Interested in the new Commentary capabilities in WebIntelligence 4.2 then read on.
Firstly a short disclaimer – I work in the PreSales team within SAP Australia, specialising in Business Intelligence, HANA and Information Management. Secondly, these are my own opinions and observations and should not be taken as SAP’s official position. You can find me on LinkedIn at https://au.linkedin.com/in/jamesredman.
I cannot think of an RFP in recent years – and I have answered a few – where the customer has not requested some form of commentary be available in their Business Intelligence toolset. The reason for this is quite simple – the most prolific BI tool on the planet has it – Microsoft Excel. Simply right click on a cell and add a comment. It’s that simple.
The reasons for commentary are many and varied but usually revolve around explaining why a number is too high or too low. You could call it the ‘excuses function’. This is especially the case with financial reporting – ‘our sales are below budget because [fill in blank here]’. And to be honest, SAP’s financial application, Budgeting Planning & Consolidation (BPC) has had this capability for a while – mostly because it has an Excel interface. However, the capability has never really been properly implemented in a more general purpose BI tool. The BI Platform from SAP BusinessObjects has kind of had it – you can create a note against a report – but this was really for collaboration rather than commentary. Report authors could also create a free form text cell and put their thoughts in there as well but it was pretty clunky and only available to the author.
The WebIntelligence developers at SAP have finally put their heads together and begun rolling out much more sophisticated capabilities with the BI4.2 release and with the recently released Service Pack 3 have taken this a huge step further with cell based comments – just like you can in an Excel sheet.
This blog will explore that capability.
Below is a very basic report based around a cross-tab with data from our old friend the ‘eFashion’ universe. By clicking on the new icon on the left hand side we get a new comments panel. I can now start writing a comment specific to the contents of a particular cell.
Now, when I hover my mouse pointer over any cell with the commentary flag in the top right hand corner (similar to Excel) I get to see that comment. I also get to see who wrote it.
Multiple comments can be added to the same cell and are all displayed in the left had dialog box. There is a report property that says whether the first or last comment should be shown when hovering the mouse pointer over the cell.
Also, the comment is context sensitive – in other words it remembers the crossing where it was added. In the example below, I have added a quick filter on year and you can see the comment has moved with the column.
And it doesn’t just work for tables. You can comment on charts and report blocks as well. Notice the different icon symbol in the top right hand corner.
Unfortunately, you cannot comment on a particular chart component like a bar or segment. To be honest this might be tricky as I am not sure how you would tell the viewer that a comment was available.
It also does not take into account any filters or input controls that affect the underlying numbers. In the example below, I added an input control for the product line. When a user changes this, like I have to ‘overcoats’, then obviously all the numbers in the table will have changed and the comment would more than likely no longer apply. I would be nice if the context remembered this as well but you can’t have everything. 🙂
One neat trick I did find is making use of the new Comment() function to surface the cell’s underlying comment as a string. If you then leave some blank space in the report for comments then different report viewers can add their comments and have them all show up in the report – even when it is printed.
You can also use the new Comment() function to hide comments unless they have been validated by a responsible person. Please check out the BI Platform Administration Guide for further details on that gem. You can also find more details there of how the comments are stored and also all the security implications and configuration.
So, you are now looking at a very happy RFP responder who can tick the box to one more requirement. I hope there are also many happy customers who will start using it and you weren’t all just adding that question to your RFPs just to be difficult! 🙂