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Live with SAP BO Design Studio – an evaluation

Just before Eastern we did in an evaluation on our experiences with SAP BO Design Studio, now that we have been live for 5 months. In this blog I like to share the results of our evaluation.

About the project

This project concerns an upgrade from about 100 WAD 3.5 reports. Over the years investments have been made in extending the SAP BW enterprise datawarehouse with additional datasources. Last year a front end upgrade was in order.

  • For business reasons: the reports had grown organically, an needed to be reviewed; resulting in three goals:
    • make it easier to find reports
    • make them easier to use
    • use clear report categories
  • For technical reasons: maintaining WAD3.5 reports is not supported with the latest BW releases.

The first phase of the project was designing the user interface and look and feel of the application. A graphical designer went to the drawing board and prototypes were developed in Design Studio to narrow down the requirements. This resulted in a template report with all the required functionalities in place, build with DS1.3, that was used as a base for the new reports.

Since September 2014 we are live with the new front end with most reports converted. For those that are not yet converted (sometimes due to business reasons) we point to the old WAD3.5 reports. Also, the old application is still available for users as a reference, but based on the statistics we can see the new environment is more popular.

Things we are happy about:

  • We get a lot of positive feedback from the users that it is looking beautiful and that the application is working much more intuitive than the old one.
  • From a technical perspective, the integration with the BEx queries and BW backend is very good. Hierarchies (we use a lot of those), authorization, single sign on all works very well.
  • With the BIAL, a lot of interaction is possible and easily implemented.
  • The SDK makes a lot possible and can be used to create nice things.
  • The application works in several browsers, something we didn’t have before.

Things we are not so happy about:

  • Design Studio is still growing in functionality. Compared to WAD3.5, with no developments solid as a rock, it shows sometimes unexpected behavior.
  • Export to Excel is not working as desired
    • With csv export the text gets messed up: ë becomes ë
    • With xlsx export sometimes numbers are transferred as text
    • With xlsx export the hierarchies indenting disappears (please support: https://ideas.sap.com/D15660)
    • With csv/xlsx export you only export the decimals you see on screen, whereas in WAD3.5 the decimals that were not displayed were exported as well. This can lead to the situation that after an export the elements don’t add up to the total.
  • Bookmarking is not robust enough. In the WAD 3.5 bookmarking was used extensively by our users and a feature well liked. In Design Studio a small change to a report results in losing all the bookmarks build by our users. This conflicts with our desire to be agile.
  • Performance. Compared to the WAD 3.5 reports we have lost 10 seconds on initial startup. Since we are running BW on HANA, our first suspect is the BO server, but it is very hard to figure out what is going on there.
  • Mobile readiness. The application we build is for desktop use. However, since it is a web based application, users try to view it on mobile devices and are disappointed because the sizing and scrolling is not working as expected. It would have been nice if the out of the box would support at least that.

To conclude: Doing an evaluation like this, it is always nice to see that we as a project team are often troubled with the things that are not working as desired, whereas the business sees the new application as a real substantial improvement. Also, based on previous experience, we do feel comfortable that, some way or another, solutions will appear.

 

Please note: this blog has also been published on SCN.

Tangible benefits of a good datawarehouse

The benefits of a datawarehouse are not easily quantifiable.

It is therefore good to see, that the UvA, winner of the prestigious Deloitte Kordes Annual Report Award 2014 in the category Education, refers to their datawarehouse as an important element for winning this award.

Click here for the full message (Dutch).

In conclusion: A good datawarehouse increases the quality of the Annual Report.

The UvA live with UvAdata!

StartscreenUvAdata
                                
The University of Amsterdam is live, for several months now, with the new major release of UvAdata, the management information system of the UvA. As external project manager and BI consultant I had the pleasure to contribute to the success of this project.

                                
                                

Introduction
UvAdata is an enterprise datawarehouse that consolidates data across the University concerning Education, Research, Finance and HR with the main goal to support decision making for managers. It provides a single, comprehensive source of the current and historical information, based on a standardized data model and common definitions and semantics. UvAdata is within the University of Amsterdam the single version of the truth. Users have acces to the data using a BI application build with SAP Business Objects Design Studio 1.3.

The UvA uses for more than 10 years SAP BW as the enterprise datawarehousing tool, and has slowly but steady invested in expanding and consolidating datasources. Over the years this has resulted in more than 100 reports, with each adding insight in presenting the data. After 10 years, all these insights are bundled into best practices, and the technical upgrade from SAP BEx WAD3.5 to the latest tool SAP BO Design Studio has been used to improve the business user experience.

The goal of this release was to improve on:

  • Easier to find reports
  • Easier to use
  • Clear report categories

Easier to find reports
With more than 100 reports, it is not easy for users to find the right report.

Tiles that direct to the reports

In the new release the startscreen represents the most significant report area’s with tiles. With a mouse over is shown what type of reports are behind the tile. After pressing the tile small pictures of the reports are shown. When these are pressed, the reports start. Finding reports has become easy and intuitive.

Easier to use

The UvA has used SAP Design Studio to implement the reports in this release. Together with users a template has been developed, to establish an easy to use interface. The requirements are that the interface is easy enough for irregular users, but has enough options for frequent users. The first reactions on ‘easy to use’ have been positive, especially compared to the old ‘context menu’, which for a lot of uses was to complex. In fact, in the latest release (DS1.4), the ‘context menu’ is available again, but at the UvA it will not be used as an opion.

rapport

Also with the development of the template, some rules have been defined on how to build meaningful reports, especially the use of graphs has been reviewed using the books of Stephen View. This means 3D graphs, pie charts and a lot of silly graphs have been avoided.

Apart from the interface, big improvements have been made in making the reports easier to understand by declining the use of jargon and departments specific terminology. And finally, the Wikipedia that serves as the help function, has been improved.

Clear report categories

The management information system had grown over the years. For users it was not always clear what type of report they were looking at. In the new release a report is now one of following three categories:
1. Dashboards
– Only filtering possible
– Norms, goals and contracts, compared with actuals
– Primary the user group is academic management
2. ‘Dossiers’
– Primary user group is staff
– Single purpose reports
3. MAD reports
– Primary user group is everybody interested in gaining insight on a certain topic
– Monitor, Analyse, Detail (see blog)

By dividing the reports in these categories, several purposes have been served:
Provide information for the academic management
– Information is ready when needed, up to date, reliable, consistent and agile -> Dashboards & MAD reports
Contribution to the professionalization of the management culture
-Common language on definitions -> Dashboards
Contribution to professionalization of the academic support
-Saving time in the collection of data; -> Dossiers
-Opportunities to seek relationships analysis -> MAD reports
Contribution to enhancing the quality of the administrations;
-Errors are more likely to be detected -> MAD reports

With this new release, the UvA has made a significant step in supporting the UvA management with management information.

In conclusion: the new release focused on the improvement of three major topic’s: Easier to find reports, Easier to use and Clear report categories.

The UvA goes live with UvAdata!

The University of Amsterdam is live, as of today, with the new major release of UvAdata, the management information system of the UvA. As external project manager and BI consultant I had the pleasure to contribute to the success of this project.

The goal of this release was to support the UvA management by:

  • Easier to find reports
  • Easier to use
  • Clear report categories

These goals had been defined after a user survey, that researched the use of the UvAdata system.
I will explain in detail the goals in the next blog.

With this new release, the UvA has made a significant step in supporting the UvA management with management information.

In conclusion: another successful SAP BI implementation in Higher Education

SAP BO Design Studio – what about release 1.3?

In May 2014 SAP made Design Studio version 1.3 general available. On time, as promised. But is this the release we have all been waiting for?
In short: unfortunately no. It is definitely an improvement, but still there is a lot to desire.
There is quite some ground to cover before the tool is as rich in functionality as the Web Application Designer. In this release it feels to me a lot of functionality is added that is useful in SAP Marketing (HANA, Lumira, all the buzz words are there).

BW Integrated Planning support
A lot of effort has gone into enabling the planning functionality, SAP BW- Integrated Planning. It is a nice feature, and definitely one that should be in place someday, but to me it would seem one with less priority. The current WAD solution will be supported for some while, thus why bother moving to Design Studio? Also, adding comments is currently only possible with an SDK component, thus adding hassle for those customers who want to use it.

Native Hana deployment
It is now possible to deploy Design Studio native on HANA. Of course very important for the long term strategy of SAP, ‘everything can be run on HANA’. But currently most HANA deployments are BW-on-HANA, thus this could have waited.

Design Studio SDK on Netweaver
Nice feature for the Netweaver users, they do not have to install a BO server. Unfortunately, if they want to use bookmarking and personalization, they still have to do that.

Application bookmarking and personalization
This was a feature I was looking forward to. As such it works quite well, but it has some drawbacks. First of all, it only works in local mode or on the BO server. Second, when the report is updated (i.e. because of an request for change) all the users lose their favorites. And finally, favorites are not stored centrally, in the sense that a user can organize his favorites in one spot. Also, I am not sure where on the BO server all these favorites are located. So I wonder how administrators will be able to clean irrelevant entries. For the Netweaver users, I hope a solution for that environment will be presented as well.

Lumira (CVOM) SDK integration
Lumira is of course a tool that will be part of every BI tooling strategy, someday, so it is good to know that there is integration with Design Studio.

Charting extensions
Some new charts have been added, and it is easier to modify certain options. Unfortunately, a lot of the new chart types are of the category ‘silly graphs best avoided’ and the options are still very limited, compared to the possibilities in the Web Application Designer. But hopefully improvement will continue in this field.

Advanced table formatting and customization
Nice features have been added, thus more is possible. Well done.

Printing
The added printing functionality is very limited, it is just a button that starts the webbrowser printing functionality. With the SDK this was a very easy thing to implement already. I hope we will get some improvement in this area in the coming releases. It feels strange that Anno Domini 2014 printing is still an issue.

Advanced Scripting
It is now possible to do some loops in the scripts. Already a big improvement. Well done. Keep up the good work.

So all-in all, a lot has been done in 6 months. Well done. If SAP can keeps up this momentum, Design Studio will become better and better.

In conclusion: Design Studio 1.3, not the release that changes everything, but a step in the good direction. Keep up the good work!