I’m intrigued by some things I’m seeing in the community about the new Common Semantic Layer (CSL) vs. the BICS Connector in SAP BusinesssObjects BI4. Disclaimer: I am not writing to call out anyone, indicate inaccuracy in statements/tweets, etc. I just get a vibe that the CSL is not getting the love that it should. I feel compelled to warn that this is a pretty opinionated post. I generally like to stick to technical blogs, but do believe there is some value in pondering both sides of the fence in building content in SAP BusinessObjects BI4.
Classic SAP customers should be excited about the CSL. Trying to report on SAP BW prior to BI4 meant a single universe per SAP BW query. This was a challenge for user adoption and usability if what you wanted was in two different queries. I am aware of circumstances where this was compelling enough to make organizations rethink integrating SAP BusinessObjects for reporting on SAP BW.
BI4 and the CSL have “changed the game” (no kittens were harmed during the publication of this blog). We now have means to not only integrate multiple cubes into a single data source, but we can now also integrate this data with non-SAP data sources such as Oracle, SQL Server, etc.
But then there is this other temptation to use the BICS connector for a direct connection, and arguably, a little more functionality when working with SAP BW. While quicker to implement by just pointing a Webi report directly to the BICS connector, we lose something, and that is the interoperability with other data. Don’t get me wrong. I think the BICS connector is an outstanding approach to quick-hit, tactical reporting, perhaps most appropriate for the rapid response requirements from the business, or by power users that really know your BW data inside and out.
I’ll Keep My Merged Dimensions….Thanks
I think every developer wants to should do right by their users in creating the best user experience possible. The great news is we have a ton of mechanisms to create that good user experience. Merged Dimensions, ETL, dumping-data-to-excel-to-import-to-access approach…you name it. But one thing holds true, and that is that we’ve not had an integrated solution like the common semantic layer in the past that created a good user experience alternative for combining disparate data, let alone one that did so in an abstract way.
Semantic Layer Strategy
The coming years with the new semantic layer make it more and more important to have a clearly defined semantic layer strategy. In years gone by, we may have only made that strategy as narrow as a data warehouse or an operational data store could extend. Why? It goes back to that single data source connection per universe.
But now, there are more factors than ever to consider. Do we use ETL to consolidate mission critical data? Is SAP HANA or Sybase IQ going to be the home of all the enterprise data our users will need? Will the common semantic layer be built in such a way to support queries to disparate systems to pull data together.
All these questions, supplemented with a subject area/data domain map in your environment, will paint the big picture of where data acquisition vs. a common semantic layer will make sense. I think it’s too early to call using the BICS connector as a defacto standard for getting back to classic SAP data because it may be perceived to be better today. It’s the forward thinking strategy that promotes sustainability of reporting that will have big implications for IT supporting business intelligence/analytics. I feel like the common semantic layer is the winner there in the long run.
When Do We Go?
If you are not already on BI4 and are already carefully considering my thoughts here so far (of course you are), the remaining question this blog poses is: Does the BI4 platform make a compelling enough business case for you to make the leap today?
That question has two answers:
- Are you a classic SAP BW customer? Then yes, do it now. Take the chance to improve the user experience over the single source universe with a well-thought semantic layer strategy. Enough said in my book.
- Are you just a classic BOBJ customer? Well, not JUST a classic BOBJ customer, my brethren. My gut tells me to go. I do not think this is a major release to consider skipping. While there are valid maturity concerns to be had at this early stage of the game, the merits of BI4 and the common semantic layer do justify the effort. That is not the only selling point but it is a really good one in book. This is a capability I know I have lusted after in my 13 years working in this technology.