Looking for Some Reporting BLING? Try Crystal Reports.
Nathan Patrick Taylor | TrustRadius Reviewer
January 22, 2016

Looking for Some Reporting BLING? Try Crystal Reports.

Score 8 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User
Review Source

Overall Satisfaction with SAP Crystal Reports

We are currently using SAP Crystal Reports as one of several reporting tools utilized by our business intelligence (BI) department. The reports developed by the BI team are accessed by various departments within the organization from operations to finance and marketing. Crystal Reports is our primary "push" reporting tool. This means that we schedule most of our Crystal Reports and output them to several formats.
  • Crystal Reports is easy for the BI team to learn and use. A team can get up and running quickly, even with very little reporting experience.
  • Individual application licenses are not very expensive compared to other similar tools.
  • We purchased a third-party tool that allows us to schedule our Crystal Reports. There a lot of support for such tools which makes our "push" reporting concept easy to implement.
  • Reports can be output to a number of formats including PDF, HTML, Word, and others. These report can then be scheduled and delivered to shared network drives and via e-mail. The schedule we use even has an encryption feature to password protect files.
  • One of the greatest strengths of Crystal Reports is the formula editor which allows for deep customization of reports. Those familiar with VBA will see some resemblances to how VBA works in programs like Excel.
  • Another strength is the ability to group data in a report and have those groups export as bookmarks in a PDF. For push reporting this is an ideal feature that I find hard to replicate in other tools.
  • The graphics capabilities of Crystal Reports is a bit limited and dated. The program could use a visual overhaul.
  • Although the program is easy to learn, mastering some of the fine details can be a bit challenging with the way SAP labels certain features. Often times I find myself scouring the Internet for solutions to problems that are very easy to solve in other reporting tools.
  • Unless you make the SAP Crystal Report Viewer (a separate app) available to all users, the report remains somewhat static in the sense that users can't select different criteria and re-run the report on the fly.
  • Working with stored procedures in SQL Server is a bit clunky, but it does work.
  • Charting features are time consuming to develop and the intelligence built in to automatic chart layout is lacking.
Crystal Reports fits a niche for us in standard reporting. We don't use it for creating dashboards or interactive data analysis. That's where Tableau excels. For on-demand reports, we prefer Microsoft Reporting Service and Analysis Services. Crystal Report is very good when it comes to pre-built reports that you want to develop as standard output on a scheduled basis.
Crystal Reports can connect to numerous data sources. A fews year ago, we even connected it to a state-of-the-art data warehouse platform that was still in beta from the vendor. With the correct drivers installed, Crystal Reports had no problem connecting to the database. One limitation I'm unsure of is NOSQL or big data sources. I see the SAP Lumira (a different kind of reporting tool similar to Tableau) can connect to big data source. With the correct drivers, it's possible Crystal Report can also.

Crystal Reports can take data from multiple, disparate data sources. For example, if you had a SQL Server database, MySQL database, and flat files it could read from all three in a single report.
The standard Crystal Reports app is not designed for collaboration. If you truly want to collaborate, you be better off moving to the SAP's BusinessObjects Platform. Their BI platform includes collaborative features in addition to a number other tools that allow developers to build dashboards, ad-hoc reports, and even do ETL functions.
For report distribution with a standard license, I recommend using a third-party tool (they're cheap) that allows for report scheduling and distribution. These types of tools even provide security.
We use several different reporting tools and, by far, the most well suited feature is the ability to build reports to a specific format and schedule them for release. The grouping and custom coding features in the formula editor allow developers to create reports that match user needs perfectly.

SAP Crystal Feature Ratings

Pixel Perfect reports
10
Report Formatting Templates
2
Drill-down analysis
5
Formatting capabilities
9
Report sharing and collaboration
10
Publish to Web
8
Publish to PDF
10
Report Versioning
5
Report Delivery Scheduling
10
Pre-built visualization formats (heatmaps, scatter plots etc.)
2
Location Analytics / Geographic Visualization
2
Predictive Analytics
1
Multi-User Support (named login)
8
Role-Based Security Model
4
Multiple Access Permission Levels (Create, Read, Delete)
2

Using SAP Crystal Reports

45 - We're in the healthcare space, so our users (I'm calling those people who view and interact with reports) range from clinical staff to corporate office users. The initial set of reports focused on operational data and then, as the usefulness of the report [grew], we created financial and marketing reports. To further enhance the user base, we purchased a third-party report scheduler that distributes our reports at various times.
2 - Our BI team is very small. Because of this size, we tend to develop reports that meet specific needs and are intuitive. This reduces that amount of support that is needed. Some of the reports a complex with many parameters, others a design to provide a snapshot of the current business. As you can imagine, the snapshot report tend to require less support.
  • More interactivity with the reports. We're thinking about adding them to SharePoint.
  • Attempting to transition the reports to mobile platform.
  • Training staff to use the tools at a higher level of complexity which would allow us to use advanced reporting features.
  • Scheduling of reports.
  • Output to specific formats like PDF and HTML where the grouping is preserved and translate to bookmarks (in PDF) or hyperlinks (in HTML).
  • The formula editor which lets you write custom code behind the scenes.
  • Feeding the output of Crystal Reports to other SAP tool such as Crystal Dashboards.
  • Embedding links in the reports the allow user to be redirected to specific records in our web-based application.
  • Custom analytics have been developed using Crystal's formula editor.

Evaluating SAP Crystal Reports and Competitors

  • Price
  • Product Features
  • Product Usability
We were under a tight budget so price was a big concern. Standard, single-user licences are not expensive, even for a team the price is low. The were a certain set of features the product needed to have. We listed those on a spreadsheet then got trial versions of several reporting tools, including Crystal Reports, and compared the tool's feature to our list. We crossed off products that took too long to learn so usability was also key.
Our process of evaluation was good. I like to think that the "devil is in the details", meaning that no matter which tool you buy you'll have to get the data in the correct format for reporting purposes. No reporting tool can replace that step (yet). Crystal Reports tends to be less picking about the raw data than other tools. A good evaluation will take a real-world example and push out a quality report in a short amount of time with very little baseline knowledge of the tool. We were able to show results from Crystal Reporting during the trial period, that was a big selling point for us.

SAP Crystal Reports Support

The support community can be difficult to navigate. I've also run into issues with my login. The SAP system has a bizarre mechanism for validating users that requires users to have what is called an S-ID. A basic ID may not give you access to all the features in the portal. The limitation may include not being able to perform a simple task like downloading patches and updates. This isn't a big deal for single user license but for teams it can be a pain.
ProsCons
Kept well informed
Support understands my problem
Less knowledgeable
No - There's a strong user community behind Crystal Reports and most of the issues you encounter can be revolved through the SAP community. Also, since we bought single user licenses we do not have a corporate support agreement. SAP support can be a bit sketchy. You can access the SAP support portal to send questions directly to the support team at SAP but the typical response will come back directing you to an article on the community portal.
When we connected Crystal Reports to Microsoft's Analytics Platform System (APS) the database was a beta product at the time and Crystal Reports was not designed to work with APS. However, we contacted SAP and they helped us install a set of drivers that work with APS and described how Crystal Reports function with APS.

Using SAP Crystal Reports

Being able to get up and running quickly is a key asset. There's plenty of advanced features to master that are surprisingly difficult in others tools (or just missing from other tools altogether).

The UI can feel a bit dated at times but its usability isn't affected.

Any issue you have can usually be resolved by searching in the user community.
ProsCons
Like to use
Relatively simple
Easy to use
Technical support not required
Well integrated
Consistent
Quick to learn
Convenient
Feel confident using
Familiar
None
  • Simple reports are a breeze.
  • Parameterized reports are easy
  • Custom layouts and designs are also easy.
  • Connecting to data sources that are not SAP systems is a bit awkward.
  • Building charts is flat out weird.
  • Sub-reporting requires an investment of time to learn.