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SAP Crystal Review: "Crystal Reports Helps Companies See Through To Their Business Information"
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Updated November 07, 2014

SAP Crystal Review: "Crystal Reports Helps Companies See Through To Their Business Information"

Score 10 out of 101
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Overall Satisfaction with Crystal Reports

  • Crystal Reports is a highly featured and flexible business intelligence tool that has been around for over 2 decades. It is database independent, meaning you can develop reports against just about any database or structured file format, from Microsoft SQL and Oracle, to flat file to text file to spreadsheets to anything for which you can access via ODBC, DAO, XML, OLE DB, JDBC and many more protocols. Crystal Reports integrates seamlessly into SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise products as well as other SAP data management products. Reports can link tables internally within the design template, or developers can build their own external SQL Queries, views, stored procedures or universes and build their reports off those data sources. Crystal also allows developers to script their custom own SQL-based query in the Database Editor. And if your data source changes, Crystal provides tools for mapping your existing report over to the new similarly structured data source. Record selection formulas can help filter out unwanted data to improve the efficiency of report performance.
  • Crystal Reports has a highly flexible report design editor that features multi-pass linear data processing, allowing analysis to be performed while reading records as while printing records. Data may be grouped or sorted based on raw data or on formulas that can analyze and manipulate record data for customized processing. Crystal Reports allows developers to create virtually any kind of data-based report, from tabular column listings to data-driven letters to charts, cross-tabs, free-form and (pre-printed) form-fitting solutions. Extensive summary functions, running totals, and a rich formula programming language (Crystal also supports Basic syntax) provide unlimited opportunity to manage and manipulate raw data for analysis and presentation to the customer, be it a management report, operations report or customer-facing report. With sub-reports, it is possible to link together tangentially connected data sources, expanding the opportunities of publishing relevant information onto a single page or report. Individually formattable multi-section detail, page and group headers and footer sections allow the developer to play with suppression, paging and other formatting options and formulas.
  • Crystal Reports is a WSIWYG design tool, allowing you to see what you are doing as you do it. Whether you use the the grid or guidelines with the Design Tool, or the size and alignment tools with the Preview Tool, Crystal lets you create the report as you want to see it. You can integrate external images, files, or even BI products, such as Crystal Dashboards (Xelcius). Through the use of parameters, reports can be designed to include user input in the record selection, formatting and operation of the report. Reports can be generated for printing, export to Adobe Acrobat, to Microsoft Excel or many other formats. Crystal can also be easily linked into 3rd party applications through XML, Java, Visual Studio or other APIs. Crystal Reports can also be easily delivered through the Crystal Reports Server or the Business Objects Enterprise Server, providing a hosting platform for both scheduled automation and on-demand report generation.
  • For someone experienced in business intelligence, databases or programming, Crystal Reports is relatively intuitive, though it will take time and experience to learn how to fully leverage every feature. There are included tutorials that teach the basics, but real world situations often defy the simplicity of the provided solutions. There are plenty of third-party resources from Yahoo and LinkedIn groups to user support web sites and video, instructional and printed training materials. Crystal is not something that the home user can jump into. The license is relatively expensive and does not include a database server, database or other data source. Licensing for enterprise environments can get pricey quickly. While many employers hire report developers directly, there is a large community of professional report developers who work contracts, either independently or through contract employment agencies. In most cases, the employer provides the licensed Crystal Reports tool, but if a company has only infrequent report development needs, they may expect the consultant to provide their own copy of the software. SAP is really not set up for supporting the individual, however, preferring to engage the company in business-licensed products.
  • Crystal Reports has incredible flexibility but their are limitations, mostly in formatting. Working with lines and boxes is not as flexible as, say, Microsoft Word. Charts and graphs have many features and options but they can be difficult to try and force your data to conform to the usage requirements. Graphics cannot be edited in-template, and some image formats are not supported (though you can easily convert an image to a supported format). The design tool can have issues with orphaned text at the bottom or the top of a page. While you can include comments in formulas, there is no ability to provide comments to the actual data, static, calculated value or other objects within the report design. Rules applied to the selection and manipulation of data can have unexpected results, leading to manual troubleshooting of report design and database queries. Like any piece of template design software, there are bound to be situations where you want to do something a certain way that is not supported by Crystal Reports, which can lead to frustration. But there are usually ways to think outside of the box to accomplish what you want.
  • Crystal Reports is getting a little long in the tooth. While still one of the worlds' most popular reporting tools, It hasn't received a major update in many years, while Microsoft's SQL Server Reporting Services as well as open-source and other business intelligence competition products have grown in popularity, and it shows. The user interface and feature set hasn't significantly changed in quite a while. Of course, it was already pretty rich and complete, but it lacks the feel and finish of many current generation software products. There is also no version available for the Apple Mac, which means no support for iOS devices. Some feel that SAP doesn't see the Crystal product line as the best place for its R&D investments, pushing more data analytic based products such as Web Intelligence. I think there is room and demand for both and wish SAP would wow me with an upgrade that would transform Crystal Reports into a new generation of business intelligence reporting that sets the bar for everyone else.
I have made my career off Crystal Reports. Business Intelligence is a niche area of Information Technology that combines technical knowledge and an understanding of how a company uses information. Crystal Reports is the most solid, flexible and reliable business intelligence tool I have worked with, allowing me to work on projects in a variety of markets and industries, from the financial to educational, to telecommunications to governmental. Understanding how to use Crystal Reports as part of a Business Intelligence career gives you the tools you need to better connect businesses to their data, deliver quality and productive solutions, and allow you the report developer to build the experience and skills to build a reputable career in the high demand world of Business Intelligence Reporting.
Learning Crystal Reports is only part of the educational process for learning Business Intelligence Reporting. You need to have the fundamental ability to become familiar with how a business operates, how it uses information. You need to be able to translate a company's requirements for managing and and acting on information to the technical organization and structure of its data systems. To be a successful report developer you need to be able to speak both languages. There are some great resources out there for Crystal Reports professionals, such my own Crystal Reports group on LinkedIn, where developers meet and share ideas as well as where employers and recruiters come to find them. There is also the Crystal Reports Users Group Crystal Users group, both hosted by Yahoo Groups, which have been serving and supporting Crystal Reports professionals for over a decade. Plus many web sites, online tutorials, video tutorials, skills training and more. Just don't forget that there are two sides to Business Intelligence Reporting - and Crystal Reports is only one of them.

Using Crystal Reports

5 - Standard and custom report development of customer facing report solutions. Maintenance of standard reports catalog, custom report design during client implementation, and additional report design and maintenance assignments generated through Client Services.
5 - Crystal Reports Developers need to have the ability to read a report requirements specification document and translate that into a complete reporting solution. Developers need to have an operating understanding of the business as well as a firm foundation in the database design. Report developers should be able to work with other report developers on the team to establish and follow standard external look and feel as well as internal design and structures.
  • Dynamic customer letters and certificates
  • Financial transaction and analysis
  • Activity reports and event summaries