What to Expect in BOE 4.0

I was honored to be part of the beta release for SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise 4.0. This gave me access to the beta software well in advance of the general release. I focused on what’s new in universe development, as that is one of my areas of specialty, and I had seen a demo that got me quite excited. What I have seen so far has left me anxious to start deploying 4.0 at client sites. So, allow me to share what I know so far.

What’s Different in Universe Design?

The universe structure is undergoing a fundamental change. Currently, the universe consists of a single .unv file, attached to a database connection, stored in the System Database. In 4.0, the universe will consist of three distinct components, each stored as a separate file:

  • Connection file (.cnx) will contain the connection string to the data source.
  • Data Foundation file (.dfx) will contain the universe structure, such as tables, joins, contexts, etc.
  • Business Layer file (.blx) will contain the user layer, including objects used to access the data.

The three files will be brought together to create a single .unx file, which will be the final universe.

One of the key differences here is that, a single Data Foundation layer will be able to access multiple Connections. In other words, we will be able to create a universe that contains tables from multiple data sources. Imagine being able to bring tables from Oracle and SQL Server into the same universe.

As if that’s not good enough, we’ll also be able to create multiple Business Layers on a single Data Foundation. That’s right! You’ll be able to build the universe structure once, then share it across multiple universes. Imagine how much time you’ll save. But wait! There’s more.

Imagine building one master Data Foundation, and then building all, or most, of your universes on top of that one Data Foundation. This could help eliminate the need to have linked universes. And, of course, without linked universes, we eliminate the drawbacks of linked universes, such as no custom LOVs (Lists of Values).

Speaking of LOVs, we will now have the ability to create LOVs in the Data Foundation layer. So LOVs can be shared across multiple universes. Build it once, and use it as many times as desired. Keep reading for more good news on LOVs.

Contexts will also undergo a change, making them much simpler to create and maintain. Currently, once we have contexts in a universe, every join (except Shortcut joins) must be a member of at least one context. In 4.0, only the joins that are part of a loop need to be in contexts. All other joins will be equally accessible to all contexts. Sweet!

There’s also a new search feature to help you find the tables you need. Currently, if you can’t find the needed table, you open List View and look for the table there. In 4.0, you’ll have the ability to search for tables based on the following:

  • Table Name
  • Column Name
  • Family (more on this later)
  • Context

You’ll even be able to search using wild cards. For example, you can find every table that begins with CUST. This new search feature comes just in time, as we consider building a master Data Foundation which could contain hundreds of tables.

Another enhancement is data viewing. Currently we have two choices for viewing data. We can right-click on a table header and choose View Table Values, or we can right-click on a column, and choose View Column Values. In 4.0, we’ll have far more options for viewing data. For example, we’ll be able to multi-select several tables and view the data for all of them, as they are joined together.

We’ll also have the ability to select individual columns from multiple tables, and, again, view the joined data.

When viewing the data, you can add filters to it, just like query filters in Web Intelligence, including wild card filters. You can reorder the columns, apply sorts to the columns, and, if you really want to have fun, view the data as a chart.

The Integrity Check has gotten a makeover as well. In addition to the current capabilities, we can look forward to the ability to create our own rules for the Integrity Check (Available with plug-ins), and the ability to set the priority of each rule. For example, some rules might be informational, while others might be critical. Of course, checking integrity can take quite a bit of time, so we’ll have the ability to let it run in the background. And, when it is done, we can export the results to keep a record of what needs to be modified.

Derived tables is a wonderful feature that has been somewhat abused. I’ve seen quite a few derived tables that should never have been created. However, we can now look forward to easier ways to create derived tables. For example, if I want a derived table based on the union of two other tables, I start by multi-selecting those two tables. Then I can automatically create a derived table based on that union. Of course, I can edit the SQL in the derived table using the standard SQL editor.

We’ll also have a similar ability with Alias tables. We can multi-select a bunch of tables, and then create Aliases of all of them in one step.

What’s New in Universe Design?

Now that we’ve looked at some improved features, let’s take a look at some of the new features available in 4.0. There’s some really cool stuff here, so tighten your seatbelt. Here we go . . .

We’ll start by talking about the introduction of a whole new tool for building universes: Information Designer.

Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean you have to learn a whole new tool. At least not yet. The current Designer application will be included in 4.0. So, if you want to keep working in a familiar environment, feel free. No one will force you to use Information Designer. However, to get all these new and improved features, you will need to use Information Designer.

Designer will continue to produce .unv files, and these files will still be consumable by the BI tools such as Web Intelligence and Crystal Reports. However, Information Designer will produce .unx files, and these will also be consumable by the BI tools. Eventually, you will want to learn Information Designer. But, until you do, you will still have Designer available for use.

One of the new features available in Information Designer is something called Families. A Family is a group of related tables. We will be able to create families of tables, export the families, and import families. We’ll also have the ability color code the families for easy identification in the Data Foundation. Colors can be added to the fonts, as well as the table background. As mentioned previously, you will also be able to search by family.

As always, we will be able to add comments to the Data Foundation. However, even the comments are much fancier in Information Designer. Comments can have borders, as well as background and font colors. We’ll also have the ability to make the comments opaque.

Another new features in Information Designer is Calculated Columns. We will have the ability to add columns to tables in the Data Foundation. For example, you could add a calculated column to a table that calculates Sales Revenue (Quantity * (Price – Discount)). Once the Calculated Column is added, it can be used like any other column from that table. The Calculated Column will be shown with a different icon next to it, and will display the Calculation when you mouse over it. This may eliminate the need for some Derived Tables.

Calculated Columns can be written using database SQL, or BusinessObjects SQL. What is BusinessObjects SQL, you ask? Well, think about it. If we can bring tables from Oracle and DB2 into the same universe, and need to create an object using columns from both databases, what SQL do we use? Well, SAP has given is BusinessObjects SQL, which is database agnostic, to solve this question. BusinessObjects SQL will be translated to database SQL at run time.

OK, let’s talk about the Business Layer. In Designer, the left pane is referred to as the Universe Pane. This translates to the Business Layer in Information Designer. The Business Layer is the layer that will be seen by the users. In the Business Layer, we will create all the Folders (The new name for Classes) and Objects.

A Business Layer can be built on a Data Foundation or, for OLAP universes, directly on a Data Connection.

Prompts will now be standalone objects, so they can be shared between universes and objects. We’ll also have the ability to create optional prompts in the universe. And, best of all, prompts can be created without writing code. I know you’ll miss all that time spent staring at the code for an @prompt trying to figure out why it won’t work. In Information Designer, there is a prompt editor that allows you to simply select the options you need for a prompt.

Lists of Values (LOVs) are also created as standalone objects. And the options on LOVs are far more robust than in the past. For example, we can use multiple columns in the LOV, then decide which columns will be displayed in the LOV, which column will be the key, and which column will be sent to the database. Of course, we’ll still have the ability to create LOVs from local data files, but we’ll have the added ability to hide columns, delete columns, or rename columns. And, if you’re really feeling adventurous, you can create a LOV by simply manually creating the columns and typing in the values. Once the LOV is created, we can associate it to an object, or a prompt.

Predefined Filters can be created by writing SQL, just as we have in the past. However, we’ll also have the ability to create them using the Query Panel. Simply create the query filters you want, and then save them as a Predefined Filter. These filters can be reused, just like LOVs and prompts.

An entirely new concept is the ability to create, run, and view Queries in Information Designer. Yes, I know, there is a query panel in Designer, but it is practically useless. You can “run” queries, but not see any results. In 4.0, we can run queries, save the queries, apply filters, sort the results, hide columns in the results, display the results as charts, and, in the future, make these queries available to the BI tools. Imagine that. Prebuilt queries in the universe that users can use in Webi.

One of my favorite new features is Universe Views. Once you build a universe, you can create a view of that universe as a separate object. You can select which folders and objects to expose in the view. Then you can set security on the views to decide who gets to see them. This completely eliminates the need for linked universes, and all their drawbacks.

Information Designer will also introduce the concept of Dependencies and Impact Analysis. This will allow us to see what layers are related to other layers. We can see the impact analysis all the way down to the database. So, if we make a change to a table in the Data Foundation, we’ll be able to see what Business Layers and Universes will be impacted by that. However, we still won’t have the ability to follow this forward into the reports. So we won’t yet be able to see what reports will be impacted by modifying an object.

Should I Move To Information Designer?

That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. 😉

Eventually you will need to, but for now, you can continue using Designer. If you move to Information Designer, you will need to learn this new tool. That means taking another class, and practicing with it to really master it. Also, there is no backward compatibility. Universes built in Information Designer cannot be opened and edited in Designer. There’s also that issue of migrating existing documents to the new .unx universes. That could be a long, slow, process, depending on how many documents you have in production.

However, as you’ve seen above, there is a wealth of new features and functionality available. These will give you much more powerful universes, and significantly lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) for your universes. My advice would be to do all new universe development in Information Designer, while gradually migrating existing universes into the new format. In the meantime, continue to maintain existing universes in Designer. Let me know what you think

Of course, I don’t know everything there is to know about 4.0. However, if you have a question, let me know, and I’ll do my best to get an answer for you.

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36 Responses to What to Expect in BOE 4.0

  1. Jamie Oswald says:

    Great blog, Michael. Thanks for putting it all together for us, this answers a lot of questions.

    Whose turn is it to right up one for all of the changes to Infoview (or whatever it is called) and the reporting tools (Webi/Crystal)?

  2. Jamie Oswald says:

    If I get my hands on it, I’ll… probably be way too busy getting it up and running to bother writing. 😦

  3. Great post, really useful. I’ve played with the beta a bit, and Information Designer, but obviously not as much as you!

    Thanks, Josh 🙂

  4. Yoav says:

    Thanks Michael for a great post.

    I am not so clear about the difference between single Data Foundation to linked universes that uses single core universe for all, can you emphasize the difference ?

    As much as I know custom LOV is not an issue,
    It used to be and only if you put your universes in different Folders

    Thanks

    Yoav

    • Yoav, Once you build a Data Foundation layer, you can build multiple Business Layers on top of it. So you can use the Data Foundation layer in multiple universes. That way, you can build the structure once, and use it across many universes, rather than having to link universes to share structures.

  5. Marek says:

    Thank you Michael for a very informational blog.

    I have one question:
    Will new Designer / Information Designer support so called object prompt? It means a prompt where a user could select which object should be in the result of a report. Imagine report where a user can define in a prompt whether the result is going to be on a daily basis (the selected object in the object prompt will be DAY) or on a monthly basis (the selected object in the object prompt will be MONTH).

    Thank you.

    • Hi, Marek;

      We won’t have the ability to prompt for which object to return in the results. However, we can use the same technique that we use today. Use a CASE statement with a prompt to determine which column of a table to return in an object.

  6. Jansi says:

    Hi Michael,

    Wow! That’s a whole bunch of information in a single blogpost. :thumbsup: I want to come back to BO. When all these new features have been added, still do we need to manually put our efforts for object level prompting? 😦 MSTR has this feature long back. Why don’t someone suggest it?

    Thank you!

    • Jansi, I don’t understand your question? In Information Designer, you will be able to build prompts using a prompt editor, so it will be much easier than writing code with the @prompt function.

  7. SREENIVAS says:

    Thanks Michael for a great post. its really to know News things on BOE 4.0

  8. Great post, very informative, keep it coming, Michael!

  9. BO_Chief says:

    Nice post. Keep it Up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It look like the features of Business View Manager has been incorporated in Information Designer. Don’t you think ?

    Common Michael Where were you ? We need more posts of this kind, tips and tricks. Open the flood gates and keep it coming. 🙂

    • BO_Chief, yes, it’s been the plan all along to incorporate features from Business View Manager into the universe, so Business View Manager could be discontinued.

      I’m glad you like this. I currently have three more posts in the works. Stay tuned.

  10. Thanks, Michael
    A great blog on what’s coming. Been a fan of Designer for many years, so looking forward to all the improvements. Also great when training new customers to let them know something new and better is around the corner.
    Cheers
    Glenn

  11. Metaman says:

    Someone has saved the Universe ! This is excellent. I nearly fell off my chair reading this – as had long ago given up on any chance of real advancement in this space and have been waiting since 2001.
    I encourage all BOBJ devotees to support this version.

  12. Some BI developer says:

    Hi,

    Comments ? At last !!! :o)

  13. MikeD says:

    Excellent review!
    The Info Design Tool is pretty similar to Cognos Framework Manager – and has been long overdue.
    The question now is how exactly to define a more composite data access strategy going forward for an organisation.

  14. Katullus says:

    Wow very indepth review indeed Michael. Thanks a bunch…you got me thinking about all sorts of new things now

    • John says:

      Thank you for your review.
      I’m glad you liked the new Designer 🙂

      It is still difficult to find info yet on internet and since it took us more than 4 years to rewrite the new Designer, we are very eager to get feedback and enhancements requests from users who actually play with it.

      John (one of the Information Design Tool developers)

  15. itservicesinc says:

    Hello:
    I am the BI Architect for the State of Wisconsin and have enjoyed reading your blog. What I would like more information about is the level of effort involved in converting the UNV files to the new UNX format? I ask this because we are in the infant stages of developing our Universes so are there considerations I should be making now to make that process smoother at conversion? I have made a request for the pre-release of the 4.0 product due to our need to build Universe files from stored procedures that can also utilize tables, currently the 12.3 designer will not allow that.

    • Thanks for your post. I haven’t had a chance to look at Stored Procedure universes in 4.0, but I’ll see if I can get an answer to your question about combining stored procedures and tables in one universe.

      As for the conversion process, it’s quite simple. You open the Information Design Tool, and go to File – Convert from .unv. A dialogue box opens, and you browse for, and select, the .unv file. It then opens it in the new format. It just takes a couple minutes.

  16. Hi Michael,

    Just to add to my previous comment, I recently presented at Mastering BusinessObjects 2011 in Sydney on the new features in the BI4 semantic layer, and I really appreciated your post. Together with your post and a post on SDN (and a lot of playing with the tools), I was able to deliver quite an information-packed presentation – so thank you.

    If you want to see the presentation, I just posted it up at http://geek2live.net/posts/mastering-sap-businessobjects-2011-sydney/.

    Kind regards,

    Josh Fletcher

  17. manal alSharif-Hanna says:

    Thanks for a very clean, simple introduction to what to expect. Curious about the last paragraph: There’s also that issue of migrating existing documents to the new .unx universes. That could be a long, slow, process, depending on how many documents you have in production. I had heard that this is a manual touch each report migration? i’m hoping that i misheard.

    It was great to see you at the ASUG conference in Orland.
    Thanks, manal.

  18. ryanshirley says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the in-depth blog – lots of great info. Here’s one big shortcoming I have found in the new Information Design Tool universes: I can’t consume them with Crystal Reports! I using Crystal 2011 and the new ID universes do not appear when trying to make a connection. The old style .unv files do. One SAP document even says:

    “Universes created using the information design tool can be used by the following SAP BusinessObjects
    data analysis and reporting applications:
    • SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.0
    • SAP Crystal Reports for enterprise 4.0
    • SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.0
    • SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Design 4.0”

    Have you found any way to consume the new ID universes with Crystal?

  19. Ketan says:

    As usual….. Awesome information by the awesome Guru…. Thanks for this blog…..

  20. Anonymous says:

    Helpful info. Fortunate me I found your site unintentionally,
    and I’m stunned why this twist of fate did not came about earlier! I bookmarked it.

  21. reddit.com says:

    That is a really good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.

    Brief but very accurate info… Thank you for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  22. youdomin says:

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the issues.
    It was really informative. Your site is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

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