Characteristic and Key Figure for Reporting

What are Characteristics and Key Figures?

BEx Analysis Table

You will be mistaken if you thought of them as words and numbers. Understandably, this conclusion would have been reinforced when you run a BW report using any of the consumption tools (Like: BEx Analyser, BEx Web, Crystal Reports, etc).

“to say that Characteristics and Key Figures are like
‘Words and Numbers’ is close … but Wrong”

When you use a BEx report, you soon notice that it is made up of building blocks; like the individual Lego pieces that go together to create an X-Wing. They are used to design the layout of the report. We want the Analysis Table here in the middle, the Navigation Table on the left, the Filter Table down below and some Text Elements across the top (for a very basic design).

Later when you dig deeper into the individual building blocks that are available to be used within a report, you will notice that Characteristics and Key figures are vital to their functionality. Most reports will ensure they interact with each other between building blocks. This in turn helps the reporting user get a feeling of a single, coherent, interactive report that is made up of individual tables but function as a single entity.

The Analysis Table is the primary building block that is responsible for the display of the data while most other building blocks are then used to display or control the data being shown.

The main data table in the report uses the Analysis Table building block to generally present:

  • Words in the drill-down rows and drill-across columns using characteristic InfoObjects;
  • Numbers in the result area using Key Figures.

The words are usually located on the left side and top while the numbers are located in the bottom right and spread left and up.
The meaning of the numbers shown are defined specifically by:

  • Basic Experience:
    • Invisible Variables for Reporting;
    • Invisible query global filters;
    • Invisible navigation filters from user interaction;
    • Visible words to the left in that row (drill-down);
    • Visible words above in that column (drill-across).
  • Intermediate Experience:
    • Invisible structure elements;
    • Invisible Formula variables;
    • Invisible Cell definition between 2 structures.
  • Advanced Experience:
    • BEx Web template override using the Table API.
  • Expert Experience:
    • Virtual Key Figure override from the InfoProvider.

Yes, thats right. It is just a number, plain and simple, as long as you don’t ask what the number means. Unfortunately:

“Business Intelligence (BI) reporting is
all about the meaning of the number”

Without a fundamental understanding of Characteristics and Key Figures you will really struggle to understand the reported numbers; let alone try and explain it to a business user who is at your desk expressing “WTF: Whats That For? The report is wrong, fix it!”.

The icon for the Analysis Table does a pretty good job at representing the arrangement of word and numbers in a BEx report. The icon shows Characteristics as yellow & blue while the Key Figures are white.

BEx Analysis Table

Actually: The blue is a Structure, but that just confuses things for now. The icon will ignore our primitive description until we evolve and understand that a structure is a hybrid involving both Characteristics and Key Figures combined into a single definition.
The use of a light colour like yellow/light green is quite intentional once you see the InfoObject icons:

  • Characteristic is a Characteristic;
  • Key Figure is a Key Figure;
  • Unit of Measure is a Unit of Measure;
  • Time is Time.

Do yourself a favour and learn to recognise the icons as a short-hand code to represent a specific group of properties and the related functionality. In the exact same spirit that you know what words and numbers ‘are & do’.

You will find that working with SAP Netweaver Business Warehouse (SAP-BW) gets a whole lot easier when you look at everything from a dual perspective:

  • Noun: What are its fundamental properties?
  • Verb: What can it do for me?

It does not matter if you are consuming data in a report, building a query, defining a cube, coding an extractor or implementing analysis authorisations; always ask yourself those two basic questions. Without both perspectives (noun & verb), you will struggle.

When you consume data in a BEx report, remember:

“that Characteristics and Key Figures are
like Lists and Calculations”

Can you see that describing an Analysis Table as words and numbers is close but not quite right. Yes, there are words and numbers involved but then you encounter exceptions which break this definition.

For Example: A management report about personnel has a drill-down by employee age and salary. Wait a minute; they are numbers but they are being used like a word. No mathematics involved.

When you look at Characteristics and Key Figures from both their noun & verbs perspectives combined, the consumption of a report becomes a whole lot simpler.

Use Characteristic drill-down and Characteristic drill-across to navigate the report and create lists on the left side and across the top.

Review the Key Figure numbers in the bottom right corner.

Don’t like or can’t understand the Key Figure numbers then re-arrange the Characteristic drill-down/across to explore them from a different perspective.

After all, this dynamic interaction is the whole point of using an Analysis Table. By using Characteristic and Key Figure for Reporting, the data begins to take on a life of it’s own as you get to truly understand the story it is telling.