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Rene Descartes once philosophised something very deep and meaningful about questionings one belief if they are in reality or just a figment of the imagination, well SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence (webi) is certainly enabling the reality that some organisations are only just imagining…the flexibility of providing Offline reporting is made easier with the ‘iPhad’ (copyright me). This is simply not a fad based on the corporate adoption and uptake of the iPhone and iPad Apple iDevices as businesses are truly going mobile. Check out this article published in USA Today.

This blog is the first in a series of blogs on experiences to date with SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence and our delivery of consumer ‘screen real estate visualisation’ via mobile technology, in particular the iDevices.

Mobile consumption: what tool should I use?

There is a rich choice of front end tools available under the bonnet from SAP, as a result there has never been such a diverse choice of options for the end user in delivery of Mobile Analytics. We have been working with a client to develop an offline reporting capability that could be viewed by senior management on iPads or iPhones in PDF form (but not limited to an Apple device).

When considering not the best tool but the most appropriate tool to develop the offline capability for the user requirement, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence (Rich client) was selected.

Obviously Webi Rich client is a dynamic and flexible tool that would empower and enable a user to analyse data at their leisure. But you may ask, is this the appropriate tool to carry out formatting of report outputs? Why not use SAP Crystal Reports I here you say? Or SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards for an interactive reduced set of static views? Well the actual views to be created didn’t lend themselves to this particular application on an Apple iDevice, because an embedded .swf file does not run without Flash, but the visualisations you can get from Dashboards would obviously hook the user in with its great looking flex-ibility. SAP Crystal Reports was maybe a touch too far for what we needed, as this was an initially just a POC. 

The following Dear aBI – Offline Reporting with SAP BusinessObjects regarding offline consumption options didn’t sway our decision, but only enforced it.

Acupuncture, a bit like a customer experience…

I put on my customer hat when I was building my Webi documents. Being the consumer of the information I was able to get a better understanding of what I wanted it to do, what I believed it should be able to do and what it actually did.

After a decade of using the SAP BW front end tools, there are certain elements and functions I have taken for granted which have also been a testament to fine German engineering… the past few weeks have been spent tutting louder and louder, to the point of feeling like I had developed torrets! So like acupuncture I have felt a little pain, but I keep reminding myself that Webi Rich client, is a simple (and some say effortless) tool and as such, has a somewhat limited functionally, but it does seem the integration with SAP and in our terms an Excel Flat File, seem slightly unyielding…whether it be offline or online, problems seem to exist…

Our head of Business Analytics and Technology, John Appleby, recently posted an excellent blog with insight into BusinessObjects Integration and what the delights of BI 4.0 will bring. It’s definitely worth a read. Unfortunately we didn’t have the available patch levels to enable us to use the MDX integration directly.

So the following are some of the pain points I experienced:

Charting: This is not as functionally rich as some of the other elements to Webi. In the BEx Web Application Designer (WAD) you can do a lot to the way a graph is displayed and formatted (yes I know it’s very different in terms of the tool application but…). So luckily with an iDevice you can nip your fingers and zoom in to see what that peak or trough is all about. Maybe there is an improvement for SBO Web Intelligence 4.0.

Alerting: This is a great function in Webi and but easier to a point than its big brother in the BEx. One area it could be improved however is the ability to show alerting within graphs, seems this is a real pain across the SBO community. Maybe there is an improvement for SBO Web Intelligence 4.0…

Dates: This area is proving to be one area that provides some annoyance. To format dates, it should be pretty basic, but it all depends on the source data and what the data type setting on the source file to Webi is! as sort ordering is very dependent on this. As such if you place a custom sort on the dates, you will need to add in future dates, to make sure the formatting works for future files. Maybe there is an improvement for SBO Web Intelligence 4.0…

Source files: The strangest problem was faced when i had a number of queries populating the Webi document (the Webi file has a .wid extension), the extent or limits to what can be sourced from a file is somewhat difficult to find, but it’s safe to say the fifteen mark limit of the number of source queries to populate a wid file is a good upper limit. The original Building Queries with Web Intelligence Query – BusinessObjects XI 3 i’m sure it specified no more than 15 queries in a document, in subsequent releases of the document, the maximum number of queries has been omitted and it says either one or multiple queries. Maybe there is an improvement for SBO Web Intelligence 4.0.

The karma customer experience

After all that red faced, tutting, came the peace and tranquillity and Zen like experience of a gratifying Yorker (that’s cricket to any followers of the sport).

Webi and agile methodology: Webi gives you agility and a quick turnaround in developing and deploying a solution, which would work well if you are running an agile scrum development, due to the intrinsic simplicity.

Visualisation across the nation: One of the great things about Webi is that it’s fairly intuitive. Building layouts was very simple, however some fine tuning is required when it comes to presentation and visualisation, as it’s all about the screen real estate and user experience says our BOBJ Evangelist and Head of BusinessObjects,Andrew Fox. So with that you’ll need a touch of creativity about you and the ability to think like Stephen Few to aid in the development of the visual output…so thankfully being a creative genius trapped in the IT world, this came easy.

The all important customer feedback: ‘Nice…great…love it…’ in my book is good positive feedback from the customer when they were browsing through the PDF output on the iPad and iPhone just to make sure.

Webi or not, here I come…

So all is all a good taste of what Webi can be used to do in terms of developing offline reports for mobile devices. It’s quick, agile and can provide good simple formatting, but for anything more, then it’s maybe worth looking at SAP BusinessObjects Crystal, but then I would be hesitant. I am looking forward to getting all webi with another visually beautiful solution using the new front end designer of BI 4.0 Web Intelligence. Mobile never looked so good – maybe webi is the killer app for mobile devices.

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7 Comments

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  1. Simon To
    Hi Geoff, thanks for this useful blog. However, this blog is focusing on offline report consumption only. I hope in your next blog, you can elaborate more on how the business users can slice-n-dice their WebI reports on iPad, and how the WebI reports integrate with Enterprise security on iPad. What are the challenges on that regard? Is there any problem running Java Report Panel on iPad? etc etc.
    Thanks.
    simon
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    1. Geoff Warriss Post author
      Hi Simon,

      Yes it was unfortunately only offline reporting, so not using the full extents of what webi can provide online. Our POC was purely excel file as a datasource to Webi, so this would have been OLAP via mdx to a potential universe if the infrastructure was there, but being on the ipad, webi would work but java is not supported and therefore the java report panel wouldn’t work. However the HTML report panel I would assume could be used.

      I’ll ask my fellow colleagues to elaborate on the security issues involved and challenges, assuming this is Afaria?.

      Thanks for this certainly lots of options involved if the deployment is interactive.

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      1. Steffen Schwark
        Hi Geoff,

        Thanks for blogging about this. I think there is great potential in broadcasting pdf reports out to mobile devices for some user groups. It’s simple to use, affordable to setup and works on almost any device.

        Regarding mobile device management – of course I have an opinion as one of your “fellow colleagues” 😉

        When emailing out pdf’s the security challenge effectively becomes one of securing email on the targeted mobile devices. This should not be taken lightly, but is not really reporting specific.

        For other reporting scenarios on a mobile device it comes down to whether data is accessed online only or whether there is “data at rest” on the device, e.g. for offline analytics.

        If all data is retrieved online it comes down to securing the “data in transit”, i.e. the connection between the device and the data source and to ensuring that the user is properly authenticated before accessing the application.

        If data is stored on the device there is an additional element of protecting that data from unauthorized access, e.g. via encryption.

        Sybase Afaria adds important security elements to the device by enforcing password policies or allowing for remote wipe, but it can only ever be part of a wider, layered approach to security.

        Regards,
        Steffen

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  2. Dave Ploch
    This was a great view of offline.  How does this fit with the Afaria and SUP tools for providing MDM and apps?  We are piloting Afaria now and will start SUP pilots soon.
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    1. Geoff Warriss Post author
      Hi Dave,

      Yes I’ve been looking into how this could be managed if the POC was then used in anger. There would be a definite need for a process to hang round this, or of course the use of Afaria, which looks to be a good tool to manage the whole process and provide a framework for stability and full automation. At present the process is a manual one and one which uses security of the PDF itself and a limited user base.

      Would be interested to see what you think of Afaria and SUP as a deployment model.

      Many thanks Geoff.

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    1. Geoff Warriss Post author
      Hi Greg,

      I was never really a Nirvana fan, but am liking any Zen cuts. XBRL is an interesting subject. Rooted into BPC of course, but in our case the XBRL publishing from SBO would not be one that would be appropriate as this was internal reporting and not to any Financial authorities. But certainly interesting to know if other folks use this SBO tool?

      Thanks Geoff.

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