With the release of SAP BusinessObjects BI Platform 4.2 into ramp-up (GA is planned for Q1 2016) there are a wide range of new features available for users and administrators alike to get their hands on. Some of these new features we’ve been waiting for for a long time such as running queries in parallel, a repository recycle bin, and the cool new Administrator’s Cockpit.For the complete list check SCN.
One feature that aims to greatly improve collaboration between users across the enterprise-wide platform is the new “Commentary Service”. I wanted to focus on this new feature as the basis for this article as it was not quite as intuitive as I expected.
Example of WebI comments sidebar
The new Commentary feature allows any user with proper rights to add comments to a report in the form of cell element. The comment appears in a different format from a normal cell and can only be added during “Design” mode for a document. Users can give the comment a title (importance of this explained soon) and corresponding text that will be displayed.
After the initial comment is created and document saved, another user can open the same document and view the comments. They can then reply to this comment thread in the side panel, all categorized under the title, and add additional notes to the comment.
This feature is similar to the ‘Discussions’ panel in 3.x (also available in 4.x, but turned off by default). It offers essentially the same functionality, the main difference being Discussions are viewed outside of the document in a BI Launch Pad panel, and the new Commentary is contained within. It seems as though this is another take on the Discussion functionality that has been deprecated, and provides a greater level of detail.
This feature will prove to be very useful when designing a complex report that spans multiple business units. Power Users or designers from either unit can quickly provide design suggestions or data questions to one another all within the WebI document. No email is needed to pose a question (separating the context of information) and this feature provides a breadcrumb trail to improve accountability and sharing of knowledge.
This new Commenting feature is installed by default with a new 4.2 installation or upgrade and is available without any further configuration. However, there is opportunity to further configure the Commenting Service backbone in the CMC. This feature tracks changes to active reports, so a record must be kept. By default, the comments themselves and record of any commenting creation or edits are stored in the Audit database that is configured by the system Administrator or architect.
However, an additional blank database can be setup as the repository for all Comments in the ‘BI Commentary Service’ section of the CMC Applications and used for the Platform. Even with this method, record of any commentary actions are still stored in the Audit database.
Just as the ‘Freeze Header Row/Columns’ feature is only available during Reading mode in WebI, this feature appears to only be available during Design mode, leaving users without edit rights stuck passing along notes offline if an error is noticed or suggestion realized. Furthermore, it does not appear that a comment can be easily linked to an existing report element, instead left to float around on the report canvas, I’d love to be able to trigger a comment based on an alert condition for example. Lastly, users should be aware that any comment created is not automatically hidden (i.e. MSFT Excel Notes), but presented in view and print mode, a caveat to be aware of when sharing the report.
Example Comment cell on report canvas
After spending some time learning the ins-and-outs of the Commentary Service and playing around passing comments between a colleague and myself, I have to say this new feature is a welcome addition. Having spent the majority of the past year performing upgrades and migrations from previous BusinessObjects versions to the 4.x versions, this would have been a very useful tool to have when creating new reports to meet business needs or when performing post-migration report validation.
The implementation and administration of this feature has room for improvement however. Personally, I would like to see the option to choose which database will house the service within the Installation Wizard and for further details in the CMC portion. This would be helpful to ensure a proper implementation and ease of administration, should and issues arise.
There seems to be a few technical hiccups that can arise when using this new feature. It does not seems to work well with HTML mode and I did experience some headaches when first creating the comment. Looking up the Help page for the =Comment() function provided valuable insight.
Hopefully this feature will become richer in future service packs and versions to improve the disadvantages I’ve made note of in this article. These would go a long way to avoiding another headache feature and allowing for the ease-of-use functionality that BusinessObjects users have become accustomed to.
In my next post I’ll discuss the underlying architecture of the commentary functionality and how it will extend beyond WebI in the future! If you’ve had chance to work with the new commenting feature let me know if I’ve missed anything.