In his blog 'iPdf therefore iPad', Geoff Warriss offered reasons and details for the use of the Webi platform and shared his experiences to date, more specifically some of the pain points he felt. In this blog I will be looking on the positive aspects of the toolset.
Firstly let's investigate a little more about what Webi actually is.
So what is Webi?
Webi, or SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence XI 3.1, is SAP's offering to the end user reporting market. Its goal is to make ad hoc reporting available to non technical by enabling them to create reports without having to create SQL statements. Queries can be created by dragging and dropping items (always my favourite) within the data source into panes and typing in restrictions, these are items that the user should be familiar with from using office applications, tables, graphs and so forth. It's all very touchy feely and a nice experience.
In 2008 the web intelligence rich client was rolled out to support offline reporting so business users could create and contain reports on their PC without having to be connected to a network. The reports would then be available online once connection to the network was established. This was great in terms of flexibility. As you delve further into the application the flexibility does seem to really increase.
Another feature added was the support mechanism for different file types - TXT, CSV, or XLS can all be used as offline data sources. Files can be provided to report developers in the above formats then reports built offline. This will enable multiple users to be sent a copy of one file containing the report data to be used. Each user can then create their own independent report from the same source data. The reports can be published on a portal and made available online to all other users.
For a general overview of the BusinessObjects suite, check out a blog by Andrew Fox, Bluefin's Head of BuisnessObjects.
The customer experience
Let me now don my customer hat and examine the positive aspects of using the Webi Rich client.
During the project we used excel workbooks as the data source. Webi enabled me to setup the cell regions that represented the queries. When this is carried out the columns appear as dragable objects under the query title in the data pane - these can be dropped into the report.
If a universe is used then the objects appear once again in the info pane and the query can be made up by dragging and dropping the required columns in the query pane and then doing the same in the filter pane to restrict the data being returned.
Simple and very user friendly, no SQL needs to be written as this is done 'under the covers'. If you want to see the SQL it can be viewed by clicking the SQL option so it's a win win situation
Creating charts is done from predefined templates so its quick and easy. The functionality allows the chart to take shape as you add the details.
The style is dragged onto the report and columns added to chart as needed. The chart can have text formatted easily through a standard formatting panel available to all items in Webi.
This is a great function that allows the highlighting or alteration of cell formatting or the contents of cells to reflect a condition being fulfilled. The functionality is really easy to use via a condition builder. This gives further flexibility and depth to created reports.
Formatting is carried out through one interface within the Webi application. It's a simple, straightforward interface allowing the style of the reports to be easily changed. The formatting options will change with regards to the objects that selected but the standard options to carry out formatting should be familiar to office software users.
Overall the formatting is very user friendly and getting to grips with it easily shouldn't be a problem.
The use of different file types is a really easy and convenient feature. A helpful wizard is used to select file types that can be used, for example to use an excel workbook select the worksheet and cell ranges that contain the data to be used then all the columns then show up as objects in the data pane.
The functionality is easy to use and offers a simple way to define the query you are using. The data even has a preview to make sure that you've incorporated the correct data. Very user friendly and the construction of user queries is simple quick and needs no SQL.
So where does the PDF come in?
The implementation we used Webi for needs to output as a PDF so it can be made available for both iPad and iPhone users. Its use on the iPad seems to be really taking off. Eric Lai has written a good blog on this with some interesting statistics.
Our implementation used an Excel workbook containing some BEx queries to provide data to the webi queries. Webi allowed created reports to be saved as PDF's which is perfect for client requirements.
My impressions of Webi so far are really positive. It's a great end-user tool without requiring users to be BI experts. The tools are full of pre-packed templates and the use of familiar styles to office software is prevalent. There are drawbacks as Geoff pointed out however with evolving tools and BI 4.0 these can likely be overcome. The overall feel from an end user perspective is that this is a usable and capable tool without a complex learning curve.