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Strategies for a smoother SAP business intelligence upgrade

When upgrading SAP BI, companies often give short shrift to project management and capacity testing. Here are tips for managing those tasks more easily.

So, you think you're ready to upgrade your SAP business intelligence (BI) landscape?

It will be easy, they say.

Upgrade in place, they say.

Your users won't even notice, they say.

I say, you should be concerned about what they say.

A project is a project. Leaving project planning for an upgrade exclusively to your system administrators is tempting. They -- after all -- know all the technical ins, outs and what-have-yous of your system. But they are not experts on the interactions that users have with your system. Leaving the system upgrade to system administrators ensures that your servers' operating systems are compatible with the new version, but does not guarantee that existing workflows, training, and integrations (applications and otherwise) will continue to work. The best approach is to have an impartial arbiter make sure all the Ts are crossed and the Is dotted.

Plan and test your landscape. When going from one version to the next, don't assume that what worked in a previous version will work in the next version. Often, this assumption doesn't hold up to scrutiny, particularly when you're going to a version of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Platform 4.x from any previous version. Your content will show up, but you can't assume the calculation engines will work the same way or that your existing reports will perform the same way. During a system upgrade may be a good time to change your licenses to concurrent-based sessions from your old CPU licensing.

Stop doing bad things with SAP BusinessObjects. Upgrading your system is like moving your family from one house to the next -- not only can you improve everything you hated about the last place, but it allows you to divest yourself of things you no longer need. Although no one has an easy time giving up content they've always had, dragging along reports that no one intends to run again slows the whole system with no clear payoff at the end. Some of SAP's auditing functions can help identify such content, but if you're serious about cutting down your content, third-party add-ons like EV Technologies' Sherlock are helpful. And don't forget -- cleaning up the sins of the past is even better if you can change your processes to avoid recommitting them.

People won't teach themselves. In any IT project it isn't unusual for training to end up in the "nice to have" pile, but this is a mistake for any upgrade where the user experience in an application changes. Jumping from any previous version of BusinessObjects to any BI 4.x release definitely qualifies. At a minimum, you will need to retrain end users on finding their documents and using Webi, and you will need to retrain developers on everything.

The best approach to training is the shotgun blast -- meet your users everywhere they live. At a minimum, you should have video tutorials, one-pagers for common tasks, entries in the wiki or SharePoint, links to online help, in-person events, and Web conference training sessions (at least one of which should be recorded for posterity). And you need to start advertising all the training at least a month before the upgrade so that you can reserve the right to say "I told you so."

Give people a reason to upgrade. IT often wants to upgrade just for the sake of upgrading. Sometimes that's justified, for any number of technical reasons, but it's nice to throw your users a bone as well. Betty in accounting isn't worried about platform availability or lack of maintenance -- she's concerned that she has eight hours of training to complete while still doing her job. Help Betty out. Ensure that any noticeable upgrade makes users' lives better. And better performance doesn't count because that's just table stakes. You have to give users a better way to access data, or improved filtering, or publishing capabilities -- or something entirely new, like products (Explorer or Lumira, perhaps) or mobile access to their reports. Otherwise you're just the IT department that made everyone go through the work version of writing last year on checks for all of January with no payoff.

Upgrades are necessary but they don't have to be a necessary evil. Put the time in to do your system upgrade correctly, and you may ensure not only that your users don't show up with pitchforks, but that they are excited about the possibility of your next upgrade.

About the author:
Jamie Oswald is a business intelligence and SAP BusinessObjects expert for Mercy, a national healthcare network of 32 hospitals and 300 outpatient facilities, based in Chesterfield, Mo. He is also an SAP Mentor.

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