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SAP shops reviewing BI strategies in wake of BusinessObjects 4.0

Ian Cheng, Contributor

Many companies opt to use SAP BusinessObjects front-end tools when they require reporting across a variety of analytical data sources with SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (BW) as part of the system landscape. However, the choice between using SAP BusinessObjects or SAP BEx tools becomes less clear-cut when reporting on BW data alone and is causing customers to assess their SAP business intelligence (BI) strategies.

Here is a look at typical reporting scenarios and a comparison of the available

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SAP BEx and SAP BusinessObjects reporting tools available for each of them.

To universe or not to universe

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.x front-end tools can consume BEx queries directly. This means that universes are not necessary for the BusinessObjects tools to access BW data.

From a data access perspective, BEx Query Designer remains the tool to create and maintain queries on BW InfoProviders. BEx queries are preferred because:

  • They are flexible and can extend the data modeling environment, requiring less effort to change than InfoProviders.
  • Constructs -- such as calculated key figures, restricted key figures, structures and SAP variables -- can be readily developed in BEx queries to meet end-user requirements. These constructs are not available when accessing InfoProviders directly.

The right tools for the right scenario

The table below outlines common reporting scenarios and the relevant BEx and BusinessObjects tools that companies can use to provide the functionality required.

Reporting scenario Usage types BEx tool SAP BusinessObjects tool
Formatted reporting -Prebuilt highly formatted reports from static to parameterized layouts -BEx Report Designer -Crystal Reports
Dashboards and visualization

-Intuitive data visualizations

-Interactive dashboarding

-BEx Web Application Designer -Dashboards
Ad hoc query, reporting and Analysis

-Online and offline reporting capabilities

-Ad hoc reporting capabilities

-Limited analytical functionality

None -Web Intelligence
Advanced online analytical processing (OLAP) analysis -Advanced analytical functionality

-BEx Analyzer

-BEx Web Analyzer

-Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office

-Analysis, edition for OLAP

Data exploration

-Search and explore data

-Limited analytical functionality

None -SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

Formatted reporting

Formatted reporting scenarios typically encompass the need to present or structure SAP NetWeaver BW data in a particular layout to meet requirements such as printing or external publication. From a BW perspective, this can be met through either BEx Report Designer or Crystal Reports.

BEx Report Designer is a standalone desktop application that works similarly to BusinessObjects tools in that it is built upon an underlying BEx query definition. It can use the constructs defined within the underlying query such as formulas, and calculated and restricted key figures. However, report interactivity -- such a variable drop-down menus -- needs to be incorporated by building a Web template that includes the relevant Web items for both the drop-down menu and the BEx report.

From a functionality perspective, Crystal Reports offers a more feature-rich experience than Report Designer. If both options are available within an organization’s technology stack, Crystal Reports is the optimal tool for delivering formatted reporting.

Dashboards and visualization

Dashboarding scenarios involve visually modeling the status of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) within an organization. Dashboards offer user interactivity with functionality such as what-if analysis with sliders and other controls. They also allow users to drill down into more detailed data sitting underneath the metrics being reported.

BEx Web Application Designer can be used to develop a dashboard on BW data with a fair degree of interactivity. However, SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (formerly known as Xcelsius) requires less effort to deploy dashboarding functionality, such as what-if analysis. Also, Dashboards allow report creators to show a prototype, based on static data, to key stakeholders as part of the development cycle.

Ad hoc query, reporting and analysis

Ad hoc reporting in BEx provides self-service functionality to create reports not available through existing reports from central IT. Apart from the ability to bookmark navigation states within the BEx tools, there is not much self-service functionality beyond this for reporting users.

Web Intelligence delivers full self-service functionality, which eliminates the need for users to request reports against the data contained within the available BW reporting layer InfoProviders.

Advanced OLAP analysis

Certain groups of users -- such as data and business analysts -- require additional analytical functionality within their reporting beyond adjusting report layouts or basic interactivity.

Both the BEx and BusinessObjects tools offer OLAP analysis functionality. The functionality is available as a local client-installed application embedded within Microsoft tools (BEx Analyzer, Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office) or browser based (BEx Web Analyzer, Analysis, edition for OLAP).

Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office, is an add-on that allows multidimensional ad hoc analysis of OLAP sources in Microsoft Excel. It also offers Excel workbook application design and the creation of BI presentations with Microsoft PowerPoint. Furthermore, it contains a dedicated set of functions in Excel to access data and metadata in connected BW systems.

BEx Web Analyzer deploys BEx Analyzer functionality via a browser, requiring no installation of client tools on a user’s PC. As a result, the functionality of browser-based reporting is not necessarily like for like when compared to a client-side tool such as BEx Analyzer. Similarly, Analysis, edition for OLAP, is the browser-based equivalent and has a reduced set of functionality when compared with its rich client equivalent.

Data exploration

None of the BEx tools offers data exploration. BusinessObjects Explorer fulfills this need. The Accelerated version is able to consume SAP and non-SAP data held in BW Accelerator indexes directly, without the need for an additional semantic layer of the BusinessObjects universes.