With the upcoming General Availability (GA) of SBOP Design Studio somewhere in November 2012 (14/11/2012), I was given the chance to get some hands on training and to provide some honest feedback to SAP.
SBOP Design Studio is a ‘premium alternative’ to the BEx WAD (Web Application Designer), reading between the lines it eventually means it would be its successor. Anyone with experience with the WAD will take to Design Studio like a duck to water.
Before I begin I would like to make a special shout out to Jie and Christina from SAP who did a sterling job in evangelizing and training us on the SBOP Design Studio application.
SBOP Design Studio is a standalone client application which uses Eclipse just like the HANA studio and the soon to be released ‘ABAP in Eclipse’, it appears that new applications built by SAP will use the Eclipse platform.
The application itself loads in a few seconds and you are given the option to connect to the BOE server or work locally on your own desktop (‘Skip’). I hear you shout, “What, you need BOE to run Design Studio”; well at the moment yes you do or at least make your dashboards productive.
Please be aware, if you are using BOE you will also need to install the server ‘Add-on’ in order to make your application productive via BOE. Note the Design studio ‘Add-on’ is available to use from BOBJ 4.0 SP04 patch 4, however in order to integrate with the iPAD application ‘SAP BI’ you will require SP05. The Design Studio ‘Add-on’ will remain a separate install in order to allow development of Design Studio to be independent of BOBJ SP and patch releases.
Design Studio Overview
With any new application first impressions are often confusing however with knowledge of the BEx WAD it was surprising easy to navigate around the developer interfaces. There are five ‘View’ windows plus the canvas window, these are:
- Error Log
The first three views plus the design canvas are the views that are used the most. Usually an application starts with adding a ‘datasource’, the first release of Design Studio supports two source systems namely SAP BW and SAP HANA.
If working in ‘local’ mode then the design studio reads your saplogon.ini file for SAP BW connections and any HANA ODBC connections you may have. If working from the BOE server then all connection information read from the BOE. This is important to note as if developing from Local PC you will need to change your connections later on when publishing to the BOE server.
My advice, if possible, is to work in server mode this is especially true if you are working with multiple images as the image paths will need changing when publishing from local to the BOE server.
The components window is split in three sections:
- Analytical (Chart, Cross Tab, Dimension Filter & Filter Panel)
- Basic (Button, Check box, Date Field, Dropdown box, Image, Input Filed, list box, Radio Button Group & Text.
- Container (Grid Layout, Pagebook, Pop-up & Tab Strip)
Taking into account this is a first release the components available cover the most common dashboard scenarios. One of the biggest areas for improvements however is the charting components (which SAP is aware), for example certain chart types are not available such as the combination and waterfall charts. In addition the current charting components are basic and do not support interactions like with SAP Dashboards (Xcelcius). Moreover formatting options (properties) to change font sizes, axis scales, colours, marker sizes etc.. are currently not available.
The development of the charting components including Crosstabs should be one of SAP’ first priorities to enhance in order to gain wider adoption as an enterprise design toolset.
The outline window displays the available data sources (BW Queries, Query Views, Info Providers and HANA analytical /calculation views) in addition to displaying all the components that are used within your Design Studio application. From within the outline window you can easily move components between containers or add additional components to the canvas. The outline window allows for multi-select of components thus allowing changing of their properties in one go.
Flipping over to the ‘Data Binding’ view within the outline window will highlight which datasources are assigned to which canvas components, this is a useful feature.
One feature that currently seems lacking is the ability to lock or hide components within the outline window; this would be exceptionally useful when dealing with a large number of canvas components. I am sure this feature will be introduced in future releases.
The properties window allows the developer to set the properties of each component, the properties will vary depending on component type however there are some common properties that exist across all components. The ‘layout’ section of the properties window is common accross all components, this allows the relative positioning (docking) of the component in pixels from the applications border.
Based on comparisons for example with the WAD, Web Dynpro or SAP Dashboard components / user interface (UI) elements, the number of properties that can be set are limited. I believe SAP will enhance the component properties with more options with the next release cycles.
Design Studio is a WYSIWYG application which provides pixel perfect placement of components. To cater for resizing of browsers and screens there is a ‘docking’ mechanism, docking is relative to the edge of the screen and the developer has the option to choose either the top or bottom border and the left or right border to position against.
A nifty feature allows the developer to quickly change the relative positioning by selecting the small clear circles (highlighted below) to change which border the component is relatively positioned against:
Without a doubt this is the number one selling feature (besides mobile capability), no other dashboard tool in the SAP suite supports scripting in the same way as design studio. Scripting can be used to handle user interactions, to set variables/filters and to handle the display and bindings of object properties.
Scripting is performed using a cut down set of java script functions; these functions are relatively simple and can be picked up easily. If this is still worries do not fear, there is an intuitive prompting mechanism. By pressing CTRL+SPACE in the script editor will reveal either the application objects or functions that are available. Between each statement just add a ‘.’, also remember to add a ‘;’ at the end of each statement. An example is shown below:
Still worried? Well for certain statements a ‘wizard’ exists, whilst in the first release the wizard statements are limited, certainly more will be added over time. An example of the set filter wizard is shown below:
Currently, the scripting functions available are acceptable however there are many more functions that could be added to cater for more complex scenario and use cases.
Events which are generally user interactions such as ‘on-click’ or ‘on-select’ are available for several of the components, one other event type ‘on-startup’ exists that controls actions when the application is first launched. The ‘on-startup’ event is used for example to populate listbox selections or to determine BEx exception levels in order to display an appropriate icon image.
To make use of these events, scripting has to be employed and given that nearly every application built will need to make use of events means design studio is not an end user tool but an IT / developer tool.
The SBOP Design Studio is very stable, after a whole week of testing the application never crashed, yes there were error messages but these were related more to me doing something stupid like forgetting to add a ‘;’ at the end of my java script statements or trying to connect to a BW system release that was not supported.
Once familiar with the Design Studio features and functionalities it became very intuitive, the exercises set for us where completed in a short timeframe typically 30 minutes or less. This is good news given that we can leverage existing BW queries or HANA Analytics a simple to moderate application can be developed and deployed in a very short time frame, certainly far faster than it would take using the SAP Dashboard toolset.
The integration to the BOE server is seamless and the application has an auto-save feature ensuring the application is saved at regular intervals.
I believe SAP has made a focused effort to ensure stability and usability over advanced functionalities; this is a good approach to adopt with a first release of any software product. I hope the stability of this application continues with later releases as I find it frustrating when an application crashes or freezes in the middle of development efforts.
Business User Experience
From a user perspective, applications are easy to use. No special training is required as the application will provide an intuitive guided analytical experience, if you can use an iPAD or browser then you can make effective use of Design Studio Applications to analyze your business data.
Applications can be launched in the web browser or on the iPAD using a pre-defined / published Business objects Open document URL. Alternatively if the user has the ‘SAP BI’ iPAD application then then the Design Studio document will automatically appear in the applications library.
One of the nicest features is the ability to edit the ‘initial view’ of the query without the need to go back into the BEx query designer. The initial view editing allows filtering, addition/removal of row/column members and the selection of key figures. In addition you are able to activate / deactivate display hierarchies and format the key figures with scaling factors or decimal places. To speed up the editing of the initial view you may choose to ‘Pause’ the automatic refresh.
Another rather nice feature is the QR code which allows developers to quickly test the application on an iPAD device without worry about finding the physical application URL:
Overall the functionally of the first release is acceptable to build simple to moderate guided analytical applications however for anything advanced then you should consider sticking with the current SAP dashboard toolset. The SAP Dashboard toolset (aka Xcelcius) from BOBJ 4.0 SP05 will support HTML5 for a limited set of components, my advice would be for the time being consider using this for advanced dashboard or guided analytical applications.
Whilst I am not at liberty to discuss detailed roadmap developments for the Design Studio toolset I can share what is publically available from SAP. The development backlog for Design Studio is understandably quite considerable, the main planned innovations and future directions (refer to roadmap link) includes:
- Enhanced Visualizations
- Ability to Create Custom Themes (Corporate branding)
- Native SAP HANA deployment
- A SDK (Software Development Kit)
- Support for additional Data Sources
- Planning / Write back abilities
- Offline Scenarios
I would ask you to use your imagination for other backlog requests, a little like I have done for my Design Studio development wish list.
I have so many items for my wish list, I have listed some of the more prominent features that would help me to design advanced applications or make my life easier:
- Duel axis, combination and Waterfall Charts also scorecard table components
- Ability to select series member in order to pass parameters for sections (Graphical component interaction)
- Ability to group and overlay graphical components (like SAP dashboards)
- Ability to ‘Merge’ cells of grid layout component
- Timer component or scripting option to pause for x seconds, useful for dashboards that are display on boardroom screens
- Multi Select values from list component
- Allow enhanced formatting of components i.e. colour, column size, font etc..
- Component properties, library needs to exist to bind scripting against ALL component properties
- Script function to get variable value (one already exists for set)
- More events such as ‘on-swipe’ or ‘on-zoom’ for mobile applications
- Ability to create offsets / string manipulation i.e. get the month from the date i.e. data+4(2)
- Get hold of Report title, filter values and other useful query information
- Add the possibility to create a formula within ‘Edit Initial view’.
- Function Module / BAPI as a datasource (like in Visual Composer) or ABAP web services.
- BO Universe integration
- Ability to swap themes or CSS on the fly
- Ability to HIDE / LOCK components in the outline / canvas
A compelling case to use Design Studio
Recently it was announced by Ian Mayor (Product Manager), Design Studio will be free to all customers who are licensed to use SAP Dashboards (with BOE). This means that from GA towards the end of November 2012, customers that are licensed for SAP Dashboards should automatically see SBOP Design Studio 1.0 on the Service Market Place (check under Software Downloads –> Installations & Upgrades –> A-Z Index –> D –> SBOP Design Studio)
Given that this tool is easy to learn and that applications can be built rapidly based on SAP BW or SAP HANA datasources, I would advise customers to start familiarizing themselves and to start understanding where Design Studio will fit in with their analytics roadmap.
Design Studio Road Map: https://websmp208.sap-ag.de/~sapidb/011000358700000390622012D.pdf (SMP logon required)
Pricing for Design Studio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI8GIyKpSZ4&list=PLD1EA2250DA46CF78&index=9&feature=plpp_video
Design Studio on SCN:http://scn.sap.com/community/businessobjects-design-studio
Official Product Tutorials: http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-30272