My response to people who talk about real-time information as if it’s the newest innovation on the planet is always the same: where have you been since 1998? That’s the year I discovered the joys of SAP Crystal Reports, and how real-time data can solve tough business challenges. I remember it well, the day I met the clients I’ve come to view as among the most challenging in my entire career so far. As communications manager at a high technology public relations firm, I managed four or five teams, totaling about 20 people who worked on various client accounts. While my background had primarily been in business-to-business, I hadn’t delved too much into high tech. It was a whole new world of market trends, products, and services I needed to learn fast. I’ll spare you the details of the hours I spent deciphering a kaleidoscope of acronyms and cut right to the chase with two words: Crystal Reports.
Perennially on overload, completely disorganized, and no doubt pressured from myriad senior management demands, my clients established the ground rules of our relationship immediately. The drill was, every single day, sometimes more than once, this client wanted to know how many hours the agency had billed, to what projects, and what the balance of the spend looked like. Would another project break the budget? How could they possibly have spent so much in just seven days? Exactly what was the agency team doing to earn such huge amounts of money? This is on top of dozens of ad hoc requests throughout the day, sent directly to junior team members bypassing me altogether.
Don’t get me wrong. Having been on my own as a communications pro for many years, I was motivated by a rock solid service ethic. This was my valued customer, and I would meet their needs. Once I realized that this job had nothing to do with creative thinking and writing but rather, understanding the numbers to manage the resources, I was fully on board–armed with Crystal reports, that is. I began looking forward to logging into the system to generate reports weekly, daily, and yes, often hourly. With the click of a few buttons I easily unraveled the mysteries of where the money went.
This kind of access to information made ‘day of reckoning’ meetings, at the end of the month to justify the billings, relatively pain-free. After all, the numbers don’t lie. And, since I’d kept the clients informed throughout the month, there were few surprises.
Fast forward to 2012. Not much has changed in the past 14 years. Managers still need immediate data to run the business well, whether they manage goods or services, or have to meet the demands of customers inside or outside company walls. SAP Crystal Reports celebrates its 20th birthday this year having evolved to offer once again, the latest innovations including mobile. The only difference now is we call it real-time software. Back then, I called it my life-saver.