A first look at ZEN (SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio)

Posted by Xavier Hacking

This week we got access to the beta program for one of the new upcoming SAP BI tools: SAP BusinessObjects Analysis Edition for Application Design, codename ZEN. I played around with it for about an hour to get a quick first impression and to see how fast I would be able to create my first ZEN app with some interactivity.

If you haven’t heard about ZEN before you should check the following blogposts:

The user guide gives the following definition of ZEN:

SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for application design enables application designers to create analysis applications and dashboards for browsers and mobile devices on top of BW and SAP HANA data sources. It is the product of choice when full support for BW and HANA data models and engine capabilities is required. The product offers a design tool that allows you to create applications in an easy and intuitive way without the need for native HTML and iPad UI programming skills.

Looking at the SAP BI tools, the features of the current BEx Web Application Designer (WAD) and SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (Xcelsius) will be merged into this one tool (to rule them all!). Note that ZEN is now in beta, ramp-up is planned for end 2012 and it will be general availability not before the middle of 2013!! So we have enough time to learn about this new tool.

The ZEN software installer required me to install Internet Explorer 9 on my Windows 7 VM. This could lead to some problems in production environments that are using WAD, since WAD only works well with Internet Explorer 8. At one of my current projects we now also have this problem after upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 with IE9. Check SAP note 1635870 for more info on this issue.

Setting up the connection to the SAP BW system was easy; just copy-pasting the settings from the SAP logon settings. There is no ‘check connection’ option, so you have to execute the app to check if your settings are correct. Interesting is the option to create multiple SAP BW and SAP HANA connections. Also it seems like you don’t need a live connection to work on an app. In WAD this was required.

The program looks a bit like WAD and Xcelsius, with several components to choose from on the left, a canvas in the middle and on the right the properties of the selected component.

First I created a new connection with a SAP BW query. In WAD or BEx Analyzer this would be called a Dataprovider; ZEN uses Data Source. This might be a bit confusing since in SAP BW there is specific object called with the same name for data extraction from a source system.


Next I dragged a Crosstab component into my app and I dragged the new Data Source on top of this component to make the connection. The results of the query are shown in the cross tab. In the workspace I can’t edit the query output by for example deleting one of the characteristics or doing some sorting.

After adding a chart I tried to include some kind of selector in the app. Here things become a little difficult. Some scripting is needed to enable interactivity. ZEN uses BI Action Language which is a subset of JavaScript/ECMAScript. Luckily they already included a wizard to get you going.

Switching the Theme to SAP Mobile makes the table and the buttons a bit more iPhone-like.


So after this quick look at this first beta release for ZEN I think this is a good start, but a lot of work still has to be done to come close to the flexibility that Xcelsius already offers. I’m a bit concerned about the required scripting to make apps interactive. This might slow down the development and learning process for new ZEN developers, coming from an Xcelsius environment in which you only needed some basic MS Excel knowledge to quickly create cool interactive dashboards.

HackingSAP.com - Jun 13, 2012 | Knowledge sharing, New technology, Preview, SAP, SAP BusinessObjects, SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio, ZEN
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  1. Ronald Konijnenburg
    June 13, 2012

    Hi Xavier,

    Tx for the post, great read and with all the links a valuable source to get into the Zen mode (ok, have to work on better Zen jokes 😉

    New SAP front end tooling feels like a blast from the past nowadays. It all feels, well… Pre-historic. I had a look at visual intelligence on HANA yesterday and wasn’t impressed either (not by a long shot ).

    Guess SAP needs to talk to Apple on how to design great products. Quality over quantity (and better design over a speedy introduction to the market). I mean who is really waiting for just another different cookie out of that big SAP jar.


  2. Pieter Hendrikx
    June 14, 2012

    Hi Xavier,

    Again one of the first contributors on the ZEN topic. Thumbs up!

    I’ve planned a simple comparison challenge. I want to build a simple Xcelsius dashboard and try to rebuild it in ZEN to get a better understanding of current functionality, ease of use and flexibility.

    Indeed the coding aspect might be tricky since it might be less accessible to a broader user group. We’ll see how the code ‘generator’ works.


    • David Lai
      June 19, 2012

      Hey Pieter,
      I think the coding aspect allows for more flexibility with dynamic elements, which is probably a good thing for developers complaining about limitations.

      Hoping to test this baby out soon 🙂


  3. Paul Berden
    June 14, 2012

    Hi Xavier, great article. I’ve been following the Xcelsius/ZEN developments from the sideline. I’m pleased with the HTML 5 output instead of the flash of Xcelsius.

    Do you know anything about the available data connection ZEN will get? I mean will it only be for application development on top of HANA / BW, or will it be able to connect to other relational databases / universes in the future?

    • Xavier Hacking
      July 3, 2012

      Hi Paul,

      Initial focus will be on SAP BW and HANA. Connections with universes are planned for ‘future releases’, so I wouldn’t count on it being available before 2014.


  4. sven van leuken
    June 18, 2012

    Hi Xavier,

    Also I’m stating: Thumbs up!
    A great read and one of the the first contributors on the ZEN topic.



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