The purpose of this blog is to take a brief look at each tool to help the reader determine when he might use each of these tools to meet a reporting requirement and to identify additional resources of information. (The BEx Broadcaster, which is a tool for disseminating the various BEx Suite outputs, is not addressed in this blog.)
Design Tools: BEx Query Designer and BEx Report Designer
The BEx Query Designer has long been the core design tool for reporting in SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence. Self-contained business data areas called InfoProviders provide the structure for data in SAP NetWeaver BI. In previous releases, in order to analyze the data in these InfoProviders, you built queries using the BEx Query Designer. While this requirement has been relaxed you can now analyze InfoProviders directly, including third-party data providers in the case of the BEx Web Analyzer the BEx query still remains a critical building block. With the BEx Query Designer you take advantage of OLAP features that allow you to use variables, hierarchies and formulas. You define re-usable restricted key figures (key figure values for specific characteristic values, such as sales for 2006) and calculated key figure (formulas), as well as assigning exception thresholds and conditions for reporting. In short, the BEx Query Designer allows you to both limit the data returned from the InfoProvider and add to that data (e.g., hierarchies, restricted and calculated key figures, etc.), as well as define the report structure of rows and columns.
With SAP NetWeaver 2004s, the BEx Query Designer is planning-enabled. Planning-enabled queries can be used in the BEx Analyzer and BEx Web Application Designer to create Excel-based and Web-based planning layouts for data entry as well as reporting. The BEx Query Designer is a desktop application that is typically used by both the technical team and power users (depending on the organization) for creating outputs for the enterprise. An example of a query is provided below:
For a demonstration of designing a query, access the URL: https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/505e9d7e-0601-0010-3fa7-b40010bbdec5.
A criticism of the BEx Query Designer outputs has been the lack of formatting capability. SAP delivered the BEx Report Designer in SAP NetWeaver 2004s to fill this gap. The BEx Report Designer does not replace the BEx Query Designer, but rather allows the user to take a query or query view (discussed in the BEx Web Analyzer section) and apply formatting and layout functions. The designer can, for example, change fonts, text and background colors, row heights and column widths, insert rows and columns, re-position fields, and add texts, images and charts, and page breaks. A formatted report can include multiple independent sections based on different queries or query views. Formatted reports can be incorporated into complex Web applications as well as serving as standalone Web outputs.
The BEx Report Designer therefore transforms the basic query or query view to provide a formatted report that is optimized for presentation and printing. However, keep in mind that, because of this optimization, reports have limited navigation options (use of filter values and hierarchies) compared to the original queries and query views.
The BEx Report Designer is also a desktop tool. As a new tool, it remains to be seen who uses it the most, but it is easier to use than the BEx Query Designer, so its use may extend to more casual users as well. An example of a formatted report is provided below:
For a demonstration of creating a report, access the URL: https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/9c059b57-0701-0010-3283-e5e8669f827e
BI Application Design Tools: BEx Web Application Designer and SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer
The BEx Web Application Designer is a desktop tool that allows the user to build BI applications for the Web. With this tool, you create an HTML page with BI-specific content, starting with an XHTML document referred to as a Web template. To build the BI application, you drag in Web items, which define different ways of displaying BI data (e.g., analysis grid, chart, report, map), perform functions (e.g., navigation pane, button group, filter pane, dropdown box, etc.), provide related information (e.g., document list, system messages, information field, etc.) or organize the output within the page (e.g., tab pages, container, group, container layout, etc.). You configure these Web items by assigning a data provider (query, query view, or InfoProvider) and by setting properties relevant to the type of Web item. The command wizard leads the user through the steps necessary to create command to be executed via the button or link Web items, making it much easier for a user to create a complex Web BI application. Additional coding may also be added directly to the XHTML view in the design stage, as needed. SAP NetWeaver 2004s also provides planning integration, so you can create planning layouts using the BEx Web Application Designer for manual data entry or with embedded planning functions (e.g., copy actual to plan, perform a percentage revaluation, save the plan, etc.).
A Web template becomes a Web application when the data is displayed in the Web browser. You can access the Web application directly in your browser with the URL, via a link stored in the BEx Portfolio or My Portfolio in the SAP NetWeaver Portal, or as an iView in the portal. You can also pre-calculate the Web template and distribute it via e-mail or store it to the portal.
The BEx Web Application Designer is typically used as a design tool by technical and power users to create BI applications for the enterprise. An example of a BI application developed in the BEx Web Application Designer:
SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer is a Web-based application-modeling tool. It allows business analysts quickly create and adapt application content, without coding. SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer allows access to transactional as well as BI data (SAP NetWeaver BI and third-party BI data).
You use SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer to create and adapt applications, through a graphical user interface called Storyboard. You organize and configure components of the application into a logical flow, or model. You build the application model by defining the data services and model components, assembling and connecting them into a task flow that answers the needs of the application. You place the model elements in a screen layout that reflects the actual look-and-feel of the application in runtime. Models designed in SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer can be deployed to run in one or more technology engines, including Web Dynpro and Adobe Flex.
SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer is a Web-based tool that requires the SAP NetWeaver Portal. Deployed models are stored in the portal content directory (PCD). The following is an example of a Web application developed in the SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer:
For a recorded eLearning session on SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer, access the URL: https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/media/uuid/6cb05174-0701-0010-448b-caf8c6fcc97a
For a detailed comparison of BEx Web Application Designer to SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer, see the SAPinsider article at https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/go/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/619f878a-0c01-0010-51b6-cb3f22615b87.
For information on integrating BEx applications with SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer applications, see the how-to guides How To Integrate Visual Composer Applications and BEx Web Templates (https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/cab252d4-0a01-0010-3984-ee345859dde6) and How To Integrate SAP NetWeaver 2004s BI Application UI Elements and Visual Composer UI Elements by Service-Enabling UI Elements (https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/5a40f2f7-0c01-0010-d69f-c6317c5165cd).
Analysis and Design Tools: BEx Web Analyzer and BEx Analyzer
The BEx Web Analyzer is a browser-based end-user tool that allows the user to select a data provider and analyze the resulting data. From linked SAP NetWeaver BI systems, you can select a query, query view or an InfoProvider. You can also select an external data source from a linked third-party BI system. The standard initial display provides a tabular view of the data and a navigation pane. You can analyze the data by dragging and dropping characteristics and key figures in and out of the table to navigate to different levels of the data, applying or removing filters, and adding, changing or deleting exceptions and conditions. Functions within the BEx Web Analyzer also allow you to switch from the table to a chart or both, change selected properties, and print, export and broadcast your view.
The BEx Web Analyzer acts as a design tool in two ways. The user can navigate from the initial view, using the above features, to a desired navigational state and save this as an analysis in the to the Knowledge Management (KM) folders in the SAP NetWeaver folder (Save As in the toolbar). In this way, the user (or a group of users, if the users saves it to a public folder) accesses his preferred view of the data, rather than having to navigate to it again in the future. To use the new analysis as a data provider for the BEx Report Designer or the BEx Web Application Designer, you can instead select Save View from the context menu. This creates a new query view.
The BEx Web Analyzer is a standalone Web application that you call in your browser using a URL or access from an iView in the SAP NetWeaver Portal. The Business Intelligence and Business Explorer portal roles include this iView. You can see the BEx Web Analyzer in the BEx Query Designer example above.
For a demonstration of the BEx Web Analyzer in use, access the URL: https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/8452357f-0601-0010-d593-9e93e47b14ce
The BEx Analyzer is an add-on to Microsoft Excel that is accessed via the desktop. With this tool, a user deploys a query or query view to an Excel workbook. As an analysis tool, it is similar to the BEx Web Analyzer. The user has navigational features delivered via drag and drop and the context menu, as well as filtering and switching from the tabular view to a chart. The user can employ Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to add customized programming.
The new design mode of the BEx Analyzer provides powerful design features as well, similar to those of the BEx Web Application Designer. In the design mode, you select different design items to build a BI application, which may include one or more analysis grids, navigation panes, buttons (with embedded commands), drop down boxes, checkboxes and so on. You configure these items by selecting the appropriate data provider and adjusting the properties. For example, you can create a complex planning application including planning functions as well as manual data entry capabilities by defining an analysis grid item with the appropriate query as data provider and inserting the necessary command buttons to execute the relevant planning functions (e.g., copy actual values to plan, apply a percentage revaluation, save plan values, etc.).
Additionally, you now have the option to work in formula mode. In the standard mode, the BEx Analyzer creates a link to the results cells and controls their formatting. If you apply formatting using Excel features in this mode, the new formatting will not be saved. By selecting Convert to Formulas, you switch to the formula mode, which changes the way the link is established. The system actually deletes the analysis grid design item and replaces it with the results on a cell-by-cell basis using a Microsoft Excel formula. In this mode, you can apply formatting and apply Excel functions against these cells, save the workbook, and permanently retain this new formatting. As the data link remains active, though, the data will be refreshed when you connect to the system, allowing you take advantage of Excel features to create a highly-formatted workbook, but still have up-to-date data from your BI system. A trade-off in the formula mode, however, is that you lose the BEx navigation capabilities. Therefore, you need to make sure that you achieve your desired final navigational state before selecting this option.
For a demonstration of the BEx Analyzer in use, access the URL: https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/servlet/prt/portal/prtroot/docs/library/uuid/31951d58-0701-0010-6b8b-885795f595c7
As both analyses and design tools, BEx Web Analyzer and BEx Analyzer may be used by technical users, power users, and end users.