On The Spot: Gary Nolan on SAP BI/BW

This month Gary Nolan answered all of your SAP BI/BW questions. Submit your SAP Security questions for next month at the bottom of this page.

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On The Spot features a new guest expert on a hot SAP topic every month. This is your chance to get your questions answered by some of the best and brightest in the business, but hurry up: Each guest expert makes one appearance only! This month's topic is SAP BI/BW with Gary Nolan. Next month's topic is SAP Security with Mario Linkies, Chief Executive Officer of SECUDE Global Consulting.

Submit your SAP Security questions for Mario Linkies below.


ABOUT GARY NOLAN:
Gary Nolan is the author of the SAP Press Book, "Efficient SAP NetWeaver BI Implementation & Project Management". Gary is a certified independent consultant specializing in evaluating customer requirements, configuring SAP BI/BW, and providing project management consulting in all areas of Business Intelligence. He is a former Platinum Consultant with SAP America, Inc. With over nine years of SAP experience, he has been working with BW since version 1.2B. Gary has served as the lead consultant in many projects from the planning, system configuration, and testing phases, through go-live and post-implementation support. He has spoken at numerous events including Sapphire, ASUG, Managing SAP Projects, SAP InfoDays, and the SAP BI & Portals Conferences.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

 1. Experienced ABAPer to shift to BI
 2. Upgrading BW 3.5 to 7.0
 3. Decimal automatically switching places in MM app
 4. How to prepare for BW certification
 5. Deleting a stubborn InfoObject
 6. Problem with limited infopackages in BW 7.0
 7. Switch from LIS tables to LO cockpit?
 8. The limitations of a virtual InfoCube through a third-party system
 9. SAP's tools, Cognos or Business Objects... which is best?
 10. Common difficulties during a BI 7.0 implementation



1. Experienced ABAPer to shift to BI

I am an SAP ABAP developer with three years experience. I have worked in all areas of ABAP except workflow. I have been hearing a lot about SAP NetWeaver BI, and I have been considering jumping ship to the BI side. Would you recommend this career move? How easy is it for an experienced ABAPer to shift to BI? How much time does it typically take to master BI? Any recommendations for good BI learning resources?

-- Sayyad Shueb,
    Sunnyvale, California

Truthfully, I have never seen the market better for BI consultants. The demand is simply greater than the supply in this area. More and more projects are seeking BI help for both for upgrades and because BI is a bigger part of their SAP strategic landscape than ever before (more SAP BI job information here).

Also bear in mind that ABAP skills are unfortunately becoming a commodity due to outsourcing, meaning the rates for ABAP are staying constant or even shrinking in some areas. You would likely find yourself in higher demand if you work in BI. However, the skillset is quite different from an ABAPer. In order to be truly successful you must have a good understanding of the business needs and also a good technical skill set to realize these needs in a BI design. In my experience it takes about six months working with the BI software to become effective with the product. In order to find a place to start learning about the product and the BI consultant role, I recently completed a book that walks through some of the most important things to understand when working in BI, Efficient SAP NetWeaver BI Implementation and Project Management. This would be a good place to start in order to understand typical BI projects.

-- Gary Nolan



2. Upgrading BW 3.5 to 7.0

We're planning a technical upgrade of our BW system from 3.5 to BW 7.0 and phasing in the new functionality and reporting capabilities over time. With this approach, are there certain areas in security / authorization roles that can be staged as well, or does everything need to be redone with the initial software upgrade?

-- Jim Boden,
    St. Louis, Missouri

After upgrade, there is no hard requirement that you change over to the BI 7.0 analysis authorization security, but SAP strongly recommends this. The typical upgrade approach is to perform the technical upgrade and leave everything exactly how it was, in other words do not change the reporting, security, etc. until after stabilization.

After that, a new project should be planned to migrate to the new analysis authorizations security. This is best handled and managed as a separate project because of the time and resources involved. Unfortunately, this is not an implementation that can be phased. This is because there is no way to use both methods of security; you need to either use the old method or the new analysis authorization method. Thus, you must implement this 'big bang'.

SAP does provide tools to help migrate your existing roles, but expect some manual work. Depending on your existing authorizations strategy, this part can be quite substantial and should be planned as part of the security migration. Of course, extensive testing also needs to be planned as part of this process. It is best to work with consultants that have specifically performed this type of migration because they can typically help estimate and plan this process based on your specific needs.

-- Gary Nolan



3. Decimal automatically switching places in MM app

We have a decimal that automatically shifts place for delivery and invoice values (Materials Management application) when data is loaded to the cube. We need to have that value in place without any decimal point shift when the BEx report is executed. Any ideas on how to accomplish this?

-- Injeti Veera Prakasha Reddy,
    Bangalore, India

I have not experienced issues with decimal point shifting in BI. I typically use the routines in loading to deal with any calculations. The decimal settings for currencies are part of the currency configuration that comes over in the global settings. I would first make sure that your global settings have been transferred from your source system to ensure that their decimals are correct. However, when converting from one currency to another, the standard conversions work well, and typically handle these decimal issues. In addition, SAP does provide a transaction OY04 that can be used to set the decimal places, but be careful with this transaction as it could jeopardize existing data. You should not need this, but it may be helpful to look.

Also, be aware that there is a setting with each key figure in BEx that allows you to specify the number of decimal places to present. You can also look to the transformation routines to ensure that your calculations are consistent.

-- Gary Nolan



4. How to prepare for BW certification

I hear the BW certification exam is quite challenging. Any tips on how to prepare?

-- Patricia Nguyen,
    Boston, Mass.

You are correct, the exam is quite challenging. The best place to start is with the standard SAP courses. SAP lists the recommended education course on their website at: https://websmp205.sap-ag.de/~sapidp/011000358700002412512003

As far as other resources to help with the certification exam, there is quite a great collection of links in these postings on SDN. They should give you more material that you can possibly digest. https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/thread?threadID=466633?pref=srchsp

-- Gary Nolan



5. Deleting a stubborn InfoObject

I have an InfoObject that just won't go away no matter how much I try to delete it. It doesn't appear to be in use by any of the InfoCubes. Any advice short of taking a hammer to the server?

-- Roger Shane,
    San Jose, California

Put down the hammer, Roger. The first step is to try the where-used functionality to make sure that your InfoObject is not being used elsewhere in the system. For obvious reasons SAP maintains its referential integrity by not allowing you to delete objects that are used anywhere else in the system. You can get to this function by using transaction RSD1.

If you have used this function and still find you cannot delete an InfoObject despite it not being used anywhere in the system, you might be experiencing a software issue. Please see OSS (Service Marketplace) for notes, there were several notes on this issue in the past; please see 500666 and 417584, and 488312.

-- Gary Nolan



6. Problem with limited infopackages in BW 7.0

With the new API, SAP BW 7.0 is using QRFC unless it is changed in RSAdmin. Data from the source system sends all the packets as soon as the data is available. So now instead of using the max number of processes in ROIDOCPRMS x # infopackages, there is a fixed limit defined in SMQS (and the default is 10). What is this getting set to in order to avoid queuing and limiting the processing capacity of data loads in parallel? How does the gateway and its settings for connections need to be set?

-- Robert Ketterer,
    Wilmington, Deleware.

In my experience this has not been a common issue with BI 7.0. If you are having specific issues, you may want to enter an OSS (Service Marketplace) message.

Simply put, the SMQS the scheduler is used to control data packets, for loads within BI 7.0 (ie - from DataStore Object to Cube). SAP implemented this change to help and check on resource scheduling for version 7.0. This is in contrast to version 3.x where the system did not check resource scheduling; it simply sent the packets. The goal is to avoid overloading the system with too many data loads / packets going at one time. The SMQS out scheduler helps to avoid this situation, as it is a standard TRFC packet scheduler for general SAP purposes. It has mechanisms that should avoid overload situations. It automatically parallelizes the packets, and will only queue them if there are too many packets going at once (more than the setting mentioned below, default 10).

Alternatively, if you do not like, or are experiencing problems with the number of processes used for transferring data, there are options. Please look at OSS notes 916706 and 1051445. These notes explain more about the process and also walks through use of a program, RSA1_TRFC_OPTION_SET, that lets you activate and deactivate this default change in BI 7.0. However, typically, you should not need to tune in this area.

-- Gary Nolan



7. Switch from LIS tables to LO cockpit?

We've used LIS tables for many years, but a colleague is suggesting we go the LO cockpit route instead. Is it worthwhile to make the switch?

-- Peter Hoeberl,
    Vienna, Austria

When you say you have 'used' LIS tables, I assume you mean that you are using them as a source to bring R/3 or ECC data into BI. Your colleague is correct that the LO cockpit is the much preferred method of extracting data from ECC or R/3 into BI. There are several reasons for this, most importantly, using LIS places an additional burden on the transactional system to queue data and depending on volume and system resources can slow the transactional system. LIS also requires data to be stored first on the transactional system, then this same data is pushed to the BI system. This data redundancy is one of the primary reasons SAP developed the logistics cockpit.

Now, to answer your question, does it make sense to switch an LIS application to the logistics cockpit that is already active using LIS? My answer to that would depend on the volume and load the current LIS structures are placing on the transactional system. If the volume is low and you are experiencing no issues with this LIS information structure slowing your transactional system, I see no reason to re-implement it using the logistics cockpit. However, if the volume is getting quite large and it is placing a burden on the transactional system, I would certainly look to change it over to the logistics cockpit.

-- Gary Nolan



8. The limitations of a virtual InfoCube through a third-party system

My boss is suggesting we use a virtual InfoCube through a third-party system, but we're a large company and I'm concerned about data extraction. Are there any limitations we should be aware of?

-- Janice Lopez-Callahan,
    Phoenix, Arizona

You are quite wise to be cautious about this approach. Virtual InfoCubes are a wonderful way to gather and use data from outside sources without the burden of physically loading this data into the BI system. However, with any virtual InfoCube you need to be very aware of the frequency of reporting and the volume of data loads that will be used before implementing. As the frequency and volume increase, the performance typically degrades substantially. Therefore, if you expect a large number of users and a high data volume, you may need to reconsider. If not, you need to look at the process from end-to-end. Often things like network capacity and firewall considerations cause issues with these types of scenarios. However, if the frequency and volume is not significant, this can be a very effective way of marrying up external data with your physical data in BI.

-- Gary Nolan



9. SAP's tools, Cognos or Business Objects... which is best?

I've been using Excel as my primary tool for working with BW reports, but I think I've hit the ceiling and I need something better. What do you suggest: SAP's tools, Cognos or Business Objects?

-- Axel Ruhl,
    Brussels, Belgium

As a general rule when evaluating tools for SAP NetWeaver BI I highly recommend that you develop a "Why not SAP" approach. This means that whenever possible you should look for an SAP tool unless there is a very compelling reason do otherwise. This is because integrating third party tools is usually much more complex than you expect. No matter how much their products claim to have 'seamless' integration with BW, it is not usually that simple. This leaves you stuck between SAP and the third party vendor when issues arise, each claiming that their software is causing the issue. I have been in this situation at clients, and it is quite frustrating.

I would first look to the tools associated with version BI 7.0. There is a great deal of functionality in the new BI Report Designer and Web Analyzer. The Visual Composer tool is also quite exciting. These tools are also getting stronger with each support package. (SAP is even adding features in support packages…). So, your first step should be to absolutely exhaust all functionality with these tools and work within the SAP tool set. Make a list of all the things that are a 'must-have' that these tools do not do. I think after doing a full evaluation you will find that this list is rather short. At this point you can evaluate other third-party tools, but only after you are clear that the functionality that SAP cannot provide is mandatory for your user base. This approach keeps you using one point of contact for support, and, after all…you already own these tools anyway. Why not look to them first?

-- Gary Nolan



10. Common difficulties during a BI 7.0 implementation

What are the most common stumbling blocks during a BI 7.0 implementation/upgrade?

-- Mikko Jyrkiainen,
    Helsinki, Finland

Keep in mind that the BI 7.0 upgraded system allows configuration running in the 3.x method of modeling (with InfoSources, transfer rules, and update rules). This means that any existing configuration in the 3.x system will continue to work in the BI 7.0 system. For this reason many projects opt for a technical upgrade, moving the configuration to the new release, but the data model does not take advantage of the new loading methodology, java functions, etc. This allows for a quicker and less risky upgrade because there are less changes to the application.

Listed are some of the typical challenges in the 3.x to BI 7.0 projects. This list includes some of the common issues I or some colleagues have experienced during upgrade projects, this list is not exclusive, but does help to highlight some of the areas that are particularly challenging.

There are a lot of SAP Notes. This release is a very extensive and complex release, this leaves a potential for substantial software issues. SAP is releasing a large number of SAP notes for each support stack. The team needs to keep the system updated as often as possible. Regression testing needs to be planned after each support stack upgrade.

The Java analysis queries need to be planned properly. The Java analysis queries can sometimes gather huge volumes of data, depending on their design. In some cases this can monopolize the Java server causing performance issues for everyone. This can be compensated for by good user training and intelligent query design. The query design element forces the user to utilize jump queries in order to get detailed data. This can keep the users from running very large queries and taking a large volume of the Java server.

Common access tools either go away or are no longer supported. Those projects that use the 3.x BEx Browser and/or the Web menu item is not included in the current version of BI 7.0. This may mean that the upgrade requires a new way for the users to launch queries to be developed. This can pose a rather difficult change management issue

SAP no longer supports the 3.x method of authorizations. It is highly recommended that quickly after the upgrade, project teams migrate the authorization security to the BI 7.0 Analysis Authorization security functionality. This can involve a rather large effort depending on the complexity the 3.x security model. In most cases this should be managed as a separate project because of the effort involved.

The security migration tool does not always convert everything. SAP has provided a tool to convert existing 3.x security to the BI 7.0 model. This program is RSEC_MIGRATION. It does not always convert all security; most customers report that it is converting about 80-85% of security. This means some of the migration needs to happen manually. All security requires a regression test to ensure the migration was successful.

Regression Testing for Analysis Authorizations are time consuming – The only way to really understand any issues that may result from the transition from the 3.x authorizations is to fully regression test. This is a rather labor-intensive process involving creating many userids and manually testing the BI functionality to verify that the authorizations are set up correctly.

Integration with the Portal is much more vital in the BI 7.0 release. There are many more touch points between the BI application team and the Portals team. The BI team needs to determine what strategy is to be used for publishing queries to the portal, the portal team needs to develop a clear strategy in conjunction with the BI and ECC or R/3 transactional teams to provide clear content to the end user. In the 3.x version, the SAP Enterprise Portal (EP) was not as tightly integrated with BI, in the BI 7.0 version the integration is more dramatic.

A federated or BI portal strategy needs to be developed. If the project team plans to use the EP functionality to provide the end user access point for BI, there are several important decisions that need to be made by the portal team. The portal can be run either from the BI system or from a centralized 'federated' portal. There are advantages to each approach. There are several whitepapers that detail this decision on the SAP developer network site (SDN) at www.sdn.sap.com.

-- Gary Nolan


for next month's topic:

SAP Security with Mario Linkies, Chief Executive Officer of SECUDE Global Consulting.

(100 words max for questions! -- Be sure to include all information requested!)

This was first published in September 2007

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