SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 The New Semantic Layer – ASUG Webcast Summary
ASUG BusinessObjects 4.0 Semantic Layer Webcast
In February 2011, Pierpaolo Vezzosi, a Solution Manager at SAP, provided an ASUG webcast on the Semantic Layer. Please keep in mind that this does include things that are roadmap related and that these things are subject to change and that the usual SAP disclaimer applies. The agenda for the session was as follows:
1) Semantic Layer Vision
2) Semantic Layer Main Innovations
3) Accessing BI Data in 4.0
4) Future Plans
Semantic Layer Vision
Figure 1 – What is the Semantic Layer, and What Is Its Value? (Source: SAP)
Semantic layer is the core technology developed by BusinessObjects back in the 1990’s. It provides the ability for BusinessObjects user to receive their data, analyze it, and share it. The idea is to hide the technical complexity from the Business User.
From Figure 1, you can see the Semantic Layer can connect to any data source or schema; you do not have to use any specific structure. Based on the data source, the best access method for access will be provided, such as MDX to OLAP, SQL to relational databases, and BICS to BW. For SQL, they have SQL for Oracle, SQL for Teradata.
The Semantic Layer exposes simple business terms to users – like customer, product, and revenue and the reporting user does not have to worry about what is behind the scenes, allowing you to create a common user experience.
Figure 2 (Source: SAP)
Figure 2 goes into more detail, showing how the semantic layer connects to the various data sources. There are 2 main methods to access the data – the universe method and the direct access method.
The first method is the Universe access which is the historical method. The “translation” occurs where the input is the tables and joins, and the output (for example) is the customer, revenue, or products.
With 4.0 in SAP has introduced a new access method – Direct Access, which allows you to connect to a data source directly without creating a Universe. A common user experience is provided such as the Query Panel for Web Intelligence and Crystal Reports – drag from a data source to report. BI front end tools will be used to access the semantic layer, except Analysis is not there yet (planned for a future release).
Semantic Layer Main 4.0 Innovations
In the 4.0 release innovations are the Information Design Tool, multisource universes, dimensional access, and direct access.
Figure 3 – Information Design Tool “An Improved Experience to Author Universes” (Source: SAP)
The Information Design Tool is the new application to create universes. It is not called Universe Design Tool because in the future you will use the Information Design Tool to create other things such as shared queries which can be reused in other client tools. Figure 3 shows the key words added to Information Design Tool.
Figure 4 – Information Design Tool (Source: SAP)
Figure 4 shows the Information Design Tool. Up until 3.x you used the Universes which are files showing the business representation of data. With 4.0 the concept of a BI project (see Figure 4) is introduced. A BI project is a set of files defining how you want to expose your data to the users. It contains the files for your universe but it can also contain other things such as the data connection.
Other things are stored in the Information Design tool such as project documentation including text files, PowerPoint presentations, and these documents can be opened within the Information Design Tool. The benefit of this is you can share your project after you synchronize it with the server to your machine.
One of the goals of the Information Design tool was to move from one single file with one person to having multiple people working together on the same project. When you create a BI project one of the resources you get is connectivity.
Figure 5 Connectivity (Source: SAP)
Figure 5 shows how you connect to a database, the user name, the password, data source name, IP address.
Figure 6 Data Foundations (Source: SAP)
After you create the connection to the database you can create the Data Foundation. Data Foundations are where you combine tables and create joins and thus make a model. You can create multiple data foundations from the same data connectivity. Figure 6 is a sample of the Club Database from the samples.
Figure 7 – Business Layer (Source: SAP)
Figure 7 shows the Business Layer. You can create multiple business layers on top of the same data foundation. Once you have completed the Business Layer you publish it to a Universe.
Figure 8 Publishing to a Universe (Source: SAP)
Figure 8 shows publishing a Universe, which will be consumed by the BI Front End tools.
Figure 9 a Universe (Source: SAP)
Figure 9 shows it is now a Universe file, available for consumption by BI front end tools – Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports, and SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards. Also in the 4.0 release you can see your data within the Connectivity/Data Foundation. From the data foundation view you can select single columns from multiple tables and see that data.
Figure 10 – Seeing the SQL (Source: SAP)
Figure 10 shows the SQL from selecting single values from multiple tables in a data foundation. You can also see data from the Business Layer. From the business layer you can create test queries.
Figure 11 Test Queries from the Business Layer (Source: SAP)
Figure 11 shows the Query Panel which can be used to test queries. In the data foundation, color has been added to create “Families” and to simplify and help finding tables.
Figure 12 Views (Source: SAP)
Figure 12 shows another improvement which is creating views, which are subsets of tables. Business Layer Views will allow you to select a subset of objects for your Universe and manage security from them.
Figure 13 Cascading Prompts (Source: SAP)
Figure 13 shows the cascading prompts feature. For example, if you select customers from France and East Japan – these are at different levels (country and region of a country).
Based on usability tests, according to Pierpaolo, those who understand the Universe Designer will need just 10 minutes to understand new framework and will then create universes in the Information Design Tool.
Figure 14 Multi-source universes (Source: SAP)
As shown in Figure 14, the next major feature is Multi Source Universes. In XI 3.x you could create multi source universes but you needed Data Federator and that is a separate license. SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 added federation technology within Semantic Layer.
Figure 15 Multi-Source Data Foundation (Source: SAP)
Figure 15 shows two sources – ClubPV, an Excel file and an SAP HANA relational database. You can create joins from the tables (blue is ClubPV and orange is HANA). Then you create a Business Layer and can create a query from the multi-source tables:
Figure 16 (Source: SAP)
Figure 16 shows the query from the multi source universe – orange/store sales came from HANA, and blue came from ClubPV, resulting from the multi-source join. So the business user doesn’t have to care about the complexities behind the scenes.
Figure 17 Dimensional Access (Source: SAP)
Figure 17 shows when you connect to OLAP sources you can have support in dimension in hierarchies. In XI 3.1 you could use the OLAP Universe to connect to OLAP cube but the results were flattened.
Figure 18 Dimensional Access: Query Panel (Source: SAP)
As shown in Figure 18, with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 using the Query Panel you can navigate via hierarchies and display in report. For MSAS (Microsoft Analysis) cubes the connection is MDX; for BW it uses the direct dimensional to BEx Queries (there is no need to create a Universe in BW).
Figure 19: Connect directly to BEx Query (Source: SAP)
You can access children, descendents, etc. without having to create a Universe.
Figure 20 BI 4.0 Web Intelligence Access (Source: SAP)
As displayed in Figure 20, with Web Intelligence 4.0 you can open universes, BEx Queries, or Excel files.
Figure 21 Query Panel from opening a BEx Query (Source: SAP)
Figure 21 shows it looks like opening a Universe when accessing a BEx Query using the BICS technology, which is a native API to retrieve data from BW and it is faster than OLAP universes.
Accessing SAP Data in 4.0
Figure 22 SAP NetWeaver BW Access
To access data in BW there are 3 ways as shown in Figure 22:
1) Dimensional access using direct access via BEx Queries
2) Multi Source data such as BW and non-BW to mix data – make SAP BW a relational schema and then build business layer. However you lose the concept of hierarchies
3) XI3.x Universes will work as-is as Web Intelligence etc. Universes will connect via BEx queries and InfoProviders. SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 ships with Universe Designer
Direct Access is based on BI Consumer Services (BICS). BICS is an OLAP connectivity layer from BEx to BW and is built on native proprietary API calls. The value of BICS is it exposes BW multidimensional and hierarchical models, BW metadata (variables, structures), and it performs the fastest access via the native API, using the investments of the BEx query design. BEx queries are available to all front-ends – Crystal Reports, Web Intelligence, etc.
Figure 23 – Direct Access to BW is Faster in SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0
Figure 23 shows the results of performance tests. XI3x Web Intelligence was taking 4 times longer than BEx Web Analyzer. SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 is taking about the same time as BEx Web Analyzer and this is a preliminary test.
SAP HANA is the new in-memory calculation engine in-memory database. SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 supports HANA, using a relational universe to access HANA. It can be a single source or multi-source universe.
Pierpaolo mentioned the Safe Harbor statement saying that this is a plan and subject to change.
In SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1, the plan is for SAP to add new connections of Teradata, DB2, Sybase, and Oracle and it will be able to create ECC connections such as connecting to Infosets, SAP Query, and ABAP calls. SAP plans to add dimensional universe to connect to Essbase cubes.
Planned improvements to direct BW access include query stripping. Query stripping was added in XI3. This feature takes out objects that you are not using in your report to improve performance. Query panel improvements include selecting a specific level of your hierarchy. MultiSource universe improvements include creating virtual federated tables on top of multiple sources.
SAP plans to provide a universe authoring SDK. This SDK will be used to build/modify universes and it will java-based.
This was a great, fast-paced webcast with key takeaways being the Multi Source Universe, faster access in 4.0 with Web Intelligence using BW, and the new Information Design Tool. For more additional information, Pierpaolo will be speaking at 2011 ASUG Annual Conference May 15-18 in Orlando, FL. We want to thank Pierpaolo for re-recording this webcast and thank SAP Mentor Ingo Hilgefort for arranging this for ASUG.