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Compared to many business intelligence options available in the  market,  Crystal Reports has one stand out feature that makes it the top  software  in its domain. It enables BI administrators to attain  outstanding speed  from reporting requirements to realization. Most of  the business  intelligence options out there require you to setup some  sort of schema  or a universe in which you must create all the objects  that are required  for a report. This often means valuable hours put  into designing the  universes, and it also means that you need to have a  complete  understanding of your final report. Any additions to the  report at a  later stage requires revisiting the universe.

Although  Crystal Reports also supports reporting against complex  universes  mentioned above, it enables quick & easy reporting with  simple data  sources.  The data sources are essentially pointers to the  underlying  tables or views. Data sources are easily createable by  pointing to any  of the ODBC data sources maintained on the BI system,  but Crystal  Reports can use any of the OLEDB, JDBC, Flat Files, or XML  files as the  data source. Once an appropriate data source has been  selected the  user can join tables presented by the selected data source  analogous to  a universe but much more simpler in terms of complexity and   manageability. The links between the tables is maintained in the data   source layer; hence removing the onus of the joining logic from the   final report.

Alternatively Crystal Reports also has the  powerful capability to  connect to a Business View. Created and  maintained by the Business View  Manager, multiple business views can be  managed by the system  administrator. Consisting of SQL joins between  multiple tables, filters  and prompts, a business view serves to answer a  particular business  question.

Crystal Reports has more  to offer in scenarios where reports exist in an  existing tool and your  organization is working on standardizing on a  single tool. You can move  all your existing reports to Crystal Reports  by copying the existing  SQL and creating new Crystal Reports with a  minimum of fuss. A large  telecommunication company had around 200+  reports residing in different  systems. The telecommunication company  managed to standardize on the  Crystal Reports platform by copying &  pasting the SQL and building  the reports from these queries.

The speed & ease with  which you can have you data source ready is  also boosted by the Smart  Link feature. For data warehouses &  databases which have been  designed following proper design guidelines,  ensuring that the primary  keys and foreign keys across the database have  the same naming  convention and data types. Based on these keys, the  smart link feature  will create the joins automatically between the  tables (and views),  saving the additional work load. The Smart Linking  functionality is  offered by both the standard data source as well as the  business view.

Although  the primary strength of Crystal Reports is not ad-hoc  reporting, it  can take advantage of dimensional modeling techniques.  Dimensional  modeling techniques allows the reporting and BI departments  to model  the database in the form of Fact tables (which report some  fact,  normally a quantitative figure) and Dimension tables (which adds   context to the analysis being done in the form of data such as   Geography, Time etc). Crystal Reports takes full advantage of the   dimensional model, enabling even the slightly technical or trained   business user to be able to query the dimensional model by creating   simple joins. One of the techniques used in projects is to have a   dimensional model composed of a layer of views, making sure that primary   keys & foreign keys are consistent. The end user is able to  perform  self service BI using Crystal Reports by creating simple joins  and/or  using the Smart Linking feature to their advantage.

Amongst  the more powerful aspects of Crystal Reports is the level of   flexibility that it provides for report development as well as the   formatting features that are matched by none. Most tools focus on the   analysis aspect of reporting and have severe shortcomings at the   formatting front. Crystal Reports provides “pixel perfect” reporting   functionality that you can tailor to any medium, be it printed reports,   PDFs or the web.

The Crystal Report designer provides a  plethora of functionality focused  towards the formatting aspect of  reporting. A very rich design  environment at the data level allows  selection of the reporting fields,  grouping them according to some  dimension, and creating summaries. At  the report design level a number  of sections are made available  including the report header, group  headers, detail section and footers.  This provides the end user plenty  of options in tailoring the report  according to their needs.  Crystal  Reports also supports templates that  can be setup by advanced users and  later on used by novice users to  quickly format their reports. To  ensure that that reports made across  the organization are consistent,  the designer also allows existing  reports to be used as a basis of a  new template; thus ensuring a single  report design across the  enterprise.

Crystal Reports also gives you the ability to  create a variety of  reports such as cross tab, summary, OLAP, form,  mailing label and  sub-reports. A large variety of charts and graphs  means that not only  basic reports with graphs can be created but also  allows the creation of  eye catching dashboards. The user can choose  from a variety of reports  such as pie, bar, line, XY scatter, 3D bars,  funnel, gauge etc. Thus  chart selection, design and formatting is  faster & easier then ever.

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