SAP BusinessObjects is the name of a platform for enterprise reporting, and SAP Crystal Reports is one of the tools that can sit within that platform. BusinessObjects when bought in its ‘Edge’ package contains these reporting tools:
- Web Intelligence
- Crystal Reports
- Live Office
- Lumira Discovery
- Lumira Desiger
- Data Integrator (in the Edge with Data Integrator package
Crystal Reports is the oldest, most traditional and most ‘solid’ of these tools. It has been around for decades now and will likely be around for decades to come. Thousands of companies use Crystal for their reporting and it has a loyal and knowledgeable community of users.
As well as being part of the BusinessObjects package, you can also purchase Crystal Reports as a stand-alone piece of software or as part of the Crystal Server platform. The Crystal Server platform is a cut-down version of the BusinessObjects platform that only supports Crystal and Live Office.
Crystal Reports is a very flexible tool – it can be used to get data from almost any relational data source, flat file or spreadsheet; it can be interactive with drill down and parameters; it can be used for pixel-perfect consumer grade output (banks use it for printed statements); it can satisfy the needs of the most basic users or the most skilled. As a relatively long-in-the-tooth tool it will not win any prizes for ergonomics or prettiness in the modern BI marketplace, but it will also just carry on doing what it needs to do with no fuss and very few bugs or surprises.
We have been supposed to be working in a paperless environment for as long as I have been employed in offices (sadly this is now over 20 years) but the need for account statements, delivery notes, scannable barcodes; stock-picking forms and invoices that can be printed on red paper has not yet gone away. People like to take print-outs to meetings still – it gives them something to wave about and point at! Ripping up a report that shows bad figures is so much more satisfying that just closing a browser tab. On the flip side, you can’t pin a successful day’s results displayed in an interactive dashboard in Chrome to a kitchen noticeboard for everyone to see.
Crystal excels at these kinds of reports, whether they actually get printed out or not. In the platform environment users can navigate through grouped reports easily and access drill-down features. Charts can be placed in reports to aid visualisation of data and pictures and branding easily added.
SAP Crystal Reports as a stand-alone tool
At the entry level of Crystal reporting you can purchase a single copy of the report design tool, for installation on your PC or laptop. This gives you the ability to create reports from databases or flat files, run and edit existing ones, and export the data to PDF, spreadsheet or CSV. For a small organisation reporting might be part of the role of one person, who has a small selection of reports they run manually once or twice a week and send the results to a group of people, among their other duties.
DSCallards can train these users to build reports and present data: our fast-track course for zero-to-hero lasts 3 days, but we can teach the basics in less time.
SAP Crystal Server
Once reporting becomes more key to your organisation or you have more reports you will need to automate some of the tasks. Crystal Server provides the framework to schedule the data-refresh and delivery of the report output. You can also use publications or ‘report-bursting’ to take one reports and send custom sections to individual users in one go. Output can be direct to email, via FTP or to shared folder locations.
Crystal Server also brings added opportunity in the shape of Crystal Reports for Enterprise and SAP BusinessObjects universes. This combination of tools and functions could allow more users in your company to make use of your data and achieve insights to processes and figures.
- Crystal Reports for Enterprise is a newer version of Crystal Reports which features a streamlined front-end as well as the ability to write reports with programmable alerts – sending emails to users when thresholds are exceeded perhaps.
- Universes are a way of translating your data from database terminology and concepts into business-speak and a drag-and-drop environment. Where previously a report builder had to know which database table a field is in and how to join it to other data, once a universe has been created for that database, reports can be built by users who don’t even know what a database is.
Crystal Server is installed on a central server not a local PC, and provides a central repository for your reports, security and other tools to manage your system. It allows users to interact with reports via browser (Chrome, IE or Firefox for example). If you purchase at this level you can buy a selection of named or concurrent licences, or mix them. There is an upfront cost with a year’s support, and an optional (but recommended) annual support cost after that.
SAP BusinessObjects with SAP Crystal Reports
If you purchase an SAP BusinessObjects Edge environment then you get Crystal Reports included, but also have access to the other tools mentioned at the start. Crystal will complement the other types of reporting you can achieve – it is the best tool for the stuff that needs printing in your organisation, or the things you want to send to customers or clients via letter. Barcode compatibility is built in to the product which makes it great for forms and mail-shots that will be posted out and returned for scanning.
There are some things only it can do and unique design elements that mean you may choose Crystal over Web Intelligence or Lumira for some of your report requirements – such as the grouped-drill-down functions, the alerts and some of the built in formulas.
Purchasing BusinessObjects Edge has the same cost structure as Crystal Server but is slightly more expensive as you have more functionality available.
Crystal is a tried and tested product. It may be old-fashioned when compared to newcomers but it has proved time and time again to be reliable and competent for its purpose. It can be a great entry point for your BI journey, and if you absolutely must be able to neatly print something out and point at it then it will be the perfect tool for your needs!
Speak to DSCallards on 0808 164 2625 today to find out if Crystal Reports is going to suit your requirements on its own or as part of a wider toolset.