SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio
// by Matthias Rensing
IT & Management Consulting, SAP Systems, SAP Transformation
In November 2012, SAP released the first version of Design Studio as the successor to the Web Application Designer (WAD) for customers. With the Design Studio, report applications for web browsers and mobile end devices can be created using an Eclipse-based graphical user interface. After the merger of SAP and BusinessObjects in 2008, the utmost efforts were made to integrate the worlds of SAP BW / Business Explorer (BEx) and BusinessObjects. With the introduction of the BI Platform 4.0 (BIP) and the BI Consumer Services (BICS) interface, a significant breakthrough was achieved. Still, when it comes to tools such as Web Intelligence using the BICS interface the integration with SAP BW leaves a lot to be desired in some areas.
In response to the request for seamless integration with SAP BW, the Analysis products (Office / OLAP) geared towards ad-hoc analysis were developed as the next generation of the BEx Analyzer. In this, the focus was placed on SAP BW data sources. With the Design Studio, this approach now has also been systematically continued to represent a “premium alternative” for web-based standard reports and Dashboards. Over the upcoming months, this development is to lay the foundation for serious considerations on replacing BEx report environments.
Against this background, numerous questions arise:
- How will Design Studio fit into the palette of the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio?
- Is Design Studio an alternative to WAD that should be taken seriously?
- What are the strength and weaknesses of Design Studio?
- What does the future further development of Design Studio look like?
- Should Design Studio be taken into consideration for projects that do not require a specific tool?
- (When) Should existing BEx report environments be replaced?
In the following, we will strive to provide some answers to these questions.
The first impression
Design Studio is structured as follows:
On the upper left side of the user interface, there is an area with the available report components (“Components”). Underneath, the integrated data sources and the hierarchical structure of the selected application are displayed (“Outline”). In the middle section, the currently opened applications are displayed in separate tabs. On the right side, the properties of the currently selected component can be modified (“Properties”).
In comparison to WAD, the user interface looks much more modern and clear overall. During development, a direct data connection takes place for inserted report components once a data source is selected so that the ultimate end result is already visible in development mode (“What you see is what you get”). Therefore, Design Studio does not require the otherwise familiar and dreaded cycle of modification, execution, correction, renewed execution, etc.
With the current version 1.1 of Design Studio, a lot of the severe weaknesses of the initial delivery have already been corrected. Nevertheless, the settings options and functions of the insertable components are still quite rudimentary in comparison to tools with a longer history (e.g. Dashboards, WAD). Yet, when not being scared away by this fact, some very interesting and promising details can be discovered upon the second look.
Remarkable things upon the second look
Design Studio was released by SAP without a – otherwise virtually mandatory – advance ramp-up phase. Nevertheless, Design Studio runs completely stable in its very first version. The functionalities offered are intuitive and, virtually error-free, keep what they promise.
At first glance, all SAP BW Query settings are supported. Particularly in comparison to Web Intelligence using the BICS interface, Design Studio presented a better BW integration.
- BW Query can be used directly
- Same structure as BW Query
- Supports every setting of BW Query
- Online access to BW during interaction/refresh
- Physical characteristics are not subdivided (e.g. text vs. key)
- Loose physical characteristics can be used anytime
Web Intelligence mit BICS
- Requests have to be constructed out of BW Query
- Request > Web Intelligence MicroCube
- Does not support every setting of BW Query
- Access to MicroCube during interaction/refresh
- Physical characteristics are subdivided (e.g. text vs. key)
- Loose physical characteristics have to be added to the request before they can be used
Quite possibly the most important paradigm in the development of Design Studio applications is the so-called “scripting”. The application itself and virtually all report components offer – comparable to customer exits – predefined areas to store code for interaction with the user. The execution of a code is triggered event-controlled (click of a button, selection of a row in a crosstab etc.). The integrated script editor allows for a speedy familiarisation with the possibilities and the creation of complex interactive applications after a short time, even without any prior programming knowledge.
For the formatting of Design Studio applications, CSS stylesheets can be used – starting with version 1.1 – to define global formatting classes. This way, formats for a multitude of components can be maintained in a central location. The CSS support provides an excellent basis for future standard functionalities in formatting (e.g. custom company themes).
Another interesting detail is the interoperability between Design Studio and Analysis for Office. Analysis views that were created using Analysis for Office can be inserted as data sources into a Design Studio application with the layout, filters, characteristics/hierarchy settings and even calculations via the push of a button defined therein (“Smart Copy”).
The web-based Design Studio applications can also be displayed on mobile end devices such as a tablet or smartphone. It is even possible to automatically generate a QR code from the client which contains a link to the report and can be read by the mobile device. Additionally, for iPad and iPhone, the “SAP BI” app can be installed to gain access to reports from the BIP this way.
Positioning in the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio
SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio is clearly positioning itself as the successor to WAD. In this, the central paradigm of interaction between individual components bears a strong resemblance to SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards. However, due to the scripting options, this basic idea is presenting itself in a refreshingly prepared form. Design Studio is placing itself in the area of tools for analytical applications. The report creation requires a certain degree of know-how in handling the tool and should therefore be structured more centrally (IT departments, BI competence centres, or power users). The ultimate end users and/or report recipients can then be provided with the finished applications for execution – in most cases, the utilisation of the tool for report creation is not recommended for pure end users. In the long term, SAP will be making continuous efforts to align all front-end tools on offer with Self-Service BI.
For new report requests and/or BI projects in the context of SAP BW and SAP HANA, Design Studio can be a sensible alternative to the already known WAD already in version 1.1. Even though in this scenario a smaller scope of functionality has to be accepted in particular in terms of technical details in comparison to WAD, Design Studio on the other hand provides for a modern tool that is more geared towards end users and furthermore makes it possible to create know-how as soon as possible.
Serious thought should be given to a replacement of the existing BEx report environments (in particular WAD) only upon the release of version 1.2 – meaning, towards the end of the year. It is only from that point in time on that there will also be more clarity regarding whether and/or how well SAP will be supporting the (partially) automated migration of WAD applications to Design Studio applications. A pure one-on-one migration, with the objective of merely replacing the tool in the background, does not make much sense, in our opinion. When a company wants to take the step from BEx towards SAP BusinessObjects, this opportunity should be used to question and – where necessary – adjust BI functionalities that have been offered, in part unchanged, for years. In addition to the functional requirements and existing functionalities that have to be reviewed in each individual case, licensing cost aspects need to always be taken into consideration, too, of course.
In any case, it is necessary to define an efficient and effective strategy for the use of SAP BusinessObjects products that is customised for the company. The recommendations and product roadmaps of SAP are a good basis for this. These do, however, always need to be reviewed and critically questioned, taking into consideration the individual circumstances.
- Design Studio has a very huge potential. The further developments in 2013 and, in particular the release of version 1.2, which is expected towards the end of the year, will be the basis for production use and will, in combination with Analysis products, allow for the replacement of existing BEx report environments. Companies that are using SAP BW for DWH or even E-DWH solutions should keep an eye on the developments in this area.
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