SAP BusinessObjects BI for SAP topic area pages.
  • Addition of SDK Library and Code Samples links to the top, second-level navigation
  • Addition of a Business Intelligence topic area page
  • Minor changes to product area names to reflect whether they are “SAP Crystal” or “SAP BusinessObjects”
  • Addition of Enterprise Information Management topic area
  • Removal of the ‘Solutions’ and ‘BI Best Practices’ items from the left navigation, to simplify access (these links will still be available on the Business Intelligence page).

  

So what will this look like, exactly? Here’s a snapshot of the fully expanded left navigation, although all menus will be collapsed initially:

 

Getting Started

Solution Architecture

SAP Crystal Solutions Support

Business Intelligence

    Crystal Reports Design*

    Crystal Reports .NET*

    Crystal Reports for Eclipse*

    Crystal Interactive Analysis

    Dashboard Design (Xcelsius)

    BusinessObjects Web Intelligence

    BusinessObjects Analysis

    BusinessObjects Explorer

    BusinessObjects BI Platform*

    BusinessObjects BI for SAP*

    BusinessObjects BI OnDemand

    SAP StreamWork

Enterprise Information Management

    Enterprise Data Warehousing

      Modeling

      Operations

      Content - BI Content

      In-memory Analytics - BW Accelerator

      Integrated Planning

    Master Data Management

      Embedded MDM

      Enterprise MDM

    Data Integration and Quality Management

      Data Services

      Information Steward

      Postalsoft

    Information Lifecycle Management

    Enterprise Content Management

 * These areas will be shared with SDN, where they currently reside.

 

What NOT to Expect

 

There will be no changes to the following on February 28, 2011:

 

We hope you find that this one-stop access to BI, EIM, EPM, and GRC (among other) information is a better community experience.

Everyone has a (BI) story to tell which is why we launched the Real World BI Story series. On SCN we're used to talking about BI in relative isolation but in the field, the story gets much more complex when you consider the political, technical, and resource factors, to name just a few. The goals for this series are to share the details and lessons learned, and to enable readers to share their expertise and similar experiences. For example, would you have done anything differently? Do you have a similar experience, perhaps in another industry or using different technologies? What parts of the story do you agree with?

 

All this makes for compelling and highly valuable stories which is why we invite you to submit your idea. We'll work with you to develop your idea into a story that you'll publish as a blog, after you've approved the final version. We're looking forward to helping you tell your real world BI stories!

 

For an example of a real world BI story, read SAP Mentor Simon To’s rivetting account of Real World BI Stories: Upgrade or Else.

The first half of 2011 is shaping up to be especially exciting. Here a just a few of the things that I’m looking forward to.

 

SAP BUSINESSOBJECTS BI AND EIM 4.0

This major release “brings together the SAP BI and EIM technology suites in a way that has never been done before and expands the SAP footprint in the emerging Business Analytics category…The release brings together a collection of new enhancements for all customers, including existing BusinessObjects users as well as rich new functionality for SAP users.”

 

Virtual Launch Event

Register today for the SAP BusinessObjects BI and EIM 4.0 virtual launch on February 23, 2011 (held in New York)! Join Dr. Vishal Sikka, member of the SAP Executive Board, on the vision for business analytics, gain insights from customers on business analytics from SAP, and learn from a product demonstration how this release can impact your business.

 

Webinars

Ten ASUG webinars are scheduled, covering the different products and features. Read more in this blog by Derek Loranca from Aetna.

11 Ways to Catch Up on BI4

 

Product Name Changes

OK, this doesn’t really fall under the category of “exciting” (some would argue quite the opposite) but it’s worth repeating as we’ll need some time to get used to the new names. Here is a link to the 4.0 Product Names wiki.

 

Video Contest (United States only)

Stay tuned for a February announcement on the BusinessObjects Community about a BI and EIM 4.0 video contest. Cool prizes to be won!

 

Speaking of videos, in case you missed it, here are a few videos about the release:

 

SCN BLOG AND FORUM CHANGES

A significant change coming to SCN is the upgrade of the community platform to Jive. Read more about what’s coming in this blog by Senior Director Jeanne Carboni: Migrating SCN Blog Functionality in 2011.

 

2010 BEST OF SAP COMMUNITY NETWORK

With all this looking ahead, it’s also good to take another look back at what we collectively achieved on SCN in 2010. Senior VP, Mark Yolton, shares our impressive highlights. SAP Community Network:  Year in Review - Best of 2010

As we close out 2010 and look ahead to 2011, one of the most anticipated events is the upcoming launch of SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0. The Knowledge and Learning Team, part of BI Suite Product Management, recently launched a series of Bringing new innovations to the way we learn BI in 4.0 on SCN to help you get up and running faster with this new release:

 

- SAP Crystal Reports 2011
- SAP Crystal Reports for Enterprise
- SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (Xcelsius)
- SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence
- SAP BusinessObjects Explorer
- SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platform
- SAP BusinessObjects Information Design Tool
- SAP BusinessObjects Analysis (coming in Q1)

While there is a significant number of modules available today, check the Official Product Tutorials – SAP BO BI Suite  regularly as more will be added over the upcoming months.

 

As as exciting as 2011 will be with version 4.0, 2010 had many (content) highlights. After reviewing the 2010 statistics (excluding wikis and forums), I've assembled a list of some of the most popular and not so popular content in case you may have missed some valuable information.

 

SAP Crystal Reports

 

SAP Crystal Reports for Visual Studio

 

Dashboard Design (Xcelsius)

 

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

 

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence

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