For the second year in a row, I had a wonderful holiday gift from my good friend, Ingo Hilgefort - his latest book, "Inside SAP BusinessObjects Advanced Analysis - Microsoft Office Edition". When I met Ingo at Teched in Vegas, I promised him that I will post a review of this book on SDN. Unfortunately, the last quarter of the year became more busy than I assumed, and I could not get to it in December.So here I am, with my comments for whatever they are worth,
When this book was written XI 3.1 was the latest GA release, and 4.0 was not available. But Ingo has provided guidance on what is the product outlook for 4.0 version. It is not an easy task to write a book on any topic in SAP these days, especially on BI, since a newer version is always sneaking up on you.
Ingo gets full marks on clarity of presentation, and consistency. Having read the previous versions of his book - it took me very little effort to find the parts that interest me the most.
For those of us who have been around BI world for last several years, it is a lot of fun looking at the first chapter that explains the evolution of Advanced Analysis from BEx on SAP side, and Crystal Decisions on the "other" side. It is incredible how many times the name has changed for the products ( SAP , please listen - spare us this pain). I have asked this before and will do so yet again - Can some one please tell me what was wrong with the name Pioneer? It was funny(?) to see the Central Management Console use "Voyager Connections" for Analysis.
Reading this book, I am inclined to think that Advanced Analysis is the richest tool that SBO offers - and the big gap it covers is the full support for hierarchies. Although SAP's position seems to be that customers should choose the right tool from their portfolio for each reporting requirement, I have a feeling that pretty soon, these tools will converge. Ingo, like in his previous book, explains which scenarios work for Analysis and which do not, from common reporting scenarios. Of course, he also explains which other SBO tool will fill those gaps.
Installation details indicate that Advanced Analysis will serve as another forcing function for SAP to get customers to leave older BW versions and move to 7.0. Also, I was surprised that you don't need BI Java to run Analysis While SSo is supported, it is only on client side - even if BOE is part of the landscape. SAP is smart enough to disable BEx plugin for excel when Analysis is on, and vice versa. SAP security experts should spend some time reading the sections on Authorizations to avoid unexpected behavior from the system.
In keeping with the theme of "new names are better than old ones", Advanced Analysis calls Keyfigures as measures, and Characteristics as Dimensions and Values as members. I can already see some frustration and confusion in project teams who are used to BEx terms. However, the panels in Analysis client are very intuitive. And if we are using a query to connect to BW, almost everything in the BEx query can be understood by Analysis, which is awesome for quick migrations. Well done SAP !
Ingo does not shy away from the most common question from BW side - why use queries when we can access cubes etc directly in Analysis? Like with rest of SBO tools, Analysis has limitations in this approach and practitioners should be fully aware of (like variables for authorizations for example).
The way the basic and advanced functions of Analysis is explained makes me believe that an existing BEx expert can just use this book to get up to speed, without really needing a training class. Especially note the highlighted sections were Ingo points out the differences with BEx, and where some edits need to be done on BEx and not in Analysis. Pay attention to these people, or spend a lot of time posting on SDN forums 🙂
From an end-user perspective, I think Analysis will make life a lot more easier for them on usability front.
For those of you who quickly want to find out how this product compares to BEx, jump to chapter 6 (which is where I started, before I read the first chapter). There is some serious missing functionality (example: no Report-to-Report Interface) - but I love that it is all clearly spelt out, so that we don't have to guess, or find out along the way in a project. With this chapter, we can plan on a decent migration strategy to move BEx workbooks to the new platform. It is pretty clear that most BW shops will need a newer version of Analysis to fully meet their needs. As Ingo points out, most of the gaps have potential solution in next versions. This is the kind of honesty that sets Ingo on a different league from other authors.
Transports seem pretty straightforward with the Lifecycle Manager, although not integrated with the native SAP transport mechanism. However, this is fixed in 4.0, so not a big deal really.
The product outlook is amazing - and after reading it, I seriously wonder how many people will use the first release. However, there are plenty of great features in first release itself for several BW shops to take their fist step into Advanced Analysis. A big limitation of BEx has been that it only understands a BW backend. With 4.0 - Analysis will be able to use several sources via the semantic layer, even relational ones. Now that is real value and makes me super excited. Also, with the possibility of automatic migration of workbooks (ones that are not using any VBA) is a significant plus point for next version. Product interoperability is an exciting possibility of 4.0, and we will get server side SSO. In short, I cannot wait to get hands on 4.0 !