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Cystal Reports Automation Software

Posted on 2014-12-15
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Hello,

For many years, and across a few companies, I have used a tool called Christiansteven software for distributing Crystal Reports. The Crystal reports are built, pointed at the warehouse, and the software simply distributes the reports via a scheduler. The software also has the facility to divide a single parameter driven report by groups and deliver each group separately, and has the usual options for delivering via email, to drive.. etc etc.

I love this software, but they have recently adopted a pricing model that makes the software unreasonably expensive to utilize going forwards.

Therefore my question - what is your solution to the problem of automating Crystal Reports?

Thanks
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Question by:BananaFury
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by:vasto
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There are multiple tools that can do what CRD is doing for much lower price. The features you mentioned are available even in the free R-Tag version. For $299 you can get a version with support.  Check Ken Hamady's comparison for details:
http://kenhamady.com/cru/comparisons/desktop-scheduling-engines

Here is the feature matrix, which will allow you show main features in  a table:
http://kenhamady.com/desktopschedulers.pdf
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by:mlmcc
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Agree.  ALso depending on your particular needs and your programming prowess, it is not too difficult to write your own tool.

mlmcc
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by:BananaFury
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Thanks so much for your comments.
We would need support, and cost is ok, just not the £3,000 a year we are currently being billed.

Does anybody have a personal recommendation?

Thanks
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by:mlmcc
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How many users do you have?
How many concurrent?

What features do you really need?

mlmcc
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by:vasto
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I mentioned R-Tag, but I was part of the development team so I am biased.
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by:BananaFury
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One user currently, but max maybe 3 users. One installation on a server. Definitely need the ability to take one report grouped by a recipient, and deliver a group to each recipient. That's it really, it's not especially complicated what we do here to be honest. We would need support though as much of our business is cloud based, so we have little IT support in house, plus much of what is sent externally absolutely has to go out (think Invoices and the like) so when reporting falls over it desperately needs picking up asap.

Thanks so much for your guidance here
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by:vasto
vasto earned 375 total points
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Are you looking for a Desktop or Web based solution?

The process described by you is  known as "bursting". According to Ken Hamady's feature matrix It is supported by cViewMANAGER, R-Tag , Visual Cut  and Report Runner Batch  (http://kenhamady.com/desktopschedulers.pdf)
As far as I know cViewMANAGER and Report Runner Batch  will run the report multiple times while R-Tag and Visual Cut will be able to run it once and generate separate files per group by splitting the report (which will be much faster).

Here is a video how R-Tag will handle it:
http://www.r-tag.com/Pages/Preview_Bursting.aspx

R-Tag also allows multi user environment with role permissions and shared reports , which means you will be able to manage the system from one place.

There is another way to generate multiple files. It is known as data driven subscription in SSRS. It has some advantages and disadvantages compared to bursting. Let me know if you will be interested to know more about this method.
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by:BananaFury
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Hello,

Thanks very much for your continued help here, it is appreciated.

I would personally prefer a desktop solution, but I have no real basis for preference so if web based is most appropriate so be it.

I am going to install and experiment will trials of both Jeff-net and r-tag. The video was of great help, and the set up there was familiar enough that I am sure we can use it.

The process is known as "Bursting" in CRD which we use currently, there is another schedule type we use known as "Data Driven" and it differs that Bursting for each group runs the report, attaches the .pdf to an email, sends the email to the destination, whereas Data Driven runs the report for each group, delivers a .pdf for each group, but then attaches all the individual pdf's so a single email for delivery. (for example, single invoices are sent direct to customers, but a team leader would want to receive a separate report for each person on his team that he might or not share with the individual team members, but he wouldn't want to receive a separate mail for each team report, if that makes sense)

I am also interested in the SSRS suggestion as I believe it is a common solution for our particular environment. Our data is stored in a warehouse, and we create stored procedures with SQL Server Management Studio 2008 R2, then bolt Crystal onto these Stored Procedures, then distribute these Crystal Reports via a distributor. If actually you think with this in mind SSRS is the best approach I am keen to take this on, it is something I wouldn't mind adding to my modest skillset anyways.

Again, thanks very much
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by:mlmcc
mlmcc earned 125 total points
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Before tackling the idea of SSRS you need to consider the learning curve of SSRS and the effort to convert Crystal Reports to SSRS.

The 2 products are very different in the user interface and how you build reports.

How many reports do you have?  

Are they simple (mostly labels and fields from the database or do you have summaries, formulas, running totals, grouping, conditional suppression etc?

mlmcc
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vasto earned 375 total points
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I didn't explain this well. SSRS provides data driven option, which is producing the same result as bursting but in different way. However it could be used with Crystal reports, it is not necessary to switch to SSRS. The idea of data driven report is to run a query and get some records from the database, then execute one or more reports per each record returned by the query using the fields' values to set parameter values, filenames, email addresses etc.  Because the data returned by the query is used to run the reports the process is named "data driven". For example get the list of customers with balance at the end of the day. The list will contain Customer name, Customer ID and CustomerEmail address. For each record in the list run a report to generate Invoice using the value in CustomerID field as a parameter for the report, value in CustomerName as a filename and send the file to the value in CustomerEmail field. The result will be exactly the same as if you have one grouped report for all invoices, which burst the data and generates one file per customer. However bursting will prepare all result files by running the report once and then separating the result , while data driven reports will run the invoice report multiple times ( a separate run for each customer) . The advantage of the bursting is that usually it is faster because the report is hitting the database just once, however data driven report is easier to maintain and develop since you can reuse it with different queries. For example you can run a query which returns just new customers and send them the invoices + a welcome letter, another query which will return customers with balance older than  a week and send them an invoice + a letter explaining that they are late and another query and sending just the invoice to all other customers. In such way one report will be used in different scenarios , while with bursting you will need to create 3 different reports , which will look the same but will retrieve different set of data to group.

R-Tag supports both modes, data driven and bursting, you can choose the one, which works best for your current task. BTW R-Tag supports also SSRS and Dashboard reports so if you decide to start using these types you can just write a report and add it. As far as I know CRD supports SSRS too , but it is a separate product while R-Tag supports Crystal, SSRS and Dashboards simultaneously and you can even mix the reports. For example you can run 2 Crystal reports and 1 SSRS and combine them in one PDF or Excel file.

You can check also these videos:
1. Data driven reports:  http://www.r-tag.com/Pages/Preview_CreateBatchJob.aspx

2. Another video, the beginning of which is showing multiple report types and some of the advantages of each type
http://www.r-tag.com/Pages/Preview_Demo.aspx
Here is also a page showing the dashboards:
http://www.r-tag.com/Pages/Screenshots.aspx


Both videos are 4-5 years old and the interface is different now, but you will get the idea. I am mostly familiar with the stuff which was available when I was part of this company. There might be updated videos showing the same features , but you need to contact the company.
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by:vasto
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This is not directly related to your question for automation, but you can check also this feature: http://www.r-tag.com/Pages/CrystalSearch.aspx

The problem I found with Crystal is that at one point it is getting hard to maintain the reports. Once you have software , which allows automation the number of reports explodes and then any project involving database or layout changes becomes a problem. Ken Hamady has another comparison for tools for report maintenance, which might be helpful: http://kenhamady.com/cru/comparisons/rpt-management-utilities
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Author Comment

by:BananaFury
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Hello,

Again, thanks so much for your help. I think I have enough to read through and make a decision here.
I am massively reassured that there are alternative solutions to the problem of report distribution.

Thanks again
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