Options for developing reports in SAP

We are in the process of implementing SAP. It likes like there are a plethora of ways to develop reports in SAP from ABAP programming, SAP query, Report painter to mention a few. Can I get feedback from the community here on experiences and suggestions.
George KerestesAsked:
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TwisteddkConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Well, crystal reports has a nice plugin that runs straight out of the box, and you also get publishing ability and AFAIK it's also free for non commercial use (or used to be). But again, you need to identify the tables you want to work with. There's currently about 160.000 tables in a standard R3 system, so You'll normally need to know what you're looking at. And this is also normally why the basis guys protect their database, it's VERY easy to do more harm than good with a direct database connection. Using the application, at least they can do a restore if you mess things up....

An "easy" start if you DO want to learn some tables, might be to simply use ABAP for accessing the tables you need, and THEN format your output in whatever tool you want ?!? When you browse through SAP transactions, you can generally press F1 for help, then F1 again to go to the report or screen you are currently viewing. Here you can with a little experience find the names of the tables you're looking at defined as "data :"
VB and even Excell can be used to extract tables, but again, you need to know what tables You need. You can display the tables and their structure and description in transaction SE11, or their contents in transaction SE16 (careful, you can also CHANGE things in these transactions)

If you're running on an SQL database, There's a nice little data browser (SQL studio) that comes with the database, but with this many tables, it normally takes about 15 minutes for even a reasonably fast server to open the full list. On Unix, I'm sure there's something similar, but paying for a decent tool, like say Quest Central is sometimes nice. In the "old days" when there were only a few thousand tables, tables were generally named according to their contents, but before that pretty much all of them started with the letter "T", so today you have a lot of technical tables that start with the letter "T" still. Then there's the modules, like MM, EDE, EDM, ISU, SD, FIN, USR etc. Older tables will frequently follow this naming convention, so you may get clued in easily by looking for stuff that has some of the same first letters as the stuff you're looking at.

So offhand, I'd suggest you start looking at the tables from the application view, and then if/when you get tired of the limitations of the interface, THEN You ask for ODBC connection to, say crystal reports, or whatever you need to make the reports you want to show off. Using a 3rd party tool has the distinct advantage of being a fast, reliable and easy way to create nicely formatted, downloadable and oftentimes webenabled reports for people who prefer pie charts to raw numbers. And if you go to the basis guys and say "I need to use crystal reports, please install this ODBC !", they're a lot more likely to shut up and do it, than if you say "can I have ODBC access for my homebrew VB scripts on every single table in the system ?"
Full table access is a security and audit nightmare on systems this large......
You can get as much feedback as you want ;)

However, before you can get a decent answer, you need to ask first: What do you NEED ?
Because, as You've noticed, SAP has a LOT of options for delivering reports. So untill You specify what your reports need to contain, how they need to be presented etc. I can only give you some basic knowledge and guidelines:

If you just need something for yourself, tinkering in the sandbox with some ABAP or Queries might be the way to go. If you're looking for a full blown set of CRM or strategic reporting, You may want to look at getting dedicated CRM or BW systems. If you're anywhere in between there's also a vast number of options open to You.

If you know what data you want, and it's just a matter of formatting, crystal reports might be for you. If you run a specific type of Industry solution, there may be default reports that fullfill your needs, and no setup or programming is required. And if you have enough cash and/or time, then Yes, you can easily change/make, or get someone to make the reports for You in any number of ways.

The beauty of the SAP system is that it's VERY customizable, and this ofcourse includes screens, reports, data entry and workflow. The marred and black flipside to the equation is the cost. Licenses = Expensive, hardware = Expensive, consulting = Expensive (well, relatively so), maintenance = Expensive, education = Expensive, but everything is there for You at your fingertips, rearing to go like a racehorse in the starters box.
George KerestesAuthor Commented:
I thought that might be the answer. Sounds like no set one solution fits all. Thank you very much the information was more helpful than you might think.
George KerestesAuthor Commented:
I keep getting steered away from connecting via ODBC from our basis support contractor and our consultants. Of course this makes me want it all the more. I understand there is miriad of tables but that doesn't really scare me. I have always learned more about any software by browsing throught the table structures and mining for data to understand what hits where and when. Can you give me suporting information in my quest or am I foolish to try? I can use any tool such as Access, Crystal, or VB.
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