Which reporting tool should we use?

This question is frequently asked during the early stages of a BI project but while the current portfolio of SAP BI tools deliver a broad range of functions covering a wide variety of use cases, the number of available tools can make this a tricky question to answer definitively within a project environment.

With this in mind, at the recent TechEd event in Barcelona, SAP was keen to explain their strategy and roadmap for the evolution of their Analytics Portfolio within software releases scheduled for the coming months. This strategy has two key branches to it: ‘Lead the Cloud’ and ‘Innovate the Core’, representing their vision for a progressive move towards the provision and usage of cloud-based analytics solutions while at the same time recognising the desire of many organisations to retain – and further develop – on-premise solutions.

Peter Ebbon

Peter Ebbon

Principal Consultant

Lead the Cloud

Central to the ‘Lead the Cloud’ branch of the analytics strategy is SAP BusinessObjects Cloud (BOC), which is based on HANA Cloud Platform (HCP) and makes full use of a Fiori-based front-end.

This offering delivers a range of analytics, in addition to planning and forecasting applications (including Predictive Analytics – an area SAP are clearly investing in heavily) via a single user interface. Using the concept of ‘stories’ as a base, users can develop a wide range of dashboards, reports and data visualisations to support reporting and planning activities across the full breadth of use cases.

In addition to the core reporting and analytics capabilities delivered, SAP is also providing extensions to the product, most notably in the form of the SAP Digital Boardroom. Digital Boardroom is aimed at big data – where the ‘big’ represents the size of the screen! Initially focussed on the provision of analysis for ‘c-level’ consumers, this offering utilises multiple large (80+ inch) touch screens to present analytics, (produced using the core BOC tooling) to a boardroom audience.

Provision of a cloud-based suite of next generation front-end tools is great, but many organisations are reluctant to commit fully to the cloud at this time, especially when potentially sensitive data is involved, or large/complex data models have been invested in and developed within on-premise solutions. To this end, there are multiple options available for the integration of BOC into an organisation’s reporting landscape.

Online connectivity enables the usage of the reporting tools without the physical transfer of data to the cloud; the key feature of this approach is that all data remains on-premise, protecting sensitive data and also removing the need for large data transfers, while also enabling a near-real-time reporting experience. Online connections are available to a range of sources, including (but not limited to) BW on HANA, native HANA and S/4HANA. The alternate connection method is Data Acquisition, whereby data is transferred physically to the cloud via scheduled replication. This option unlocks the full breadth of functionality within the BOC application and also enables the merging of data within the application itself.

Lead the Cloud

Image courtesy SAP © 2016

Innovate the Core

Within the on-premise world, SAP is moving to reduce the number of differing tools within their analytics portfolio, while maintaining (and in some case enhancing) the delivered functionality. In essence, three core applications are positioned to meet the full suite of reporting and analytic needs; these are Analysis for Office, Web Intelligence and Lumira 2.x.

Analysis for Office and Web Intelligence will continue to play the roles they do today in providing “slice and dice”, and formatted reporting capabilities but the significant change comes with Lumira 2.x.

Within the new version, two distinct user interfaces are deployed for content development. “Discovery” is an analyst tool, replacing the current Lumira Desktop tools as a business user focussed application.

Designer replaces the Design Studio client, as an IT-focussed environment, enabling the development of more sophisticated analytical applications for consumption by business users. These two interfaces are designed to compliment each other, supporting the interaction between IT and business in the delivery and evolution of analytics solutions. Scheduled for release in Q1 of 2017, this newest version is presented as replacing a number of products, notably Lumira (existing version 1.x), Design Studio, Analysis for OLAP, WAD and Dashboards.

It’s important to note that while the tools convergence process has reduced the number of tools, the functionality available for use has, if anything, developed further as the toolset matures. Hopefully, this should enable us to turn our focus away from the question of “which tool?” as we used to ask and more towards using the rationalised tools to provide ever more useful and usable analytics solutions to our clients.