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Quality Reporting on a Budget

Approximately 4 years ago at a National User Conference, a Made2Manage customer gave a demonstration of Crystal Reports. It is my understanding that at the time, Made2Manage was in negotiations with Crystal to license it as a partner to provide a quality alternative to Visual FoxPro reporting. Well, that demo made an impression on me and I embarked on a quest to master Crystal Reports.

Crystal is a better reporting system than Made2Manage/VFP for a multitude of reasons:

  • Faster Development
  • Uses VB and SQL which are “current” languages
  • It is WYSIWYG so you can develop in the presentation layer. In VFP, you must run the report to see changes and the printed report doesn’t always match what’s on screen.
  • CR works with nearly any data source including nearly any modern database (both VFP and SQL), Office Documents, and text files.
  • Report files are easily shared
  • There are several helpful online communities
  • You can create queries using a builder or by pasting SQL in directly
  • Reports tend to run much faster than those inside M2M
  • Report scheduling actually works (unlike Command Scheduler)
  • More supported exporting formats
  • Amazing charting and graphics options
  • Drill down capability

Crystal

You can’t do this with VFP reporting.

There are several different ways to implement Crystal Reports. They offer several different products which are targeted to small and mid-sized companies. The more robust packages start at around $7,000 for the server software and allow you to deliver the reports via web pages, interface with Active Directory for report security, and include a multitude of scheduling options. I have this type of set up with my current employer, and enjoy the access to data it provides.

However, there are a couple of reasons I am not recommending these options. First, such a complex and comprehensive product requires quality support. When I first started using Crystal years ago, they had the best support I had ever seen. The techs were very knowledegable and would take the time to actually teach you reporting techniques. Well, things have changed. Most of their phone support was outsourced over the years and while the technicians still know their product, you cannot understand most of what they say to you. Also, they are much more hurried and push you towards paid consulting for any reporting questions you may have. Since being acquired by SAP, the support has become even more difficult to use as you must create cases via their website, which is beyond counter-intuitive, and wait for a tech to call you back. Imagine “Web Support Spotlight” day at Made2Manage but with a website that almost seems purposely designed to keep you from successfully creating cases. Anyway, it’s hard for me to recommend their product to new companies when their support is so lacking.

Second, many of us are forced to do more with less in these tough economic times. Therefore, asking the decision maker of your company for over $7,000 (for only 5 concurrent users) right now may be a hard sell.

What do you recommend?

In my opinion, the best value is to use the current version of the Crystal Reports 2008 Studio and use 3rd party programs for desktop viewing. Compared to the other options, the cost is nominal and you still get most of the benefits of Crystal Reports.

How much does it cost?

You can buy the development studio for Crystal Reports 2008 for under $500. In fact, CDW has a special on it right now for $432.99.

As I said, I recommend 3rd party viewers for report distribution. A friend of mine in Indiana, uses Easy View successfully. However, as of now it only supports Crystal XI (the version prior to 2008).

Another option which actually supports 2008 is cView, and you can read a brief review of it and other viewers here. cView can be purchased here with a minimum quantity of 3 licenses for less than $50 each.

What are you folks using for your primary reporting tool?

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