Jan
13

No more QaaWS?

Xcelsius is one of the most innovative business products of the last decade and in combination with the BusinessObjects platform (both XI 3 and BI 4), it provides a world-class, market-leading, enterprise dashboarding solution which is delivering enormous value to thousands of organizations around the world. Given this, it is not surprising that on Twitter and in the blogs, there is a excitement building in Xcelsius circles about SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 and Xcelsius 2011.

The focus is mainly on three new capabilities:

  1. The new embedded query creation capability (replacing QaaWS)
  2. The ability to bind these queries directly to components (rather than going through the spreadsheet)
  3. Built in “Query prompt Selector” controls.

As stated in the “What’s New” documentation for BI 4.0 these new features are “focused on improving productivity and direct enterprise data connectivity”. The $64,000 question is “are the productivity improvements they bring marginal or breakthrough?”

As anyone who has been involved in developing Xcelsius dashboards connected to server side data will know, the two key things which hamper productivity are:

  1. The need to manage multiple connections to the server
  2. The need to use many formulas to manage the data from these queries into the components based on end-user selection

These are also key drivers of total cost of ownership because the complexities they introduce to the initial development also, even more dramatically, affect the cost of ongoing support and maintenance.

Multiple Data Connections

The main reason for having multiple data connections is to get data from different hierarchical levels with each level (indeed each combination of levels from different dimensions) requiring a different query. So a dataset with just two hierarchal dimensions, each with three levels of hierarchy, would require 9 (3×3) different connections to get all possible levels of data. However, it goes beyond that, the need to also have “select distinct” queries to populate lists of values and a number of other auxiliary requirements, mean that most non-trivial connected dashboards typically require between 10 and 20 queries to serve the end user needs, even on a single dataset.

Spreadsheet formulas

With multiple datasets comes the need to manage which dataset drives which component in response to the end user selection. The formula engine of the embedded spreadsheet is an incredibly powerful and flexible method for doing this, however, as has been commented on so many times in the past, spreadsheet formulas are incredibly difficult to debug, document, and maintain. This is even more true when the use of complex formulas (e.g. ones using data manipulation functions such as VLOOKUP) is required.

If we combine these two together into an index of Xcelsius complexity it would look something like:

Xcelsius model data complexity = (100 * number of queries) + (10 * number of unique “complex” formulas) + (3 * number of unique simple formulas) + number or repeated formulas

(I have just pulled the factors here out of the air to illustrate the point, but would love to engage with others in the Xcelsius community on a standardization of a measure like the one above)

So the question is: “do the new query and binding capabilities of BI 4.0 reduce this (or any similar) complexity index ?”

Unfortunately, based on what I have seen so far, the answer is “no”. Although the new query capability “replaces” QaaWS, it looks to have pretty much the same level of query sophistication, i.e. fairly static, parameterized queries (although the new capability does add the ability to add static sorting), with no dynamic, hierarchy awareness. This means that it is unlikely that Xcelsius models ported to BI 4.0 would  be able to rescue the key complexity drivers of “number of connections” and “number of data manipulation formulas”.

This in turn minimizes the value of the other new features, because directly binding data from a query to a component and managing that query directly with a prompt selector is only really useful if the query returns all the data you need. Otherwise, you are still left with needing to manage the data through the spreadsheet which disqualifies the use of these new features.

That is not to say that there are no benefits to the new capabilities. They do make the whole process of initial query creation simpler, because you can do it all from within the Xcelsius environment and for simpler dashboards that have static  (albeit parameterized) data requirements the new direct binding and prompt selectors will prove to be a productivity boost. Additionally, they also make demos of data connectivity in Xcelsius much simpler!

If anyone feels differently, or even better, has an example of a real-world Xcelsius dashboard which is much simpler using the new features, I would love to hear about them. I would also love to hear any thoughts people have on the creation of a complexity measurement for Xcelsius dashboards.

Donald MacCormick is a board member and strategic advisor to Antivia, an SAP® software solution partner, and creator of XWIS the Xcelsius-to-SAP BusinessObjects connectivity solution. In past years, he was a long term member of BusinessObjects and Crystal, and part of the team that brought Xcelsius into the BusinessObjects portfolio.

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15 Responses to “No more QaaWS?”

  1. Ethan says:

    As you’ve pointed out, in order to build an effective Xcelsius dashboard, you’d have to create a QaaWS just to create the distint lists of values that are used for your core queries.
    With the new Prompt object, this factor, at least, it elliminated.
    I’m looking forward to thie new version of Xcelsius (sorry, um.. SAP Dashboard…), and I hope that it packs in a few more surprises. In your above screen-grab, there’s a Filters section, which may also enable more dynamic analysis within Xcelsius itself.

    Also, do you know if this version will support some of the new functions intorduced to Excel in its 2007 version?
    Using the Sumifs function (as opposed to Sumif) would also allow aggregation of data based on multi-dimentional criteria.

  2. AnjaniKumar says:

    That was a amazing news ,
    1) but i’m wondering how the migration is done from Box to Box ?.
    2) Does the Query Creation (added component called “Universe Connectivity” in Component window)
    connect to a repository or a universe ?

    Online Xcelsius designer beta version is on already on Cloud 9. https://bi.ondemand.com/

    The Xcelsius 2011 is coming with the BO BI Suite (Coming as online Xcelsius designer) or as a stand alone tool.

    Is there any trial version for Xcelsius 2011 ?

    So many queries are running in my mind from past many days since i saw the video of SAP BO BI 4 demo. There they have shown how to use a Universe Connectivity.

    Still busy with Online Xcelsius Designer POC (Proof of Concept).

    Lots of stuff to discuss about the BO BI 4 not only in terms of Xcelsius but also on Webi and Information Design Tool(formerly known as Universe designer) etc etc…….

    Hope i’ll be back with an article on Online Xcelsius Designer

    New Year brought a new Surprise for all Dashboard Geeks ……

  3. Nicolas says:

    I’m using QaaWS via BI Services to be able to retrieve data
    for dashboards, without touching at the database at runtime. The
    sources are blocks of data, pre-embedded in Web Intelligence
    Documents. This choice has been made to reduce the number of
    database hits at runtime, which may represent thousands of hits
    (quite small chunks of data) during a single day… The new
    solution in BI 4.0 of building queries directly in Xcelsius without
    defining QaaWS manually implies database hits. BI Service (only
    usable via QaaWS) is based on another philosophy (source = WebI).
    This kind of connection remains thus valid in BI 4.0. As a
    conclusion, QaaWS can still be useful for some specific
    architectures. Please, let me know if you agree with me about this.
    Any comment is welcome. Thanks Kind Regards Nicolas Pirmez
    *Email Removed*

  4. One wonders what new and exciting “surprises” we can also
    expect from SAP-BOBJ when it comes to how they Calculate REQUIRED
    “Xcelsius Viewer Licenses” counts (and per unit costs) for
    delivering all these cool new features to end-users…..

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    Jamie Oswald said: Is #Xcelsius (#SCDD?) in #BI4 any better than it
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  6. Yoav says:

    Bringing developers the best that they can dream of is eliminating the excel phase and making Xcelsius work the same way Webi or Deski works (Drag & drop, creating formulas & variables, linking queries & ctr).

    If Sap would do so that they will push this product also to the hands of simple users & by that
    Expand the product availability and simplicity.

    If I where the product manager this was my main goal, I would embed Xcelsius (dashboard manager) inside & outside Webi, create an integration kit for importing existing Webi reports (objects & variables) and push this product to a new era.

    Yoav

  7. Dorien Gardner says:

    Actually Nicolas, the approach you are referring to (unless you are using Live Office) would be DaaWs or Data as a Web Service that allows you to publish BI Web Services via the Web Intelligence Rich Client. This approach can certainly greatly reduce the number of required connections since the source data is bound to a Webi document source.
    However, this is only of value when you have dashboard metrics with only high latency requirements. In otherwords, you can schedule the refresh of the Webi report and the data currency is good enough for the user’s analysis. This usually works fine for dashboards that focus on historical trend analysis.

    One of the distinct advantages of using BI Web Services is that complex calculations (that would be difficult to do at the Universe or database level) can be achieved in Webi and then consumed. In addition methods are available that support hiearchical drill into the Webi Micro Cube; without doing additional database queries. You also can have multiple reports in the document and call into report blocks within any of the reports. This allows for a single document to be scheduled with multiple reports and different database connections (each report could be a different universe).

    Bi Web Service can provide better utilization of scheduled data and reduce the number of connections and dynamic queries. It can also be mized with a dashboard deployment that uses QaaWs or Direct Universe Binding etc. Like any solution it is simply another technique that provides capabilities that should be reviewed for your specific requirement. Sometimes a mix of connection approaches provides the best overall solution.

    Antivia certainly provides an ability to leverage Webi source data and bind to Micro-cubes hiearchies as well.

  8. Ray Li says:

    Query functionality is just another approach to retrieve Universe data without Excel and is not to replace QaaWS I think, otherwise there wouldn’t be 2 new servers dedicated to process and to cache QaaWS in BOE 4.0.

    To get distinct members on each hierarchy level I would rather use either a CR or webi then LiveOffice or a special query to retrieve all such meta data and use Filtered Row to select distinct. This is what I did in my projects.

    Thanks,
    Ray

  9. Kapil Malik says:

    The other great advantage for Bi Services is that you can pass filters to instnaces. This option is not available with any other connectivity methods.

  10. Mike Howles says:

    Excellent Post, Donald. We are still on 3.1 and Xcelsius 2008, and the pain of building dozens of QaaWS connections is shared by me. This will be an excellent illustration for our decision-makers once discussion for BI 4.x comes up.

  11. Rosy says:

    I have created a query in querybrowser. I have mapped the objects into excel sheet and linked to dashboard components. When i go to preview mode it is asking login credentials.After providing the credentials i am getting the data.Now my questions is is there any way i can hardcode the credentials using query browser.

  12. We just updated to BI4 SP4. The few dashboards we have built are using BICS via Netweaver. At least now we can now leverage the BW connection on BOBJ….however…the limitation to the query prompting vs. filter setting in the BICS connections are proving to out number the advantages. As you state…most of the time I am still dropping data to a sheet to allows things like Sales vs. Orders selectors to work. Never mind I cannot seen to send a null value to the prompts. So clearing a filter value is proving impossible. Sending a real value is easy…I just can’t clear it when needed..where as in BICS you could just send a “” and clear the filters. More work arounds…Getting hierarchial selection is nice…and the little direct binding to components I do is also nice…but the good doesn’t out weigh the bad yet..

  13. David McCormack says:

    Have been using BI4 SP5 for a couple of weeks now. The querybrowser feature is fantanstic but has a few limitations. Inability to name the queries being my biggest bug-bear, well that and the inability to have complex queries similar to Webi (no union or sub query). The link from query to component is only available for the new Hierarchy component that looks fantastic but only works with OLAP universe. I am still waiting for the direct link from query to component – am I missing something? The view dashboard as a mobile is a good feature and means I will have to rebuild everything to ensure I use ‘supported components’. I need moe formatting capability in the components – especially if the spreadsheet is ‘out of the equation’. I still find that I have to do a lot of ETL work to get the data in a presentable fashion so I can ensure the query is as simple as possible. I could not find an option to hard code the the user credentials in the query browser, but now we have configured AD SSO it is no problem.
    Well, these KPIs wont display themselves….back to work

  14. David McCormack says:

    Great news, I found the link query to component feature. Problem is I have been returning my alert flag in the query, this doesnt map so well without the spreadsheet…will have to have another think…

  15. venkat says:

    Hi,

    Good brief explanation.Almost main conceptual things described very clear.Waiting for further posts.

    Regards
    Venkat

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