- Crystal can use a variety of data sources and even combine data from multiple data sources which makes it very flexible. I recall once using it to combine data from DB2 and Access in order to print 1099s for a particular client when they switched AP systems half way through a year and only converted unpaid invoices.
- Crystal has tremendous capability to create reports that look identical to requests. You can use OLE to place forms into Crystal, you can use images, you can conditionally suppress sections to allow the report to look completely different based on parameters driven by the users. So many other tools limit what the result looks like but Crystal doesn't.
- It's so powerful in its ability to do complex queries and complex logic within the report itself. If someone is working with Crystal and they have a strong SQL acumen, they can leverage SQL commands to write complex queries, sub queries, temp tables etc... If desired, most of the report logic can reside within SQL and Crystal is simply used as a formatting tool. On the other hand, if the user has no knowledge of SQL but has a great understanding of Crystal, they can leverage sub reports, variables, arrays, group record selection and other such techniques to keep the logic within the report and still create powerful queries. I personally use a combination of the two so that my reports are as query efficient as possible but I still keep a lot of the formula type needs within Crystal. The flexibility though, allows people who aren't in IT and don't know SQL to still be able to create reports and this is a distinct advantage over other tools.
- The server architecture allows users to self-serve reports running them ad hoc or scheduling them to run on any variety of schedules, in a wide variety of formats, and push if desired via FTP, email, or a location on their network. I've deployed the server where it’s used by only a few people to systems that serve over 50,000 users and run hundreds of thousands of report instances per month with high availability.
- Charting doesn't provide as many options as I'd like to see.
- Increased employee efficiency is the most common. I recently worked with a CFO who spent the first eight days of the month preparing a package of reports for the board of directors. I created Crystal Reports and now, at the push of a button his board package is ready. When you can free up a C level executive that much, it means a lot to an organization,
- Better customer service is another. I've written reports for risk departments in hospitals that determined which medication was most commonly substituted by mistake for another so better labeling and training could be done, what hour of the day most accidents occur so extra measures could be taken, reports that tell the supply department to carry items to the OR where a lifesaving surgery is underway. Reporting done well can have a tremendous impact on organizations.
- Impact to the bottom line; I had one customer that said if we could produce reports with meaningful information about trends to their call center, they could decrease their staff by as much as 50% and they did just that. Crystal is after all business intelligence. If you're storing data, Crystal can analyze that data and show trends and metrics that may have never stood out before.
I've never seen its equal. Other tools either require a complex meta layer, require IT level users or don't have the distribution capabilities that are affordable for all companies. It is hard indeed to be all things to all people but when it comes to reporting, Crystal is just that.
It's inexpensive, it's powerful, there is training readily available across the country, it doesn't require IT level employees to create reports, there is a great method to distribute reports once written. Whatever your reporting needs, Crystal can handle it; if you store the data it can report on it from almost any system.