SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence - is it always the right tool for the job?

10 March 2014

Many SAP BI consultants would suggest that Web Intelligence (Webi) is one of SAP’s hottest reporting tools. I spent the last year using Webi 4.0 for the reporting needs of an international law firm, so I thought I’d share my views about the tool, its advantages and limitations.

Before going into detail, here’s some context. SAP Webi 4.0 was chosen because we were initially working with a broad range of rather vague requirements by the client. Webi was therefore ideal, as it can facilitate a broad range of reporting scenarios. However as the project went into detail, we started seeing the use of other reporting tools.

So, here are my key observations.

Ease of use

It’s a relatively simple tool so can quite easily be adopted by all user groups. From a technical perspective, SAP BI developers can easily combine measures and dimensions to build the desired reports. From a client perspective, it’s easy for business users to run a report based on selected criteria and then export it to a variety of formats (such as Excel or pdf). The client found it extremely easy to handle the tool, with minimum training.

Versatility

SAP Webi 4.0 uses dimensions and measures from lower level data sources such as Universes and BEx Queries. In our project we used Universes. Generally, a Universe can bring together data from different data sources, such as  SAP BW or  other SQL-like databases, which means that the tool is suitable for reporting even on data from non-SAP systems. That was exactly our case, where the client used several industry-related data sources and not SAP BW.

Using SAP Data Services, we created the underlying data warehouse (EDW), on top of which we created our Universes, using SAP Information Design Tool. However, there was a risk here, as a lot of bespoke work took place both at EDW level and at the Universe level, to create a data model with the right data joins, transformations and hierarchies, something which would be far quicker and more efficient if Webi had been used on top of SAP BW data.

What the team had to do – in essence – was to replicate the way SAP had designed the BW structures and build it on top of third-party data sources. This required more time than a classic SAP BW-BI project would usually need; on the other hand it made the system more flexible for reporting and went beyond some standardised functionality of SAP BI on top of SAP BW, such as including cost allocations and integrating Finance with HR, something that would have required much more effort to accomplish with the rigid structures of SAP BW.

Formatting

We had to create highly formatted reports using Webi.  I have to say, Webi is not SAP’s best tool when it comes to creating formatted reports. There is a basic formatting that can be done – such as set a table’s colour or change the font size – however when a client needs highly formatted reports then SAP usually suggests alternative products such as Crystal Reports. Despite that, even with Webi’s simple formatting options, the team was able to replicate heavily formatted reports almost to the smallest detail as the mock-up, by coming up with creative ideas and heavily customising the reports. However, this required significant time and would probably have been easier if Crystal Reports had been selected as a reporting tool. Furthermore, the heavy customisation of the reports requires a lot more effort in supporting the reports after build. In any case, the end result proves that little – if anything - is impossible when it comes to formatting with Webi.

Graphics

SAP Webi 4.0 introduced a lot of new graphic content in relation to the previous versions, such as   bubble charts, heat map charts or tag cloud charts. This proved extremely useful, as the client required very specific and complex graphs to complement the reports. We did come across instances where Webi did not offer some graphs out of the box, however with a little bit of fine tuning we were able to design all the required graphs.

To conclude

I believe that SAP Webi 4.0 is indeed a very strong reporting tool, relatively easy to use and with a lot of reporting capabilities. However, the efficiency of the tool always depends on the reporting requirements, as what may be your best friend on one occasion, might prove an enemy on a different occasion. Webi  was somewhere in the middle in our project, as it proved very efficient for most of our reporting needs, but at times it required more time and effort to design elements of reports that other tools (e.g. SAP Crystal Reports for highly formatted reports or SAP BPC for financial reports) would do faster and more efficiently. But probably if another tool had been used, then we might have missed many of the advantages of Webi, such as the ease of use and adoption or its flexibility; therefore it’s all about the tool choice – what one gains and what one gives up. The hard part is to measure these consequences prior to any decision, and decide wisely. That said, the client’s feedback about the look and feel of the reports as well as the tool’s ease of use was positive, which proves my previous point that in the right hands Webi can accommodate almost any reporting requirement.

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