SAP BusinessObjects BI version 4.2 was released in Q4 2015. With V4.0 going out of mainstream maintenance late last year, and V4.1 set to go the same way in less than two years’ time, it’s time to look at what the upgrade holds for you. The new release of this widely used technology contains a number of significant new features and enhancements since the previous release back in Q3 2013. So, over two and a half years in the making then – what has SAP got to show for it? Let’s take a look.
As you’d expect, there are some useful additions to the BI Launchpad and Central Management Console (CMC) which make life a lot easier for administrators and developers alike. There’s also a wide range of benefits for each of the leading SAP BusinessObjects tools that are used alongside the BI platform. However some of the most important aspects of V4.2 are those benefits which are realised during the upgrade process itself.
We’ll take a look at each of these three areas, starting at the beginning (always a good place to start), with the upgrade process.
Technical upgrade process
The upgrade process changes depending on the version of the source system. Upgrading from V3.X to V4.2 has become a much more easily managed task; it’s recommended to install the new release on new servers and use the Upgrade Management Tool (UMT).
If you are upgrading from V4.0 or V4.1 to V4.2, there is the option to move to new servers, but if the existing servers are sufficient then just a patch is required.
One major change is that the upgrade and installation of BI platform V4.2 can be carried out in two phases:
- Installation after caching.
If you’re running Windows there is no system interruption during the caching phase, which reduces the overall system downtime.
- A “Select filter page” is available. This enables you to reduce the number of documents being displayed. It allows you to filter the documents based on the created/modified time, object type, the previously migrated content, etc. This makes choosing what content to migrate a more manageable task.
- The summary page displays the minimum temporary space required. Vital for ensuring the upgrade does not fail or cause complications on the server.
- When selecting objects to be migrated, you can choose to migrate only the pending/recurrence instances and ignore the older instances. This will help keep the BI platform organised by avoiding migrating unwanted or unnecessary content.
- A new upgrade option allows you to migrate security rights from the source deployment to the destination deployment. This means it is no longer necessary to spend time recreating security groups and authorisations levels afresh.
- At the start of the installation, you have the option to change the temporary location required by UMT and can select the log level.
- Finally, the installer provides you with more information about how the upgrade process went and whether or not errors were encountered, etc.
Here at Bluefin, we’ve already upgraded from 4.1 to 4.2, and our very own 'Mr BusinessObjects' Tim Nightingale has written about the process and our lessons learned: SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise 4.2 upgrade: simple or difficult?
New BI Platform and CMC Features
The BI platform has been enhanced with a myriad of different individual features which enrich the capabilities on offer to end users. These new features improve the product and user experience for users, report consumers, and developers alike.
Amongst these new features are the following:
- Administrators can now send alert messages from CMC to the user. The alert message notification pops up when the user logs on in the BI launchpad screen. This will be a really powerful addition to the administrators’ armoury of tools, allowing them to communicate critical messages and system downtime notifications to end users.
- The BI Administrator’s Cockpit is another great new application added in CMC. It enables an administrator to collect, monitor and view data about the BI environment. This will provide the business with key information about how its BI environment is being used right from the start, without the need to mine into the BI Audit Universe and spend time manually exposing and reporting the data (a painful process I endured during a POC on Bluefin’s own internal systems only a few months ago). In addition to this, Web Service clients like Analysis for Office and Xcelsius can now be audited too.
- BI Commentary is another application that has been introduced in CMC. It allows document users to collaborate by commenting on any of the data/statistics available in a given document. BI Commentary tables are created and maintained in the Audit database by default. We agree with SAP when its says that you should configure a new database to store the comments from BI Commentary application, for ease of maintenance. Currently, BI Commentary is available for WebI only, as it was probably the easiest to implement for SAP, although I wouldn’t be surprised if other BObj technologies have the commentary solution in the pipeline once its customers’ appetites have been wetted with WebI.
- Connectivity enhancements enable you to include the following data sources: HANA SPS10, Hadoop Hive 0.14, Cloudera Impala - CDH 5.2 (0.13 and 0.14), Amazon EMR Hive 0.13, Apache Spark (JDBC and ODBC), Greenplum 4.3, IBM IDS 12.1 (ECS France), IBM Netezza 7.2.
- SAP BusinessObjects Mobile Server is now being able to push notifications to iOS devices, either automatically based on object or user-specific triggers, or manually broadcasted notifications from an administrator. This is by far one of the smallest new improvements, but it’s a step in the right direction for SAP’s mobile BI platform.
- Recycle Bin application. When the user deletes an item from the BOE system, it is moved to the Recycle Bin, where it is temporarily stored until the Recycle Bin is emptied. This gives ownership to the end-user enabling them to recover deleted objects and restore them to their original locations. Simple, but useful nonetheless!
BObj specific features
All of the above benefits are available immediately ‘out-of-the-box’. In addition to these, there are many enhancements for each individual SAP BusinessObjects technology too. The benefits from these will only be realised after your existing business content is augmented, however. They include:
- The ability to connect directly to HANA Views & HANA Online mode, as made available to all BObj tools by the 4.2 BI Platform.
- Load times of reports drastically reduced. Parallel running of queries in HANA will allow reports to run several query refreshes simultaneously.
- Geomapping is now available. It’s not as sophisticated as what Design Studio has to offer, but it’s a very robust example of how charting and visualisation is progressing to meet the needs of the market.
- Potential lower development and maintenance costs. Shared elements will allow developers to reuse objects across reports, which will be music not only to developers’ but also customers’ ears. Previously when reports are defined all the objects and formulas created within it are only available in that specific report. This improvement should reduce report development time and complexities, and indeed maintenance costs of WebI-heavy BI projects.
- Document level input controls allow users to interact and filter entire WebI documents with one click rather than having to filter each individual “report” (or page). Another simple but effective win for end users.
Information Design Tool
- Easier maintenance of complex developments. Ability for Universe to link to several other Universes in order to organise and structure more complex BI Landscapes. This will improve organisation and ultimately make it easier for complex developments to be maintained.
- Increased flexibility when connecting data sources to your reports. Authored SAP BEx Universe uses the BICS connector to build a Universe on top of a BEx query. This happened in the background in previous releases, but now it’s available to use and secure.
Analysis for OLAP
- Connection to SAP HANA via HTTPS.
- Alias table support for Oracle Essbase data source.
- More sophisticated sorting within the AFOLAP tool allowing you to break hierarchy support within sort.
- Currency translation support by BW. This means you can convert the key figures defined in one currency into another currency in your analysis workspace.
Crystal Reports for Enterprise
- Native support for QR code and bar codes. If a number or text is included in a report, it can be quickly converted to a QR or bar code.
- Waterfall charts have been added.
Crystal Reports 2016
- Enhanced conditional formatting. For shapes such as liens and boxes.
- Richer user experience. Parameter value descriptions can now be shown on reports.
- Lumira server has been integrated with BI V4.2.
The advance in technology across the board that becomes available with BI V4.2 gives the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of data that supports key decision-making within your business. There are a large number of businesses who have existing content on their BI platforms and will see significant benefits from moving to V4.2.