Introduction to Reporting Tools

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SAP customers had a limited number of proprietary reporting tools to choose from through the late nineties. These tools were part of SAP’s R/3 suite and later ERP Business Suite and were often closely intertwined with the applications and modules. As a primarily transaction-based processing system (i.e. Online Transaction Processing or OLTP), the majority of these reporting tools were best suited for operational reporting requirements.

Near the end of the last millennium, SAP introduced the concept of a data warehouse application/system and SAP Business Warehouse (BW) became its first Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) platform. For the first time, it provided customers with tools for analysis. However, customers had to implement BW as a separate system. By the time BW 3.5 came out, SAP had vastly improved this product and with release 7.0, BW became a NetWeaver-powered application that had a very robust technical framework accompanied by numerous improvements in the areas of report generation, presentation, and distribution Unfortunately, there were very few enterprises (if any) that were willing to incur the considerable costs of implementing SAP just to utilize its BI solution.

Meanwhile, with the advent of Big Data the need for a highly sophisticated and comprehensive BI suite became an imperative. Consolidations taking place in the market further highlighted this need. With IBM’s acquisition of Cognos and Oracle’s of Hyperion, time seemed to be running out for SAP. Enter BusinessObjects. It was a strategic investment for the future that not only provided SAP with a gamut of applications (not all of which are in the BI space), but also the massive BusinessObjects customer base.

As SAP customers worldwide increasingly adopted BW, SAP reporting was split into two types: operational/transaction-based and analytical/historical reporting. The former includes tech-heavy ABAP reports, user-focused ABAP Queries, Report Writer/Report Painter and other module-specific reporting applications such as the Logistics Information System (LIS). In the analytical reporting realm, the only native application at your disposal was the Business Warehouse.

If you are a reader unfamiliar with SAP, you might wonder with so many choices at your disposal, what was the problem (if there ever was one)? Despite the significant improvements SAP made over the years to their suite of reporting tools, there is a general consensus among SAP users worldwide about problem areas with these reporting tools. The most commonly noted problem areas include:

  • Most of the tools are not user-friendly. Even as an end-user, you may need the help of a tech-savvy person to run them. Even BEx Analyzer, designed with the business user in mind, requires a fair understanding of how SAP BW works technically.
  • Development of reports in SAP is often time-consuming. ABAP reports, a staple of every SAP implementation, require an ABAP developer. This requirement excludes business users from playing a direct role in report development. Building queries in SAP query is significantly simpler; however you need to understand the basic structure of the tables that you are querying on. In addition, the BEx Query Designer requires a good understanding of proprietary NetWeaver technology.
  • For many years, there was a considerable deficiency in the look-and-feel of SAP reports. Formatting of operational reports was generally not easy. The end result was not appealing even if data served your immediate business need.

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