in BI Strategy & Execution, Extranets, System Administration

Tips for Developing BI Extranets


Over the past eight years or so, we’ve developed a number of business intelligence extranets for our clients. One of our first solutions was developed on top of Business Objects 5.1, and we have touched virtually every subsequent release including Business Objects 6.1, Business Objects 6.5, Business Objects XI, and now…SAP BusinessObjects XI 3.1. (We’ve even had the pleasure of updating several of these applications when the Business Objects SDKs were changed after the Crystal Decisions merger.)

When helping a client plan an extranet, there are a core set of guidelines that we always follow:

Keep it simple

Take all the features you want to implement, and cut out the bottom half. This may initially seem like a drastic step, but consider this. Each additional feature or enhancement carries with it a whole host of costs, including development costs, testing resource costs, initial training costs and technical support/help desk costs.If that’s not enough reason, consider the Pareto principle, which roughly translated states that 80% of the extranet users will only use 20% of the functionality you develop. I find this to be accurate, and in some cases more like a 95/5 split. Don’t add unnecessary complexity that will only benefit a very small minority of your users.

Design with the end in mind

Unlike internal applications where you can somewhat dictate the technical requirements, you usually have no such leverage when rolling out applications to your clients. You must consider all the various combinations of operating systems, web browsers, and screen resolutions your clients may be using.

Browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera — there are many browsers out there and many versions of each of them. If there are existing extranet applications in place, analyze the access logs to get a feel for which platforms your clients are using. Your choice of which browsers to support may affect what technologies can be used in the development, especially if you plan to support IE6. Advanced CSS and JavaScript used in most Web 2.0 sites may not work correctly in older browsers like IE6.

Screen resolutions: BI Extranets are really web applications, so screen resolution is much more important than on a traditional website. Webapps tend to pack a lot of information on to one screen. Again, analyze your access logs or poll your clients to find the most commonly used resolution. These days anything less than a 1024×768 resolution is rare, but even this can be limiting for modern web applications. The more screen real estate you have available for your extranet, the better.

Software plugins: The BusinessObjects platform can require additional software depending on what features you want to use. Adobe Flash is required for Xcelsius dashboards, and the Java Runtime is needed to use the WebIntelligence Query Panel. If you plan to offer either of these features in your extranet, ensure that your clients have this software available or are permitted to install it on their workstations. Many companies have strict IT policies regarding software installation on employee workstations.

 

Leverage the BusinessObjects platform

BusinessObjects has an extremely robust development kit including SDKs for the entire suite of tools. In fact, the InfoView web application that comes packaged with BusinessObjects was written entirely with these SDKs. Your extranet should leverage as much of this platform as possible.  By doing so, you can use the existing BusinessObjects tools to manage security and content.  Not only does this give you a proven foundation for your extranet, but it also saves development costs on the administration side of your application.

A BusinessObjects extranet is a great way to differentiate yourself from your competitors, as well as provide value for your customers.  Using these tips you should be well on your way to designing a great web application for all of your customers’ reporting needs.

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