My company is getting great value out of Microsoft Power BI. It’s making a big difference in enabling our users to self-serve and produce and consume their own reports and analytics from a variety of data sources. Connectivity b/w Power BI is particularly strong for Microsoft and some other non-SAP data sources, however with SAP BW there are some limitations that I feel is limiting adoption. As the core of the data management component of our reporting and analytics platform is built on SAP Business Warehouse technology – connectivity to it is key, and we want users to be able to freely connect to it, find relevant information and mash this up with other sources in Power BI.
Unfortunately with the current version of both tools there are some limitations with interoperability between Microsoft Power BI and our data in SAP BW.
This blog seeks to increase awareness and list some of those core limitations that are causing issues with adoption of Power BI reporting and analytics use cases built on SAP BW data. It also offers some suggestions where possible. Please note that these limitations are current as of September 2017 and I’m confident that at least two of these will be solved in the near future given the stated intentions of Microsoft reps and the general rate of development of the tool, which appears to be fantastic. Here goes…
Issue 1: Single sign-on to SAP BW
Single sign-on through Windows AD credentials is not currently available with the SAP BW connector, instead users have to enter their SAP BW username/password to connect to SAP BW. For us this is an unsustainable situation for MMG as users do not know their BW password and enabling such access would result in considerable support cost to maintain/reset BW passwords. There is an idea on this issue currently open. A Microsoft employee responded in Jan 2017 that this is planned to be enabled this year, but unfortunately there’s no concrete dates at this point.
Unfortunately we’ll need to wait and see on this one. Please vote the idea up like I have!
Issue 2: Admin rights required to update Power BI desktop client tool
Our users do not have admin rights to their PC. The Power BI desktop client tool requires admin rights for installation – which is OK from a one off initial install perspective. Currently Microsoft are updating the client tool on a monthly basis and quite a number of users want to take advantage of the updates. However, to install the updates, admin rights are required. There are some workarounds through SCCM but we really need a holistic auto update solution that users can self-serve (without IT intervention and additional costs). I’m aware that Microsoft have commented on the idea that an auto update solution is in progress, without such a solution support costs will escalate and hence adoption and updates to the desktop tool will be limited.
Again – we’ll need to wait for the solution on this one. Please vote the idea up like I have!
Issue 3: Unfriendly query list when connecting to SAP BW
When users connect to a SAP BW data source they are presented with the SAP BW back-end InfoArea hierarchy. This is highly technical in nature and often not primarily designed to be user facing but instead used to manage layered data architectures, security, etc. For us it looks something like this:
It appears that the friendly descriptions of the InfoProviders are not shown, with only the technical IDs showing. Also it appears that there is no ability to curate the list of queries into a friendly folder structure for consumption by users – instead the complete list of technical objects in the BW backend is shown, with little control over its presentation.
Without such a friendly, understandable structure – there can be difficulty in a user finding information and hence potential adoption issues for BW data sources. For some customers SAP BW is their central data management platform – hence this can be quite important.
Given this, it would be desirable to be able to present an alternative information architecture; a curated, more user friendly layout of queries that are meaningful for analysis in Power BI. Whilst there are alternatives to enabling an alternative information hierarchy, such as providing a series of reports with pre-canned connections, or links on a page that use APIs to connect to data sources, it’d be nice to have something native within Power BI.
If you agree, please vote up my idea for Microsoft to make some improvements in this space to provide a more friendly, alternative non-technical information architecture when connecting to SAP BW data sources in Power BI.