SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 is the culmination of more than one million man-hours of development by SAP. It was released as part of the SAP Ramp-Up program in November 2010 and is expected to be available for general release in the summer of 2011.
When compared with the previous version, 3.1 (released in 2008), there are a number of significant improvements:
- The user interface (UI) is totally revised and improved, with Microsoft Office 2007-style toolbars.
- The limitations in 3.1 when reporting on SAP NetWeaver BW data have now been lifted. For example, SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 can report on hierarchies.
However, the most significant change in SAP BusinessObjects has been behind the scenes. In BusinessObjects 3.1, different technologies accessed the data for each of the tools (Crystal Reports, Web Intelligence and Xcelsius). Now all the tools use the same BI Consumer Service (BICS) interface to directly connect to SAP NetWeaver BW through high-performance APIs. This results in simpler architecture, reduced development requirements and much better performance.
The release of SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 has led to some common questions in the community. Here are some of the main questions and their answers.
What about BusinessObjects 4.1?
As yet, no date has been announced for the release of BusinessObjects 4.1, which will contain smaller improvements and bug fixes. This will likely be within the next two years.
What is happening to SAP Business Explorer (BEx)?
BEx is SAP's traditional reporting tool for the SAP NetWeaver BW system. It provides interfaces within Web browsers and Microsoft Excel, in addition to tools for producing dashboards and print-ready reports. It has a large user-base and is a satisfactory reporting tool.
Since SAP bought BusinessObjects in 2007, the company has reduced its investment in SAP BEx. The BEx suite is not receiving any major functional improvements, though it did get some minor enhancements in the SAP NetWeaver BW 7.3 release.
Contrary to the popular myth, BEx is not being retired and has no current end of life. According to SAP: “BEx 7.x continues to be delivered with the next SAP NetWeaver BW releases. Currently, there is no planned end of life. The maintenance period is renewed with every major BW release.”
What are the advantages of BusinessObjects over BEx?
BusinessObjects is a huge improvement on BEx, although BEx can be a useful low-cost option. The benefits:
- Significantly more reporting options, such as offline reporting. Some reporting options are available in BEx, but only with further customization.
- A modern interface, which is intuitive and easier to use.
- Improvements to the interface so users are responsible for their reporting, rather than being reliant on IT to build and deliver reports.
However, associated considerations are then
- Access to expertise in BusinessObjects is needed
- There are potential additional licensing costs
- More hardware is required
- Another layer added to the reporting architecture, which must then be developed and supported, is necessary
Here are three typical scenarios for organizations and what the release of BusinessObjects 4.0 would mean to them:
Organizations currently using BusinessObjects 3.0 or 3.1 and SAP NetWeaver BW
Any organization that has already made such a commitment to SAP BusinessObjects should plan for an upgrade to 4.0. This requires a technical upgrade and migration of objects to take advantage of the new functionality.
Organizations currently using BEx
Organizations using BEx should consider moving to SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 and reviewing their BI ownership and strategy. This should not be considered a like-for-like implementation, as the way that reports are owned, built and used will be different.
It is notoriously difficult to change the way a business considers and uses its reports, so they may wish to consider a pilot SAP BusinessObjects implementation in an area of the business that doesn’t use BEx reporting. This gives companies a fresh area in which to define and implement a new BI strategy.
Because of the fundamental changes between BusinessObjects 3.1 and 4.0, I strongly recommend that an organization not now implement 3.1. Doing so would commit to an expensive upgrade and migration project when it eventually chooses to move to 4.0 or 4.1.
Organizations currently with no BusinessObjects/BEx installations
SAP BW and BusinessObjects 4.0 is the best combination of systems available, especially when the core ERP is SAP ECC, and will position an organization for many years of reporting.
This comes at a greater licensing expense when compared with implementing SAP NetWeaver BW and BEx, and an organization must decide whether that expense is justified for its purposes.
The SAP NetWeaver BW InfoProvider interfaces are industry standard. Therefore, companies can use other reporting tools to directly access the data held within SAP NetWeaver BW (Oracle OBIEE, for example). However, limitations in reporting functionality, performance and increased development costs may make this impractical and increase the potential for complex licensing issues.
Very few organizations have taken this route, and an absence of reference sites and case studies could make this a risky choice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Campbell-Kelly is a certified senior BI consultant at Bluefin Solutions, the United Kingdom’s largest dedicated SAP consultancy.