Lack of flexibility and agility are the most frequently criticized aspects of the Business Warehouse. The data contained in BW is subject to a specific structure and is bound by governance rules. However, the business department often needs additional information for its analyses and planning applications.
Since such requests are usually made on an ad-hoc basis, the IT department is not able to react quickly enough. However, this leads to the business department exporting the BW data to local Excel files and enriching it with additional information there. A shadow IT with dubious quality is created.
SAP's Workspaces concept is designed to solve this problem. By providing the business department with a "sandbox" where it can work independently, the gap between central requirements and locally needed flexibility should be closed. This is a dedicated area where the coordinated data from the business warehouse can be enriched with their own data.
In this way, the workspaces make it possible to react quickly to new reporting requests. Users from the business department can, for example, add new fields to an existing report on their own. The modeling of the objects in the BW system does not have to be changed.
What can you do with Workspaces?
The workspaces indeed open up a wide range of possibilities. For example, end users can create new data models (so-called Local InfoProviders) and fill them with their own data. They can also create their own InfoObjects with their own master data. Queries created in workspaces can display combined data from central and local InfoProviders. Workspaces can also be used to enhance existing Analysis for Office reports on an ad-hoc basis.
Finally, the Local InfoProviders defined in Workspaces can be used for planning. Almost all SAP Business Planning and Consolidation functions can be used. For example, you can use planning functions and sequences, characteristic relationships, data slices and work status. You can also set up teams and data access profiles, turn on data auditing, and use business process flows. The input-ready queries created based on generated aggregation level can be used for data entry in Analysis for Office as well as in HTML5 Web Input Forms.
Although Workspaces offer a number of advantages and were developed specifically for the business department, the concept is not well received by users. To date, acceptance by the business department has been rather low. Workspaces are rarely found in practice.
On the one hand, this is due to the unappealing user interface. On the other hand, it also requires quite a high level of technical know-how.
SAP Data Warehouse Cloud Spaces
The workspaces concept is also used in the SAP Data Warehouse Cloud (SAP DWC). There, however, the dedicated areas are simply called Spaces there. As with BW Workspaces, the IT department provides central quality-assured data sources in SAP DWC. Building on this, the department can set up its own data models and business logic in the dedicated area, the so-called "Space". The business department is supported by the Business Builder, a low-code editor that can be used to map analytical datasets, fact models and authorization scenarios.
The usability of Data Warehouse Cloud Spaces is much more promising compared to BW Workspaces. In addition, SAP DWC is also a strategic solution from SAP, so we can expect further developments in the future.
However, SAP Data Warehouse is not used much at the moment. In addition, SAP DWC is only available as a cloud solution and not on-premises. Therefore, we pursue a different approach with our SAP add-on NextTables.
Instead of relying on a separate area for users, NextTables aims to combine full integration into SAP BW with flexibility and ease of use. It is an easy-to-understand solution for editing and maintaining SAP tables. Particularly noteworthy are the appealing state-of-the-art interface and the intuitive user guidance.
This allows users from the business department to independently maintain BW InfoProviders and tables. NextTables supports all SAP table types.
In addition to modeling the InfoProviders, master data can also be maintained by the business department. With the help of a sophisticated authorization concept, you can define exactly who can edit which data and where.
The authorization check works on different levels. On the one hand, access is restricted at the table level. This is done using a dedicated authorization object. This allows you to define which users can only read table contents and which users can change the table contents. On the other hand, standard SAP authorizations are also taken into account when accessing InfoProviders. In this way, the user only sees the data for which he or she is authorized. The same principle also applies when writing back data.
An overview of tools for master-data maintenance & data import into SAP
Special attention was paid to intuitive handling and a modern, user-friendly interface. For example, inline editing is supported by default. The user can edit the cells of a table directly. In addition, several rows can be changed, deleted or copied at the same time. Larger amounts of data can be pasted into the table via the clipboard at the push of a button.
In addition, users are supported during data entry with a value help, which can also be expanded to include a fuzzy search algorithm. This allows the user to quickly identify the desired entries for fields with a very large number of values. The relevant attributes can also be displayed to facilitate the search.
Particularly noteworthy is the upload function of NextTables, which allows the department to upload data to the system with just a few clicks. The upload can be done easily via a copy from the clipboard or via drag & drop.
The import settings, such as decimal separator and thousands separator, can be stored in the user profile. If necessary, these settings can also be adjusted spontaneously.
During the upload, the progress of the import is displayed in real time.
After uploading, the user receives an overview of the process and validation results. These can also be downloaded as an Excel file. NextTables also offers the option of implementing customer-specific validation checks via BAdI (Business Add-In).
All warnings and errors are visible at a glance. These can be corrected immediately in the same screen without having to adjust the source file. This significantly speeds up the import process.
In addition, frequently occurring errors can also be corrected automatically. For example, currency symbols can be automatically removed from amount fields. These adjustments are then presented to the user, who can either confirm or override them.
If you now combine the simple modeling, sophisticated authorization concept, intuitive operation and the upload function, NextTables can be used to create simple planning applications similar to those with Local Providers.
NextTables also offers the following advantages:
- Import from files (Excel and CSV) as well as from the clipboard with immediate validation report
- Corrections out of the box (for example, automatically removed currency symbols from amount fields, corrections can be extended in a table or field-specific manner)
- Various validation options already implemented and additional validation rules can be implemented table-specifically
- Warning if data sets with the same key already exist
- Import dialog as a standalone display or integrated into every table display
- Variable assignment of InfoObjects to file columns
- Formatting independent, thanks to automatic column recognition via the column header
- An Excel template in the default format for imports can be downloaded
In general, workspaces follow the right approach by aiming at flexibility for the business department. However, it is still a local, isolated solution that is not 100% integrated with the business warehouse.
While it is possible to use so-called "transfer targets" to allow certain central InfoProviders to be filled with data from local InfoProviders, this approach is dangerous from a governance perspective and is therefore not practical. It is possible to validate the transfer using BAdI RSL_WORKSPACE_SUBMISSION_BADI. However, there is no validation of the inputs in local providers. Therefore, no uniform data base, "One Version of the Truth", can be ensured.
In addition, low acceptance by the business department is another reason why workspaces are not used in practice. In our numerous projects, we have yet to meet a customer who was actively using Workspaces.
Therefore, we have chosen a different approach with NextTables, which combines full integration into the BW landscape with flexibility. This is guaranteed by integrated validation mechanisms and multi-level authorization concept. We put a special focus on usability, which is reflected in the higher acceptance from the business department. Last but not least, NextTables also offers more options for customizing through included BAdIs.
From our point of view, workspaces tend to favor silo thinking and isolated solutions, while NextTables favors integration and One Version of the Truth.
One cannot claim that one solution is better than the other. Basically, they are different approaches to solving the same challenge.
Which solution is right for you? That depends on your specific situation. In a joint conversation, we will be happy to advise you on a solution tailored to your needs.