Review of Information Design Tool 4.1

It’s been a while since I wrote my initial review on Information Design Tool (IDT) in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0. If you’ve read that post, you know that I was frustrated with missing features in IDT, as compared to Universe Design Tool. Every time I found a missing feature, I opened an Idea on the SAP Idea Place, requesting that the missing feature be added. Well, as it turns out, I was the top contributor for new ideas for IDT 4.1. And nearly all of my requests were delivered in version 4.1. So, I’ve been using IDT 4.1 for quite some time now, and am ready to give my impressions.

The Good News

IDT has some really nice features that I find very helpful when doing universe development.

  • Families: Tables can be grouped into families, and each family can have its own color. I will typically have a color for each fact, and a color for conformed dimensions. Aggregate tables will also have a color. I find it helps to be able to visualize the tables in this way.
  • Multiple Layers: I really like the idea of creating a Data Foundation, then one or more Business Layers on top of it. It avoids the old way of recreating the table structure in multiple universes.
  • Business Layer Views: Once you create a Business Layer, you can create views, in which you choose which folders and objects to expose in each view. You can also create security profiles, allowing groups access to limited views.
  • Standalone Lists of Values and Prompts: Prompts and LOVs can be created once, as standalone objects, and then used in multiple objects throughout the universe. These can be created in the Data Foundation or the Business Layer.
  • Table associations: This may seem minor, but I love being able to see what tables are associated with an object without opening a separate window.
  • Queries: Queries can be built in the Business Layer to test the objects and joins in a universe. This eliminates the need to use another tool, such as Web Intelligence, to test as you go.
  • View Data: We’ve always had the ability to view the data in a table or column, but now we can view the data in multiple columns from different tables. This is a big help when troubleshooting the Data Foundation.
  • Calculated columns: These are columns that can be added to tables, using SQL calculations. This allows you to add a calculated column to a table, and then use it in multiple universes.
  • Bug Free: Well, not really. But compared to IDT 4.0, it’s a huge improvement.
  • Multi-Source Universes: We now have the ability to create a universe from multiple sources. We can create a multi-source universe (MSU) and include tables, for example, from Oracle and Teradata, and join them together.

The Bad News

There are still some things that I struggle with. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Designer, or perhaps it’s just poor design. You decide.

  • Contexts: These aren’t as simple as advertised. In Designer, each join has one of two states, relative to a context. It is either in, or out, of the context. In IDT, it has three possible states. It can be included, excluded, or neutral. My experience is that this makes contexts significantly more complex. I worked on one universe that had 65 aggregate tables, plus two transaction fact tables. Setting up the context became so complex and problematic, that we ended up rebuilding the universe in UDT.
  • Screen Layout: I haven’t gotten used to the way the screen is laid out. I got used to Designer, with it’s individual pop up windows. IDT doesn’t have these, so you get less screen real estate. And, it doesn’t allow anything to be undocked and moved to a second monitor.
  • Custom Properties Tab: You’ll see this on folders, objects, and a few other things. It’s useless. It’s there for whenever we get an IDT SDK. So, in the meantime, there’s nothing you can do with it. So it should be hidden. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
  • Alias Table Names: Again, this may seem minor, but it’s a major inconvenience. When you have an alias of a table, the Alias name, and the original name, are next to each other in the table header, and don’t wrap. So the width of the table in the Data Foundation must be sufficient to fit both names. This can be very annoying, especially with long table names. In UDT, the original name is below the Alias name, so the table doesn’t have to be so wide.
  • Multi-Source Universes: Why is this listed here, as well as under Good News, above? Well, when you create a universe, you must select whether that universe will be a Single-Source, or Multi-Source, universe. Once you make that selection, you can never change it. And, if you choose Multi-Source, all queries will be routed through the Data Federation Engine, even if the universe actually has only one connection. This can slow down performance of that universe.

Should you convert your universes?

That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. At this point, there is little benefit to the users in converting your old UNV universes to UNX universes. The only reasons you might convert them is for the benefit of universe developers who want to take advantage of some of the features, such as families, or standalone LOVs, or if you need to use these universes with products that don’t accept UNV universes, such as Lumira.

You might wonder if you should convert old universes, so you can turn them into Multi-Source universes. When a UNV universe is converted to a UNX universe, it is converted as a Single-Source universe. And remember, you cannot change a Single-Source universe into a Multi-Source universe. So, don’t convert UNV universes with the hope of making them Multi-Source. It can’t be done.

The last I heard, SAP had promised to support UNV universes until at least 2019. So, there’s little compelling reason to convert them. And if you’re comfortable working in UDT, feel free to continue. However, new universe development should be done in IDT, as much as possible. All BusinessObjects tools can access UNX universes.

Conclusion

Although IDT still has some issues, I like it. IDT 4.1 is a huge improvement over IDT 4.0. Yes, it still has bugs (So does UDT), and it still has room for improvement, but it’s getting better all the time. Let me know your opinion.

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24 Responses to Review of Information Design Tool 4.1

  1. Good list. The other item that is annoying to me is the drawing engine related to database tables and joins in the data foundation. It has issues drawing lines at some zoom levels.

    I think it would also be cool if they allowed users to select the “queries” from the universe. This would allow routine queries to be formulated in the backend and it would simplify the ad hoc user experience.

    • Excellent points, Jonathan. Those join lines can be weird.

      If I recall correctly, I read somewhere that they plan to make the queries available to the users at some point in the future. That would be a really nice feature.

  2. GioiaMarco says:

    What about linked universes? How to get the same goal, working on one universe and view results into several universes?

    • I’ve worked with linked universes many times. But quite honestly, I can get the same affect with a single Data Foundation, one or more Business Layers, and multiple Business Layer views.

      • GioiaMarco says:

        Could you explain me how? Actually, for instance, I change my Time dimension renaming the YEAR object into YR. Having 10 linked universes all my YEAR objects immediatly become YR. With IDT I need to work on 10 different BLX making the same renaming operation 10 times.. Am I wrong? Really thank you, great blog!

      • Ch. Ah-Soon says:

        Hi all,
        Thanx for this article.
        Linked universes will be supported in SAP BI 4.2.
        More details can be found here: http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-67438
        Regards,
        Ch. Ah-Soon (SAP)

      • I lot of people will be glad to hear that. Thanks for letting us know.

  3. You can create one Business Layer with all the folders you need for each group. Then create a view for each group. You can apply security, so users only see the views that are pertinent to them. But the folders that contain common dimensions can be in every view.

    • GioiaMarco says:

      Sorry Michael but I didn’t have different groups. I have different universes used by the same group. The universe, for its own nature, should be referred to a specific analytical area, not necessary linked to a specific group. In my case many groups access to the same universe which have different fact tables and dimension tables from the same universe (linked to the others). I can’t use the restrictions, in my opinion.. are you agree?
      Regards

  4. Nitin Gonzales says:

    An excellent write Michael!
    I have had a limited opportunity of working on IDT 4.0 some time back and I personally found certain features very good and some quiet annoying.
    Post that project, haven’t had an opportunity to get my hands dirty with IDT.
    Coming from UTD background, it took a bit for me to get hands on, but post that, felt comfortable with it.
    Thanks for sharing the updates, hoping to use them in near future!

  5. Hi Michael,

    I was one of the product owners for IDT 4.1 at the time.

    Thanks for the great feedback you provided to the team via the Idea Place (yes, we did monitor it :-)), and as you said we were able to integrate most of it.

    I am also glad you noticed the huge investment that was done in terms of raising the quality bar and addressing most existing bugs.

    I went through your post, very interesting reading. I passed this to my colleagues that are now in charge of future IDT releases.

    Thanks & best regards,

    Antoine

  6. K von Murphy says:

    ” SAP had promised to support UNX universes until at least 2019. ” -> I suppose this was about UNV, not UNX, or there is little point in migrating to IDT 🙂

  7. K von Murphy says:

    About the bad news: this a bad design. All of this could be corrected. They could even convert mono to multi universes if they wanted to, I suppose that underlying structure is the same (or it should be)

  8. Hi Michael,

    As a product owner for IDT 4.1 at the time, I am glad you noticed the quality and functional improvements we brought to the product, also thanks to your valuable feedback via the Idea Place.

    Thanks for this interesting post, I passed it to my colleagues that are now in charge of the future releases.

    Best regards

    Antoine

  9. Rik says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences ! “The last I heard, SAP had promised to support UNX universes until at least 2019.” => I suppose you mean UNV universes

  10. Thank you for this list, most helpful. By chance, would you know how to inject the User:0-‘xx’ syntax in the Parameters? Although it is a well known syntax building a @PROMPT from scratch (i.e. @Prompt(‘Enter Product Family’,’A’,’Product Hierarchy\Product Family’,multi,free,Not_Persistent,{‘Kiwi’,’Guava’},User:0)), I was so hoping I could force the sort order using the USER: functionality. Any ideas?

  11. would anyone know how to set a @PROMPT order in IDT using the new parameter feature?

    • Hi, Sarah. Unfortunately, the USER:00 parameter is not supported in the @prompt function in universe design. You can use it in Designer (UDT), but it is ignored. If you use it in IDT, it throws an error.

  12. Joe says:

    Why and is it necessary to have each and every table and column qualified by having double-quotes(“) around the owner, table and column?

    • I hear you, Joe. While it works, it sure makes for ugly SQL, and it certainly wouldn’t be considered a best practice. I don’t know what the thought process was that went into that “feature”.

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