While there are a number of new features and enhancements in both the 7.5 version for the Microsoft platform and the 7.5 version for SAP NetWeaver, I’d like to call out a specific topic that comes up in conversations frequently with both users and prospective users of the application. Ever since Business Objects was acquired by SAP (January 2008), people have been asking if, when and how the SAP BusinessObjects BI tools can be used to access data within the SAP EPM applications to extend the reporting capabilities within the applications or reach new types of users that need to interact with the data contained in these applications to support decision making. The wheels had already been set in motion for this direct integration (I mean application layer access not simply extracting data out of the application into another data repository for reporting purposes) between SAP BusinessObjects BI tools and some of the applications in the EPM portfolio but was not yet available for SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation (with the exception of a workaround to embed Xcelsius dashboards in the application).
The situation changes with the 7.5 release. Integration between the SAP BusinessObjects BI tools and SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation is delivered in the 7.5 release of both versions (Microsoft and NetWeaver). Customers that have licenses for the SAP BusinessObjects BI tools can now use Xcelsius, Web Intelligence, Explorer and other tools to access information in SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation). For example, Xcelsius dashboards that display plan versus actual variances on key performance indicators, completed steps in a business process (yes, Business Process Flows are now available in the 7.5 release of SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation, version for SAP NetWeaver) or whatever information needs to be consumed in a “dashboard” layout can be created and embedded directly within the SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation application. This allows managers and executives to see and interact with high-level views of key information pertaining to planning, budgeting forecasting and financial consolidation processes. Budget contributors also benefit from the ability to input data in a simple, aesthetically pleasing, web-based schedule (via Xcelsius).
Integration between the BI tools and SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation doesn’t begin and end with Xcelsius. For example, using Web Intelligence, a business user can create a plan versus actual report on the fly (over the web) that pulls in plan data from SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation and actual data from a data warehouse and they could have this report saved and managed within their SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise environment (like all their other BI reports).
The question that typically follows, “Can I use the SAP BusinessObjects BI tools with SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation”, is, “When should I use the SAP BusinessObjects BI tools versus the reporting capabilities that come within SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation itself”? One reason to consider using the BI tools is for accessing and analyzing information from multiple sources of data including SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation. For example, as outlined above where a business user views a report/dashboard with plan data from SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation and actual data from an EDW. Secondly, organizations that already have the BI tools (there is a very large installed base of BusinessObjects users) may want to further leverage these investments or BusinessObjects is the standard for information access and they want to create, store and manage reports containing SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation data in SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise. A third reason to leverage the BI tools with SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation is to extend the reach of SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation information beyond the realm of Finance. While Finance loves Excel and Excel may be the most ubiquitous “reporting” tool on the planet, outside Finance there isn’t such an affinity. Not everyone is comfortable working in Excel and “casual” business users may prefer a cleaner, less complex interface to view and interact with information. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer has been designed for just this purpose.