Straight Talk: Pros and Cons of SAP Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports Server

Straight Talk BI Reviews

At 5000fish, our Customer Success team takes great pride in being thoroughly educated about our product. We feel that’s the only way we can help you determine if Yurbi is the right business intelligence solution for your needs. But that’s just the start. If you’ve read some of our Straight Talk reviews, you know that being able to speak knowledgeably about the pros and cons of other business intelligence (BI) products is also an important component of our Customer Success approach to business.

That’s one reason why we’ve put together this quick, easy read about the advantages and drawbacks of one of the most popular business intelligence software solutions on the market today: SAP Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports Server.

Brief History of Crystal Reports

Originally launched in 1991 as “Quick Reports,” Crystal Reports is recognized as one of the original options in the business intelligence niche. Crystal Services, Inc. first marketed the software. In 2003 Crystal Services, Inc. was purchased by Business Objects. In 2007, SAP acquired Business Objects. SAP has produced Crystal Reports (CR) versions 14.0 and 14.1. Both Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports Server are designed to meet the needs of small to small-medium sized businesses.

Pros of SAP Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports Server

Backed by a Firmly Established Industry Leader

A recent study reveals that SAP is the world’s leading traditional business intelligence vendor, enjoying 21.3 percent of market share and $3.1 billion in revenues1. In short, SAP isn’t a fly-by-night operation. A benefit of Crystal Reports (CR) is you can feel confident SAP has the financial and technical resources to go through development cycles and make necessary product improvements.

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Furthermore, as a result of several acquisitions and the popularity of Crystal Reports, a massive industry of consultants and partners has been built around Crystal Reports technology. Hence, one advantage of CR is that you’ll never have trouble finding a developer skilled in its proprietary language. Additionally, there are a number of online communities to turn to when you need a question answered.

Comparatively Affordable to Purchase Software

One reason small businesses are drawn to CR is that it’s relatively inexpensive to purchase. Crystal Reports starts at $495- a price point that’s small business friendly. CR is a local solution that allows the developer to create highly formatted reports, but if the user needs scheduled notifications, they must upgrade to Crystal Reports Server. Crystal Reports Server starts at $2,495.

Create Highly Formatted Reports

It requires a developer skilled in Crystal Reports’ proprietary language, but one of CR most touted benefits is its flexible, customizable report design. Using CR a developer can create highly formatted, pixel-perfect reports in nearly any layout desired and in up to 24 different languages.

Widely Embedded Technology

From an OEM perspective, Crystal Reports is a widely embedded technology- many other solutions embed CR in their software. For example, big names like HP and CA embed Crystal Reports in their software.

Solid Set of Features

Assuming you have access to a highly skilled developer, CR checks a lot of boxes when it comes to features. It connects to an array of data sources including ODBC and OLE DB, and it integrates with a range of applications, such as Microsoft Office.

As a developer platform, CR integrates with programming technologies such as .NET and Java. So, if you’re a software vendor looking to embed reports into your technology, your developer can write development code in a language he or she is familiar with.

Cons of SAP Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports Server

Must Upgrade to Crystal Reports Server for Advanced Functions

As previously mentioned, one of the reasons many small businesses are initially attracted to CR is its relatively affordable price point. However, to get many of the features small businesses want, such as instant mobile access, dashboards or scheduled notifications, they need to upgrade to Crystal Reports Server. That means a larger upfront investment and increased labor costs. In the end, the solution isn’t as affordable as it appears. In fact, its cost could outweigh the potential savings or benefits you hoped to realize by leveraging a BI tool.

Not Business User-Friendly

Like other major business intelligence vendors, SAP typically buys technology instead of innovating it. As a result, a number of interfaces must be used to leverage CR, including a report designer and a dashboard designer. A business user cannot leverage CR; it takes the skill of an experienced CR developer- which drives up the cost of what was initially an affordable software solution. According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, SAP consistently receives poor marks for ease of use- so even developers find CR challenging to work with.

Weak Data Security and data governance

Security is built into the report itself, so when you need a report for two different audiences, the developer must modify the security settings for each report- in effect duplicating the report for each person. Not only is this time consuming (and thus costly) it also presents a security risk. Then, if a change is made to the report, the developer must once again ensure appropriate security settings are applied to each report.

Licensing Model is Confusing- and Costly

A criticism we often hear from businesses that have considered CR is that its licensing model is confusing. There are a lot of product SKUs, many versions and a number of features. For example, you license the server, but then you need to get user licenses on the server. Then there are add-ons. You need mobile user licenses for the server, plus you must license a designer tool to build reports and license a designer tool to build dashboards. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but as you can tell, you’re spending much more then the initial $495.

Poor Customer Support

A quick Google search reveals SAP has their work cut out for them when it comes to customer service. In 2013, SAP extended its customer service initiative, which aims to improve its reputation for poor, time-consuming customer service. According to Gartner’s recent reports, SAP’s customer service ratings have improved slightly, but they have a long way to go before they can shake their notoriously poor service record. One reason SAP may have poor customer support ratings is that they frequently buy companies and integrate their products- keeping up with all the new technology is challenging for the customer service team.

Our Bottom Line: The Pros and Cons of Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports Server

Crystal Reports offers a vast assortment of advanced formatting and presentation options that give a skilled developer the power to create professional, highly formatted and complex query reports. If you have a CR developer on staff, or can afford to hire a CR developer, then Crystal Reports may be an option. However, you might want to think about what you’ll be sacrificing by not using an agile, business user-friendly BI solution. Additionally, if data security and customer support are at the top of your needs list, CR may disappoint you.

This wraps up our review of Crystal Report’s pros and cons. If you’re interested in learning about additional BI options, we encourage you to read more straight talk reviews.

Have you used Crystal Reports or Crystal Reports Server? What are your thoughts about the pros and cons of Crystal Reports as we’ve outlined them above? We look forward to hearing your take on the potential advantages and drawbacks of Crystal Reports.

+Gartner, 2014.

Click here to download “Business Intelligence Buyers Guide (Part 1)”

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