Preparing Your Universe Design Staff for SAP’s Information Design Tool

With product support for earlier versions of SAP BusinessObjects ending on December 31, 2015, many organizations are upgrading to the latest version, SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence (BO BI) platform 4.1. As part of any BI upgrade plan, project managers should budget and schedule training for both end users and the IT personnel who support the BI system. With the Bi 4.1 upgrade in particular, it’s important that key personnel receive classroom training for the Information Design Tool.
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What makes SAP BI tools particularly powerful is their use of a “semantic layer,” or intelligent layer, that provides an easy-to-use “plain-English” drag-and-drop user interface suitable for users comfortable with Microsoft Office. SAP Business Warehouse (BW) and SAP HANA each have their own semantic layers. But for non-SAP relational database sources, SAP provides a semantic layer known as the “universe.” The universe should be a key weapon in the self-service BI arsenal for any organization that uses SAP BI platform.

Historically, universes were created with a tool called the Universe Design Tool, known as Designer in earlier editions. But beginning with its BO BI Suite 4.0, SAP introduced a new tool called the Information Design Tool. While it also creates universes, this tool introduces a new user interface and a new file format that can prove challenging to even highly experienced designers.

Although nearly anyone can use a universe, it takes some special skills to create a universe. The typical profile of a universe designer is somebody with an IT background that is experienced with Structured Query Language (SQL). But a great universe relies on more than just technical knowledge. The best universes are built by people who also understand the business domain of the data source and can create a query experience easily grasped by the intended user population. In contrast, poorly designed universes can suffer from faulty query performance, inaccurate results or a painfully complex universe that’s difficult to use. Any of these issues can turn a universe into shelfware, putting an organization’s self-service BI goals even further out of reach. It’s expensive and unnecessary, but also not uncommon to hire additional IT staff or look for alternate BI tools from other vendors.

You should profile your universe design staff for their experience and training. Unless they have prior experience with SAP’s BO BI platform 4.1 from outside the organization, nearly all of your existing staff will fit into one of these three categories:

  • Novice IT staff who have little or no practical experience designing universes
  • Experienced IT staff who have never received formal training for universe design
  • Experienced IT staff who are comfortable with the older Designer tool but who have never used the Information Design Tool

Classroom Training

Global Knowledge provides five-day intensive training for the Information Design Tool, SAP BusinessObjects Information Design Tool. Previously, the course was broken into a three-day introductory and two-day advanced course. Unlike most technical training that teaches what to do, this course also teaches what not to do, which will help you avoid common pitfalls that usually require expensive rework or outside consultants to remedy.

Training can be perceived as expensive. However, the price of not training, and potentially wasting your organization’s existing investment in SAP BI can be even more expensive, not just in dollars expended but in time wasted and business opportunities missed because BI didn’t exist to support new business initiatives.

Online Documentation

The “Information Design Tool Users Guide” is freely available on the SAP Help Portal. While it’s comprehensive, the material can be a bit overwhelming to new universe designers. The format is more of a reference guide and less of a step-by-step tutorial.

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