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My good friend and colleague Eric Vallo and I were invited a few months ago to travel to the SAP office in Zurich, Switzerland to teach a 3-day course on SAP BusinessObjects BI4. This was a totally new offering by SAP Education and they were really excited to have us out to kick off their new professional seminar series. Eric and I decided to make a true adventure out of it, and brought our wives along for the adventure as well.

We left the USA late on Friday evening to head “across the pond” and arrived in Zurich around lunchtime on Saturday. Some of us slept on the flight over, and some of us did not. We did our best to stay up the whole day on Saturday, so we headed to downtown Zurich to explore. We did some more sightseeing and sight-eating on Sunday so we could adjust to the time zone (6 hours ahead for me, 7 hours ahead for Eric) before we were due in the classroom.

Day 1


Day one of our training adventure started on a gray, cloudy, and cold morning. Switzerland is very geared towards foot and bicycle traffic and mass transit. There are lots of cars on the streets, too, but traffic is very friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

The SAP building was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel.

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We were greeted at the reception desk by a question from the receptionist “Are you the Masters of the Universe?” I guess we looked particularly American and lost, since we were only 1 of 4 sessions scheduled for the day. Our Switzerland office host, Matthias Straub  was stuck in traffic, and arrived a tad late. He was a little frustrated himself since it took him 2 hours to travel just 20km.

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We started a little behind schedule, but were pleased to find out early on that our students were very engaged and ready to participate in the course by asking lots and lots of questions. This is a great experience for every instructor. Nothing is worse than teaching to a “dead room” where nobody is asking or discussing.

Eric kicked us off with introductions on who we were, why we partnered with SAP to deliver this training, and importantly, how to keep us on a path of interactivity to get the most out of this event for everybody involved.

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Following that, I started us off with a reprise of my Politics of Upgrades presentation, which led to some good conversation. Everyone is feeling the pinch of both the BI4 implementation, and many others are feeling the pain of retiring Desktop Intelligence.

Eric followed me with an overview of what is new in BI4 from previous versions.  In this conversation, we tackled the conversation from the perspective of three personas:

  • The User
  • The Developer
  • The Administrator

It’s clearly important to consider this upgrade from all perspectives.  Everybody takes a turn at being impacted by it.  This took is through to lunch, which we got to share with our Switzerland SAP host, Matthias Straub, and our students. We were introduced to a Swiss fall dessert staple, Chestnut Mousse.  Why can’t the Apple Strudel be the national dessert?

After lunch, Eric began some detailed discussions on the new multi-source universe, then each of the reporting tools in turn. Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports Enterprise, Mobile BI (Mobi), and ended off with an impromptu discussion and demonstration of SAP Visual Intelligence that wrapped up our day. Our students asked a ton of questions and we ended up with a very successful day.

We then took the immaculate Zurich rail system downtown to grab some dinner, then off to bed.

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Day 2

The weather was better today. It was still cool, around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but the rain that had been steady since Sunday morning finally abated. We had a good Euro-breakfast at the hotel then the quick walk back over to the SAP building to start off Day 2 of our lecture series.

Our students were wide awake and ready, and they were loaded with questions.

Eric started off the day by going over the new Information Design Tool in detail.

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Staying true to the theme of our discussions, we stuck to live demo for the whole day today. We wanted to keep the discussion flowing and the idea of participant’s heads buried in their PC’s out of the question.  We brought our own BI4 server that Eric installed on a Mac Mini so we had a local server to run our demos from. Server is on the bottom, the white box on top is the Mac AirPort (router).

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This session was all about important concepts in the semantic layer, driving information security, and importantly, concepts in increasing user adoption and buy-in.  In the end, there was even sufficient time that we were able to tackle concepts in Agile BI and parting business users with IT to deliver better outcomes.

In all, we had time on day 2 to…

  • Spend some time discussing the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit architecture, and why it makes a difference when using the IDT.
  • Design universes that reach the appropriate audience in the right context.
  • Uncover that the business layer that is really what us old-timer BOBJ folks knew as the universe. This is where we change technical data definitions into business terms.
  • See that the attendees really liked the new query panel. Eric highlighted how this was new, and how much it can reduce universe design and testing time. Eric stressed that it was always important to validate your SQL over, and over, and over.
  • Verify that integrity checks now involve multiple levels of checks, and everyone should use them. As a best practice, you shouldn’t export a universe to the repository unless the integrity check has been run.
  • Review concepts on the Project Synchronization utility that is a part of the IDT now.  There were some great questions about how this works, and spent some time doing detailed explanations and demonstrations

That brought us up to our lunch break, which is still weird because even after a few days here it still feels like early morning to my stomach. 🙂

On a personal note, I’m finding that more and more there is no way to continue saying “I’m a BOBJ-only person”. SAP is doing a great job at pulling more and more customers into the BOBJ world. I have found that it is nearly impossible to have a conversation about BOBJ without talking about BW, or Solution Manager, or how this data relates to what is in SAP ERP, etc. The lines are blurring and soon will fade away. As a BOBJ person, especially as a BOBJ consultant, it will soon be (if it isn’t already) detrimental to be “BOBJ-only”. The world is changing fast.

For the afternoon, we dove into multi-source universes and the data federation engine. Eric set me up by creating a multi-source data foundation and then turned it over to me for a while to discuss the Data Federation Administration Tool.  I found that the Data Federation Admin Tool was a little too technical for our audience. It requires a lot of expertise and understanding of how databases work and operate to be proficient with, and I noticed I was losing our students.

So we rounded out the day with a discussion about Business Intelligence Competency Centers and Agile BI, to bring the discussion up to a more strategic level, and re-engage with our students.

We got some lively conversation sparked back up to round out the day.

Day 3

The agenda for the last day was Sizing, Performance tuning & Troubleshooting, and Platform Security. I presented a large portion of the content, so I didn’t get to take a lot of notes throughout the day. Sizing is always a lively discussion. Many customers don’t understand all that goes into a sizing estimate, and our students seemed grateful to have the process spelled out for them and be given a set of tools to use. Troubleshooting is also a very lively topic. I gave our students a practical process to use that would help speed them on the way to a resolution of their BI Platform issues. I stressed heavily the need to start the conversation with SAP Support early in the process, and then continue to troubleshoot on your own while the support engineers get back to you. I gave them an overview of platform architecture, and showed how understanding the different tiers can help with troubleshooting as well.

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On the maintenance side, I showed the students how to run a tight ship, by keeping your system clear of orphans, unused content and inactive user accounts. We also covered the basics of backup and recovery, including the newly added hot backup features of the platform.

Security is a tough topic to tackle in any classroom. We covered the basics of user and content security, and rolled into the newer features from BI4, such as encryption keys. We covered SSL and firewalls in a general sense, and completed the conversation talking about multi-tenancy.

The end of the session brought lots of great questions as our students put what they learned into context of the challenges they each are facing in their own workplace. Some were having problems fleshing out a proper user and content security model since their landscape was very complex. Others were struggling with how to practice a recovery from one of their daily backups to check it’s viability.

Overall, each day, the students seemed very pleased with the course. Many wrote back to our SAP sponsor with some encouraging feedback.

Here’s one of note:

“Masters of the BI4 Universe provided a great way for me to learn from well recognized BI architectural experts. I especially appreciated the course structure, which not only covered key topics but also left plenty of time for open discussions. I think the trainers did a great job. The fact that there were 2 of them, made the seminar more interactive and interesting.“

Gurdeep Sangtani, Holcim Group Support Ltd

It was an honor for me to be a part of this new educational offering from SAP, and I certainly hope to have the opportunity to do more in the future. Of course, seeing a new country is pretty cool, too.

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