SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Platform Review

Web Intelligence really stood out in terms of new features and overall significance compared to all the other tools in the suite.

SAP just announced the release of the latest update of its BusinessObjects BI suite, namely BI 4.2 SP03, following the first release BI 4.2 SP02 back in March

In both announcements, Web Intelligence really stood out in terms of new features and overall significance compared to all the other tools in the suite. On the one hand this should not be a surprise since it is the most popular and widely-used of all the SAP BusinessObjects Analytics tools but, on the other hand over the last few years SAP has focused far more attention on its newer analytics tools. 

Web Intelligence is and has always been a Business Intelligence Query, Analysis and Reporting tool. The latest functionality additions emphasize that and to call it just a reporting tool is simply a miss-classification and lack of understanding of its capabilities. Web Intelligence allows you to perform ad-hoc queries against both relational and OLAP data sources, slice and dice, drill-down, drill through, perform data discovery, create dashboard and scorecard visualizations and format amazing looking reports. It can be used on-line, off-line, on mobile (HTML5) and be published or exported to the most popular commodity formats. Many organizations use only Web Intelligence for all their BI needs or a combination of Web Intelligence and SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (Xcelsius).

So in Web Intelligence 4.2, we have seen a ton of new functionality ranging from Shared Elements to allow you to save and reuse charts, tables and different parts of your reports  (with the metadata) to Linked Elements allowing you to integrate all types of third party charts and components. This included a series of integrated geo-maps which have been further enhanced in SP03 enabling you to use latitude and longitude as data points on the map and add custom locations.

Another great Webi feature released with 4.2 was the commentary feature allowing you to collaborate around documents with context sensitive comments that are associated with just the document and stored in the audit logs or location of your choice. The commentary has been further enhanced in SP03 allowing you now to apply comments at the block level (charts or tables) and individual cell level in a table within the Webi report.

Input Controls have become popular in Webi documents for providing an easy way to interact with a document that has been options and variables. Now with Webi 4.2 SP03, cascading input controls are supported with dynamic filtering of the list of values for nested selections.

The Dynamic HTML (DHTML) client option of Webi has been enhanced adding features that were previously only available with the Java client including conditional formatting and support of XLS as a data provider, Query Panel support for UNX and support of complex filters in the Query Panel.

Other new Webi 4.2 SP03 features include Merged Variables (combine a data provider and variable into a single object),  References (new object for a variable that returns the value of a specified cell in the document),  choosing the image density when exporting a document to PDF or Excel and further user interface enhancements  for customizing look and feel of charts, graphs and more.

I am already seeing interactive Web Intelligence reports and dashboards that I would never have guessed were created in Webi because the customization capabilities are so vast.

These are just a few of the highlights and there is even more being promised with future service packs. All-in-all, Web Intelligence has evolved into a one-stop shop for BI reporting, ad-hoc query and analysis that just keeps getting better.

On the minus side, there is still a lot to be done on the mobile side to make Web Intelligence truly seamless between the desktop and mobile versions and I would like to see SAP pay a lot more attention to this.

Also, while performance has improved with parallel query execution now being the default, there is still room for further improvement.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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