Overall Satisfaction with Crystal Reports
Crystal Reports is the reporting software that comes integrated with our HRIS system (ViP from DLGL). Because of this integration, we use the canned (vendor supplied) reports that come with ViP as well as creating custom reports for HR, Payroll, and Benefits. These reports get pushed out through a Windows administrative client as well through the web-based employee & manager portals.
- Crystal Reports is extremely versatile in its ability to handle multiple data sources; it can reference any ODBC source (of course) as well as embedding SQL that returns the results of a query without exposing the data source directly (called "COMMANDS").
- Crystal Reports also excels at offering scripted/macro/automation/programming control over almost every aspect of the result-set including formatting. Sometimes it is easier to have the database do all the data manipulation (but that can require more advanced SQL skills) and sometimes it's easier to have the client programmatically iterate over the result set before the data is presented to the user. Crystal Reports essentially provides break-outs for all aspects of data manipulation and presentation.
- The Crystal Reports designer is also very robust; not perfect, it will fail once in a while, but not very often.
- The built-in Help is reasonably helpful; you can often find the answer to a question within the supplied Help. Within the expression editor, the accuracy of the context-sensitive help is also good.
- The biggest problem with Crystal Reports comes from the complexity of the product -- not how advanced the product is, but how many moving parts there are and how many ways you can use it. For anyone other than an advanced Crystal Reports user (and even for them) you will go crazy trying to find things. It's probably fair to say that 80% of the actions you wish to perform are not intuitive or obvious. You can go *crazy* trying to find, for example, where a sub-report has been embedded within an existing report, or what override is overriding an override that's enabled but hidden (or vice versa). This means that Crystal Reports has a high learning curve and is very inefficient for casual use.
- Crystal Reports is old. OLD OLD OLD. It was already old when it was created in 1991 and has been owned by so many companies, it's hard to keep track (Crystal Services, Seagate, Fuji ?, Business Objects, and now SAP) . The report designer looks and works like an old Windows application, because it is an old Windows application. It has that nasty, pinched feel of jaggy console fonts, cramped data-entry fields, ham-fisted mouse tracking, and a lot of modal dialog-box functionality. So it's not a pleasure to use; it's a beat-up farm tractor that you know will start on cold winter morning, but you're still not looking forward to slinging yourself up onto that icy-cold metal seat. At the end-of-the-day, what this really means is that with all its changing corporate ownership, it's a neglected product that has never kept pace with the operating system that hosts it. New reporting functionality does get bolted on as vendors struggle to keep pace with trends, but don't confuse that with overall improvement in the underlying software.
- If there was one thing I could change about Crystal Reports it would be it's inability to place precise guidelines (those snap-to lines for object alignment). Crystal Reports has a grid layout measure limited to 3 decimal places, so a 1/8" grid is fine at 0.125"; but a 1/16" grid will be rounded & truncated (0.0625 => 0.063) so your column spacing will start to wander by the time you get to the right-most columns. And because Crystal Reports is using imperial measures internally, if you attempt to use metric measure, most of your values will be rounded (0.1cm becomes 0.101cm, 0.05cm becomes 0.049cm, etc.) and again your column spacing will shift across the page. Although this isn't a show-stopper for anyone, it's still really crappy functionality for a report-writer and is indicative of the kind of attention this software has received over its 24+ years of rotating-door ownership.
- As a general statement, Crystal Reports desktop designer has next-to-no capability for managing enterprise-level change control: there is no easy way to find which of your reports uses a particular data source, there are no tools for managing revisions. Unless you are very careful, when you swap out one data source for another, all of your fields will be wiped from your report unless the new data source is basically a production-ready clone of your previous data source. You can avoid a lot of problems by creating front-end expressions for all your expected data elements; but that's something the software should do for you, not something you should have to manually craft each time.
- Crystal Reports designer is very click-type-drag-click-escape-drag-right-click-double-click-type intensive. Your hands and fingers are in constant, often tedious, motion the whole time. Many layout activities should be more automated; some actions (like typing CTRL-S to Save in the Expression Editor also closes the editor window) need to be rethought.
- The same old Windows-y feel extends to their run-time viewer that gets pushed out to all users who need to view Crystal Reports via the web. It's functional but very sad.
- SAP has announced Crystal Reports 2013; it is Crystal Reports 2011 without support for XP. But since my "Check for Updates..." in Crystal Reports 2011 does nothing and the Crystal Reports 2013 evaluation setup program fails on launch, the awesomeness of this latest installment in the Crystal Reports legacy will have to be left to our imaginations.
Unfortunately, report-writing is just another thing I do, Crystal Reports is all I have used and I can't compare & contrast it to other reporting packages. Our organization uses Cognos and the skill-sets are not interchangeable. But it does indicate that the choice of report writer is not a life or death decision.
We use what the vendor provides. My choice would be to switch to Cognos because the rest of the organization uses Cognos.
In the world of enterprise report designers, Cognos and Crystal Reports both fit the bill. If your organization is already using one, there's your answer, there isn't a better one. If you are responsible for selecting one or the other for your organization, work with your IT infrastructure people to see if one reporting package fits your enterprise configuration better than the other. Otherwise it will probably come down to how heavily you need the advanced analytics; that functionality is evolving all the time and you can just focus on which of those features appeals to you more.
Using Crystal Reports
2 - Crystal Reports comes bundled with our HCM and the vendor supports it on the system side (although it has needed almost no support in production). We have two IT generalists available to create new reports or update existing ones. More than anything, basic database (SQL) skills are required, then attention to detail, and probably a dash of aesthetic sense would be good. It's more suited to Developers, Application Specialists, and anyone who has used report-writers before; it's less suitable for business users and admin staff (unless you are simply dragging & dropping fields from data sources that have been pre-defined for you).