Submitted by:
Cynthia Lee, Internal Communication Specialist, SAP Labs China – with contributions from Vicky Li and Wei Xue

SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 represents the new generation of business intelligence from SAP. Quite a number of China development teams have been dedicated to the revolutionary concepts and functionalities behind it. In an interview with Labs China Express, key developers from BusinessObjects Shanghai teams tell their stories with common semantic layers, the knockout feature in this exciting new release.

Vicky Li, Developer, Crystal Report Shanghai Team

How does Common Semantic Layer help Crystal Report users?
Vicky: Common semantic layer provides the users autonomy by exposing data in plain business terms, and provides a consistent user experience against all the sources. The schemas/sources are controlled by IT users. After adding the support of common semantic layer, business users can consume the semantic layer data source in Crystal Report with the following benefits:

* Get the trusted and consistent access to information;
* Increase productivity by using the calculations in the semantic layer;
* Minimize the troubles caused by the change of data sources.

For example, without semantic layer, the users have to create 1000 reports using the relational database driver directly. So if changes occur in the metadata, it would impact all the 1000 reports. In contrast, with common semantic layer, all the changes can be handled by IT users with no impact on the reports.

What role does Crystal Report Shanghai team play in realize this innovation?
Vicky: Crystal Report Shanghai team owns the core engine of the semantic layer integration including all the designs and implementation work.

What initiatives did you take along the way?
Vicky: First, we developed the data flatten algorithm – flatten the hierarchical result dataset to the table structure which can be consumed by the Crystal Reports; second, we built the aggregate data algorithm for the cross tab. To ensure data correctness, we push down the aggregation to the DSL dynamically, and create the aggregation algorithm for the data insertion.

Wei Xue, Senior Developer and Scrum Master, Dashboard Design Shanghai teamĀ 

What does common semantic layer mean to Dashboard Design?
Wei: It brings revolutionary changes to the way users consume enterprise data: with common semantic layer, users can easily shift from one client to another; in the past, if the end users wanted to create a dashboard, they have to do it with many tools. But after we integrated common semantic layer with the new DSL, end users can directly consume enterprise data via query panels from within the dashboard designer. It helps our customers dramatically reduce the TCO.

Secondly, the adoption of query panel and direct binding ensures more consistent user experience; in the past, end users had to use excel for data binding which is always error-prone , but now they can do with the direct binding. The performance is also a big gain by using the new DSL connection in Dashboard Designer.

Did your team encounter any challenges? If so, how did you solve them?
Wei: As it was a cross-location project (with teams in Vancouver, France and Shanghai), we must solve the dependency issues so as to deliver it with high quality and on time. So we arranged conference calls each week to clearly list the dependencies and opened up a new wiki page for making decisions collectively.

Our team has a slogan called “Drink our own Champagne”, which means we should be the first customer of our own products. Since this project had many stacks and was the most complex one that we had ever handled, we adopted our own BI products, such as dashboard and StreamWork, along the development process. It proved to be quite effective.

What knowledge did your team derive from this project?
After the project, many team members have grown up as experts of the new semantic layer. In addition, since it is the first project we adopted LEAN development model, our team has got the deep hands-on experience on what the LEAN is really about.

Background info:

Semantic layer is a business representation of corporate data that helps end users access data autonomously using common business terms. Developed and patented by SAP BusinessObjects, semantic layer has been recognized as one of the cutting-edge BI technologies by the market.

To make it even better, BusinessObjects 4.0 offers the new semantic layer supports. Dimensional Semantic Layer (DSL or Common Semantic Layer) is the revolutionary semantic layer released in XI 4.0. Compared with the old one, the new semantic layer offers:

* Better supports on SAP data source
* Better supports on multiple dimensional data source
* Supports multiple data sources
* Better performance and scalability

With common semantic layer, no matter what BussinessObjects products (Crystal Reports, Dashboard Design) the end user adopts, all BI clients can access BusinessObjects Universe through the new DSL. In this way, BusinessObject 4.0 has achieved an unparalleled level of user experience.

As the frontend visualization and the backend development has the same delivery schedule, Crystal Report team and Dashboard Design team at Shanghai campus closely collaborated with DSL team in France.

In BusinessObjects 4.0, Crystal Report Development team has fully realized common semantic layer for all data sources and will continue to add advanced functionalities in later releases; Dashboard Design Development team completed the architecture design and realized it with the relational data in the Universe. The team will continue to integrate it with data in SAP Business Warehouse so as to offer better support for SAP customers.

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