BIRT Report Templates in SAP SuccessFactors – Part 3

BIRT Report Templates in SAP SuccessFactors – Part 3

in Aug 03, 2017

BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tool) is an open source project and an add-on for Eclipse. In SAP SuccessFactors, you can use BIRT templates to visualise your ad-hoc reports. Data is exported to BIRT to build the report. You can display your data in pivot tables, charts and much more. After you upload the template, you will see the results in SAP SuccessFactors every time you run the report. In this article, I’ll show you how the templates look and describe how to use BIRT in greater detail.

BIRT-in-SuccessFactors

BIRT in SuccessFactors

General Information About BIRT in SAP SuccessFactors

In the past, BIRT was mostly used in the Learning Module (originally, the software behind the Learning Module was Plateau and was acquired by SuccessFactors in 2011) but has since found its way to all other modules of SAP SuccessFactors. BIRT report designer is a free open source tool and is available at: http://www.birt-exchange.com. But the integration feature for SAP SuccessFactors may come with a charge, so you need to contact your SAP SuccessFactors account manager to talk about a license.

With BIRT in SAP SuccessFactors, it’s much easier to deliver insights in your data. Whether presenting to your line manager or to your board of directors, you can quickly highlight important trends, identify progress against key metrics and make your information accessible to all audiences. With the ad-hoc report feature to share a report, you automatically get the ability to drive action by sharing critical metrics across the organisation and to empower your team.

To clarify: the BIRT templates enhance your ad-hoc report. That means the template is pulling the ad-hoc report data into the SAP SuccessFactors Report Builder engine to transform your data into a visualised report. There is no extra button, no extra interface or hidden secret. It will just show instead of the old ad-hoc report.

For that feature, all you need to do is to subscribe to the Visual Publisher service (activated by partners or by SAP Professional Services in Provisioning) and it will allow you to upload report templates built using open source BIRT report designer. Here are some ideas of what you could do with BIRT in ad-hoc reporting:

  • Lists – Group related data together and easily add totals, averages and other summaries.
  • Charts – Make numeric data easier to understand with charts including pie, line, bar and many more.
  • Cross tabs – Show data in two dimensions such as quarterly goal attainment by division or annual compensation increases per department.
  • Letters and Documents – Create form letters and other documents that can include text, formatting, lists, charts and more.
  • Compound Reports – Or combine all of these capabilities into a single document with your corporate branding.

Note: Visual Publisher still needs to be activated in Provisioning. Additionally, the latest BIRT version is not supported by SAP SuccessFactors (at time of writing). The official version supported by SAP SuccessFactors is BIRT 3.6.0.

BIRT-Overview

Figure 1 – BIRT Overview

Functionality & Features of BIRT Reports in SAP SuccessFactors

BIRT is a great BI tool that I worked with several years ago and I am happy to see it in SAP SuccessFactors again. For some techies, it will feel comfortable since BIRT is just an add-on for the famous Eclipse development environment. The look and feel is sometimes similar to the Online Report Designer (ORD) in SAP SuccessFactors. But you will get better options to customise your report layout in BIRT. To get a better picture of BIRT, including where and how you can build something, I have included a picture in Figure 1 above that shows a working screen with Palette, Outline, Work Area and Property Setting Area.

BIRT-Objects

Figure 2 – BIRT Objects

As with YouCalc, you get your data source from the ad-hoc reports in your instance. You cannot write your own SQL queries or drag and drop different fields together to pull data from the instance, but you can use your data multiple times in your BIRT template to build a table or chart with the same data. To build reports, you have a similar interface to Microsoft Word, into which you can drag and drop objects. See Figure 2 “BIRT Objects” above for the list of the BIRT objects you can use in your reports.

I compare BIRT and YouCalc in this article because both tools are 3rd party tools and neither is included in SAP SuccessFactors directly like the Online Report Designer. Also, their visualisation options are kind of similar.

BIRT-Function-for-data

Figure 3 – BIRT Function for data

Next, I would like to point out the functions in BIRT. BIRT has all the basic functions you would expect (filter, sort, sum, and so on) to calculate or manipulate your report data, but you will not find as many standard logical or special functions as are included in YouCalc Dashboard Builder. The reason is easy to explain: with the YouCalc Builder you normally build much more interactive and complex reports. Nevertheless, you could work with JavaScript in BIRT, which is not allowed in YouCalc Dashboard Builder. This provides a lot of functionalities, but also increases the security and compatibility risks.

Something BIRT does slightly better than YouCalc is the handling of Object Properties and Preview Mode. It is easy to change colors, size, alignment and much more in BIRT because the basic components are likely to change, as in Microsoft Word, and it is very intuitive if you are familiar with HTML and CSS (indeed, you can use CSS styles in BIRT to define your objects). Still, you have to be careful because the Preview could have a different outcome than the result in your instance.

BIRT-Object-Properties

Figure 4 – BIRT Object Properties

Pros & Cons of BIRT Reports in SuccessFactors

BIRT is a great BI tool to use. It has a lot of advantages and is a huge enhancement compared to the basic ad-hoc reports in SAP SuccessFactors where you will reach limits at some points. In some cases, it would make sense to use another reporting solution, such as another one mentioned in my series of reporting articles in the iXerv blog (past and future).

BIRT templates are nearly as strong as the YouCalc Dashboard Builder in terms of visualisation, but are still limited to one ad-hoc report as a source of data. On the other hand, you have a great opportunity to get your ad-hoc data visualised quickly and nicely without a lot of hassle. At the end, it really depends on the reporting requirements and purpose of the report.

Advantages

+ stable software with intuitive UI
+ huge enhancement compared to basic ad-hoc report layout
+ wide range of visualisation options (Standard, HTML + CSS)
+ using same data source multiple times in the same report

Disadvantages

– can use just one ad-hoc report at a time
– limits in flexibility for dynamic or in-depth interactions
– external tool (for building the report – users see it in within SAP SuccessFactors), which requires training and enablement through Provisioning

This Article is Part of a Series on “HR Reporting and Analytics in SAP SuccessFactors”

SuccessFactors Training and Demo

You still don’t have enough and want to learn more? We offer various SAP SuccessFactors reporting trainings. If you have bespoke training needs, the packages can be adjusted accordingly. According to your requirements, we can prepare a demo to show how things work and which options you have. Don’t hesitate to contact us to ask for more information and guidance.

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Written Chris Wilpert

Chris Wilpert is an SAP SuccessFactors consultant at iXerv. Chris is SAP SuccessFactors-certified in Employee Central, Recruiting Management and Workforce Analytics and holds a Master's degree from Technische Fachhochschule Wildau.

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