As we are busy working on the launch of SAP BusinesObjects BI 4.0 and the associated Crystal Reports versions, the Crystal Reports product team is also busy working away on the first minor release of SAP Crystal Reports for enterprise. This minor release will not only provide incremental feature updates, but will also introduce some feature innovation in how our customers and partners build and embed our content.
The objective of this post is to provide details around some of the new updates and features that are planned for Crystal Reports as part of the BI 4.1 release. Please keep in mind that things can change as we get closer to the release date. In addition, all of these features are planned to be delivered on top of the Crystal Reports for enterprise product, which is our new report design tool.
The existing release of SAP Crystal Reports for enterprise 4.0 does not have any APIs associated with the content. As such, we knew going into 4.1 that one of the first things to deliver was an API. This not only allows our customers and partners to embed our content into their applications, but also allows some of our own internal development teams to expose the content within their parts of the BI platform.
We plan to deliver two APIs with 4.1.
The first is a REST API. This will allow for the delivery of content from the underlying BI repository. For the 4.1 release, the REST API will be able to deliver content from the SAP BusinessObjects repository (i.e., in the form of SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise, SAP BusinessObjects Edge, and SAP Crystal Server). This means that the API will not be usable for those customers and partners that need to embed content without some form of the underyling SAP BusinessObjects BI platform. We do have plans for making this API available for non-platform users, but not with the 4.1 release.
This new API will allow for Crystal Reports content to be consumed and embedded in mobile and web-enabled applications. You can retrieve the report content in either XML or JSON format and then manipulate the report using the API and associated OData services. One of the major benefits of this new API is that you can now embed reports into your application regardless of the development language that you choose.
The REST API allows you to:
- Retrieve a report
- Export a report to a number of different file types
- Retrieve report metadata
- Get rows of data and calculations
- Push a row of data into a report
- Get and set report parameters
As with the REST API, the AJAX API will only be usable with the platform as it depends upon the REST API. As mentioned above, we have plans for introducing the REST API and AJAX API to non-platform customers, but not with the 4.1 release.
The three most common complaints with regards to the charting in the current editions of Crystal Reports are: out of date looking charts, charts which look different from SAP’s other BI clients (i.e., Web Intelligence), and limitations in the customizations of our available charts. These three things are at the top of our priority list when it comes to charting.
We have already completed some foundational work for usingthe same chart engine that is used by our other BI clients like Web Intelligence, Explorer, and Advanced Analysis. With this foundational work out of the way, we are now focused on which types of charts we should be delivering from this new charting engine. With the release of 4.1, we will have included tag clouds, treemap, and boxplot visualizations into Crystal Reports. These will sit alongside the charts that already exist in Crystal Reports (i.e., Crystal Reports 2008). This is required for the moment due to migration concerns for existing customers.
While focusing on updating the look and feel of our charts and ensuring that charts in Crystal Reports look like charts from other SAP BI clients, we also understand the feedback regarding the lack of customization. As such, we are scouring our emails, customer presentations, forums, and IdeaPlace for ideas on how we can improve our customization features. In addition, we are ensuring that, as we go forward, the new charting engine and associated visualizations can support the existing customization scenarios.
While our overall intention is to move to the new charting engine and associated visualization library for all of our visualization needs, we know that this will be long process due to migration concerns and our need to close gaps between the existing engine and the new one.
As some of you may know, the initial release of our new SAP Crystal Reports for enterprise client does not include the ability to connect to unmodelled data directly – the data connectivity for this release is handled through the Common Semantic Layer. In our move towards using this new release as the foundation for every release going forward, we are working to introduce direct-to-data connectivity. The technology that we will be using is the same connection technology used by the Common Semantic Layer – known as the Connection Server. By leveraging this technology, the Crystal Reports product will be setup to share connections with the rest of the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform and will benefit by being able to adopt data connections that we did not previously support.
For the 4.1 release, we will not be supporting all data sources that supported by existing versions of Crystal Reports. Our plan is to support those data sources that used most commonly by our Large Enterprise and SME customers. The reason for this focused delivery of data sources is for two reasons:
- We are not able to provide all of the functionality required to move all existing customers (i.e., Large Enterprise, SME, Developer, and Indirect) to the new Crystal Reports for enterprise designer. Rather than fail at supporting all of these channels, we decided to focus our efforts on the LE and SME channels.
- We have larger plans for an Indirect and Developer channel focused release after the delivery of 4.1.
In the coming weeks, I will put together further posts and videos to provide more information about each of these topics.
We also have some other features that we are working on; however, we not ready just yet to share information about those.
Please let us know what you think about these features and submit your ideas for new features and improvements to Idea Place.
Thanks for reading.