SAP BI 4.1 – The time is right

29 October 2014

Matt Vasey

Matt Vasey

Consultant

The story so far…

Following the initial excitement of SAPs new BI 4.0 offering which was two years in the making, it was finally released to customers back in 2011. It was then thoroughly documented and articulated that the product lacked core stability, missed key features and the upgrade process was unstable. In most new implementations it wasn’t until 4.0 SP04 arrived that we could release to the business.

Hence arrived the much anticipated dot release – SAP BI 4.1 which was released late last year. The core focus was around stability, quality and user experience. There was an air of expectation from a number of delegates; this would be the BI platform to upgrade from various previous versions or implement from new. The benefits were clear.

After a year of numerous upgrades and recently implementing the latest BI 4.1 SP04 version, I am keen to highlight that the upgrade path is clear - it is outstanding.

I truly believe that the early visionaries, who implemented 4.0 and endured early teething problems, are now in a situation where they understand the sizing and reporting capabilities. Additionally, they have gained vital in-house capabilities and discussion making points with business users that go with report tool selection. They are in a great situation with an inline upgrade to 4.1 to further utilise the full breadth of BI capabilities

What are the major benefits of SAP BI 4.1 – SP04?

If you are a 3.x customer looking to upgrade, a 4.0 customer looking to update or looking to implement a BI system 4.1 afresh, there are a whole realm of benefits highlighted below. There are hundreds more individual product features available from upgrading to SAP BI 4.1; however I have highlighted the main advantages we have encountered during past projects, which would be most valuable to support any business case to upgrade. During numerous upgrades we have found it extremely beneficial via our BI upgrade service, to deliver delta course to both the IT teams and business users on detailed new features from previous BI Versions. It gets the business engaged from the start and offers a platform to make the most out of your investment from the get go. It isn’t just an upgrade it’s an enabler.

1) Mainstream maintenance

With 3.x and 4.0 ending mainstream maintenance at the end of 2015, it’s simply clear that an upgrade should be on the roadmap during 2015.

2) Improved stability and sizing

The core focus of SAP’s development of 4.1 was on core stability. Measured against our past experiences of SAP BI 4.0, this has fundamentally been achieved. A multitude of fixes from past versions have been included into SP03 and later in SP04.

SAP has gone some way to address the criticality of appropriate sizing of BI 4.1, especially for 3.x customers who will be new to the 64 bit environment. Sizing is imperative to the success of any BI implementation or upgrade and via our BI Upgrade Service we have been able to help a range of customers appropriately size and implement their new architecture. The new system configuration wizard makes a great starting point for splitting out your APS and I would expect it to be built upon in further releases. 

3) Advanced product interoperability

There have been some massive strides in development of newer analytical tools over the past year such as Lumira, Design Studio and to a certain extent Analysis for Office. Certainly from a number of recent Lumira implementations you will find a new level of business engagement that you never had before. Though for the business to utilise a number of each products, which offer some excellent capabilities, then the SAP BI 4.1 platform is required.

Lumira Server BIP Add-in, for example, will require 4.1 and the SAP HANA platform as standard to consume Storyboards. To utilise the Analysis for Office scheduler, then BI 4.1 is also required. There is no doubt that this line will continue to grow as products further develop; to utilise the maximum capabilities 4.1 is required as a minimum.

4) Reduction in TCO

With a number of product enhancements and the introduction, specifically of Lumira and its ad-hoc capabilities, you should now really aim to standardise your BI strategy across the enterprise to support all of your BI community. Instead of having a number of third party vendors, I believe most, if not all, requirements from your reporting stream can be facilitated under one BI umbrella.

5) Key product enhancements

There are a huge realm of new enhanced features both from an architecture and reporting perspective weather planning to upgrade from an older version of BI or embarking on a new BI initiative here are enhancements we have found key in all of our projects to ensure a successful project and return on investment.

  • Web Intelligence. Query Stripping, Better Overall BICS performance, Grouping feature, SDK, Calculation Engine enhancements for BW, Freehand SQL(SP05), Auto Formula rewrite, Alignment of Web/Java client and Hierarchy advancements
  • Analysis for Office. Include open Link via workspaces and scheduling via Addin
  • Crystal Reports. Much enhanced look and feel and further improvement to acquisition. Crystal server has much improved integration with BW
  • IDT. Specifically for upgrading 3.1 customers the enablement of multisource universes, over 144 supported data sources, Query Stripping enabled at universe level, developers can work on the same universe at the same time, HANA Business Layer Wizard
  • BI Admin. End user sessions (critical for concurrent license customers), much improved server status error messages, HANA SAML compatibility, Direct folder linking, Multiple servers support for promotion management, support of hosting Desktop intelligence document from your previous version.

6) Stable upgrade process

Most crucially, if you are planning on embarking on an inline upgrade from 4.0 or a new upgrade from 3.x or older, you can be confident in the upgrade management tool. Over a number of recent upgrades, we have seen a noticeable increase in the stability of the upgrade management tool as well as its increased speed with SAP BI 4.1. A great new feature specific to web intelligence is the introduction of auto formula rewrite function, which can save significant man hours during the upgrade.

There are many options for conversion of data sources (UNV– UNX) and reporting tools during the upgrade process which have to be thoroughly planned out to make the most of you investment, for example we have helped numerous existing 3.1 customers using BW as a sole data source make the most of their upgrade; manually converting from UNV to utilise the new BICS connection can be a complex process with key figure delegation, in most cases we saw at least a 10% decrease in report run times.

7) Mobile

You will certainly be surprised at the simplicity of enabling your current key analytical reports to be mobile enabled on the BI 4.1 platform. With excellent new features in Design Studio, Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports and Dashboards, there is a feature rich in-depth secure mobile platform at your finger-tips post upgrade - ready to go.

How long does it take to typically upgrade?

This is obviously a common question and is completely dependent on both the size and complexity of your current environment. We have seen upgrades from 16,000 reports with 1000+ users over several months, to systems with a maximum of 100 users over 4 weeks. What is certain, is that appropriate sizing, planning and rework with the business to define how to utilise the new capabilities is critical to the success of your upgrade.

Summary

It is without doubt that if you are planning to invest in upgrading your current BI environment or are embarking on a new BI implementation, then there is no doubt that BI 4.1 should be the definite choice. The value gained from the products core stability and enhanced product feature set alone raise an excellent business case. It is also clear that to best utilise a number of new key elements of BI then 4.1 is a must.

 

About the author

Matt Vasey

Consultant
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Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race