A Commentary on Commentary
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! 🙂
Thanks a lot for this.
We are looking at commentaries for sales too and what you have above is close to what we want too. However we are stuck on one feature which you mentioned above (the 'overcoats' example using the input control).
We are not too concerned about the comment staying on a cell where the underlying number has changed after the input control. We instead would like to know if using an input control meant that the row shifted up or down, would the comment on that cell stick to the row it was inserted on or would it dynamically shift with the cell.
An example you might try would be to exclude the Western States so that California and Colorado are removed and therefore the Illinois row has moved up a few lines.
Does the comment stay on the Illinois 2006 row or does it now shift downwards and appear on the Texas row?
It will work like you expect !
The comment is attached to [Illinois-Illinois Store namexYear-Revenue] and will remain attached to this cell/row event if the lines for California and Colorado are removed from the table.
Thanks for the writeup in this blog. I believe that SAP finally made the right decision to invest in a proper commentary framework in the BI Platform. The roadmap has annouced it obviously will be extended in the future and context sensative comments are high on my list as well. Furthermore I looking forward to have it extended to other client tools as well.
With kind regards,
Martijn van Foeken | Interdobs
Some "context" are already there.
We respect the context of a line in a table (vertical and horizontal) and the context for a cell in a cross table.
Moreover, if you insert a comment in a section (nested or not), the comment will appear/remain for this section only or not the others sections.
Which means :
1/ if you decie to control the Section via a Query Prompt for instance, you can decide to display the context for a certain period, then when the period changes (ex: next month), the past comments won't apperar for the new month. But getting back comments from past month simply means to refresh the document with the prompt set to the previous month ...
Hope this helps,
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