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.