Prior to SAP acquiring Business Objects, SAP customers had limited reporting functionality available to them.
There were the options of using BEx Analyzer and Web Reporting, or Web Application Designer (WAD).
Although these tools provided the reporting functionality you needed to perform basic reporting, the tools were lacking in user friendliness and did not have advanced reporting capabilities that experienced report designers expected.
After SAP acquired Business Objects, customers got more choices of which software to use for their reporting needs.
But more choice means more decisions to make. There are two primary Business Objects tools to use for generating reports: Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence (Web I).
We’ll take a high-level look at both of these products.
Crystal Reports is a Windows application that gives users the ability to create formatted reports on their computer.
It can connect to a variety of data sources and generate reports that can be viewed within the application or saved/exported for others to view.
Web-I is a web-based tool for ad-hoc analysis. You can use it to connect to your Net Weaver BW data to perform online and offline ad hoc query and reporting.
Design panels allow you to use web I within an HTML interface, with Java, and even offline.
When choosing between which reporting tools to use, let’s look at their differences to highlight which areas each tool is best designed for.
Crystal Reports primary advantage over Web-I is its ability to generate pixel perfect reports.
Crystal Reports give you precise control over where objects are placed in a report, and formula based control of formatting in multiple sections allows for advanced report layouts.
Web-I is not designed for highly-formatted reports. The fact that it is web-based results in report objects being placed in specific areas on the report page, but their relationship to each other is not exact.
For example, in Crystal Reports you can use a magnifying glass to zoom in on the designer panel and precisely measure the spacing between each object.
You can’t do this with Web-I.
Running Crystal Reports requires installing the application on a Windows computer.
You, or a system administrator, needs to install the software on the computer of each user that needs to run the software.
Web-I can be used by anyone with access to a web browser. It is not computer specific, nor are there requirements about which operating system to use. Thus, there are no installation files and anyone in the company with the proper access can use it.
Crystal Reports gives you multiple formats for saving and exporting your data.
You can save them as PDF files, rich text or export them to MS Office formats such as Word and Excel.
If you want to display the reports on the web, a snapshot of the data can be exported as DHTML pages.
Web-I output is not as polished as Crystal Reports.
One potential drawback of Crystal Reports is that it is not as free-form as Web-I. It is meant to create structured reports that are frequently viewed offline.
The users who create the reports need to have some familiarity with how to use Crystal Reports.
Web-I is meant for business analysts who need to drill-down into the data and be able to move between different data sources.
Web-I gives you self-service information access to ad-hoc queries and reporting. Being able to slice-and-dice the data is critical for making informed business decisions.
Rather than using one tool to solve all your reporting problems, the best solution is often to use a combination of two tools.
Crystal Reports will probably be the primary tool for generating the pre-formatted delivered throughout the company.
Web-I gives business analysts and management the tools they need to drill down into the data they need for making daily decisions.