Ingo and I are both SAP mentors, and we both are from the BI side of the world. Although Ingo knows about my existence only for a short time now, I have been a big fan of the guy from the time I started trying to use Crystal Reports with the old BW versions. From, Crystal to Business Objects to SAP – Ingo has become one of the most trusted knowledge sources for SAP BW practitioners. At Teched 2009, I had a chance to interact very closely with Ingo and in those couple of days, I learned more about BO tools than I had in the previous year. He has a real gift for explaining the most complex topics in a simple fashion.
Just before last Christmas, Ingo emailed me that he was going to send me his new book “Reporting and Analytics with SAP BusinessObjects” to review. I was pretty excited to hear that, and very honored. Some time in early January – I found the book delivered to my doorstep. Ever since, I have been reading it – and I just finished it. I read it cover to cover, and then went and read a few chapters a second time. So, despite my reservations that I might not do full justice to the book, I am going to try to summarize my thoughts here for my fellow BI practitioners.
A lot of information in this book has been made avalable in Ingo’s own blogs/wiki. Also, a lot of it has been given as presentations at SAP events like Teched. Even then, this book gave me a lot of useful information. You might already know that Ingo is the author of the popular “Integrating SAP Business Objects XI 3.1 BI Tools with SAP NetWeaver” book. This new book is not a replacement to that.
Ingo starts with a terrific introduction. In fact, I specifically think that his introduction is a great education for all client facing consultants walking into blueprinting sessions at a client site. Ingo does not use SFLIGHT type examples in the book – instead, he sticks to the most common business requirements that we face at a customer site for finance, sales and HR reporitng. In addition, he classifies users into three categories – consumers, analysts and executives and explains the typical requirements for each group. With this framework – he explains where each of the tools like Crystal Reports, WebI, Pionner etc fit. Even more useful is his clear explanation of where the tools WIILL NOT fit. I don’t recall any other book that did both. Way to go !
I am sure a lot of BI folks can relate to this – a primary concern for BI customers and consultants, after the BO acquisition by SAP, has been tool selection. Well, not any more – read this book, and you will get a clear idea of what is possible right now, and where you should wait for a future version of the product, or use another product. And these are not just arbitrary rules – ingo explains the rationale clearly. There are some great diagrams that clearly explain how each of the BO tools stack up across several parameters like interoperability, visualization, OLAP analysis etc. A key lesson for me is that if OLAP analysis using hierarchies is integral to your reporting requirements, then hang on to your BEx investments for another year at least.
The next several chapters deal with individual tools, and Ingo starts strongly with Crystal Reports, and then moves on to other tools. I must admit that I went straight to Pioneer and then had to come back to get caught up with the rest. Each tool is explained in great detail – right from installation, to how to write your “hello world” report to how to optimize it. And he uses the same reporting requirements from Finance, Sales and HR as examples in each chapter so that reader can get an “apples to apples” comparison. If I ever write a technical book, I am sure I will use this technique. I especially liked the chapters on Explorer and Pioneer. A lot of consultants who are new to BO, will find the information on pre-requisites for each tool quite useful. With trial versions and licenses not being an issue now – it is very easy for BI developers now to instal everything on a PC and folow along this book in a system.
There is a wealth of best practice information in the penultimate chapter. Please read this a few times – and if you do, I bet a lot of “help me” questions in our forums will just go away. This is especially relevant for scenarios where there is a BO implementation on top of a BW system that has a lot of queries. He clearly explains why a 1:1 relationship is not needed between queries and reports. He also explains ways to optimize this – so that you can sunset a lot of queries and make it easier to maintain. I know a lot of clients who point their reports to infoproviders directly instead of using the query interface that uses the OLAP BAPI. There is a good discussion in the book on pros and cons of each approach. Ingo warns us to be careful in taking a one-size-fits-all approach here, and it is good advice – it pays to listen.
The book concludes with the outlook for the products – on what might change, what would come next and so on. For example, if you are waiting to migrate your BEx workbooks to Pioneer – sure it will be possible, but you have to wait till 2011. In 2010, Pioneer only supports Voyager migration. Interoperability is not great between all these products at the moment, but I got the impression that SAP is working on reducing the gaps there. Future of BWA also seems pretty bright – since BW, SAP and non SAP data can get indexed there. There is also some good information at the end on how to use data federator.
My only criticism about the book is the poor quality of the screenshot graphics. The diagrams all come out nicely for the most part, but the screenshots are not sharp for the most part. I know it is too much to ask – but it would also have been nice to compare these tools to other products like Cognos and Microstrategy.
As Ingo himself mentions, this book won’t replace the need for BI experienced people to make a succesful project. However, having this book with you will stack the odds in your favor to a great extent. I wholeheartedly give it a double thumbs-up !!