Operational Reporting: Leveraging Crystal Reports as a Model for Embedded BI

As I attempt to describe in the below figure, there are a few types of BI that are currently available from BI vendors. Historically, most BI deployments began with pure reporting that delivered information to those who needed it for making decisions. Those reports were either printed or delivered electronically via email or a portal. From that basic reporting arose a requirement to either see more high-level, graphical information (e.g., dashboards) or a requirement to have more interactive reporting. Over time, the deployment eventually builds up to where the implementation and the users are mature enough to need analysis capabilities. Of course, today, users are more mature with regards to locating information, manipulating that information, and telling a story with it. As such, more and more BI deployments are starting with analysis.

All of these different types of BI can either be accessed in a standalone mode or embedded. With SAP BusinessObjects, standalone can mean either via a desktop application, BI LaunchPad, or one of the various mobile applications that exist. From an embedded standpoint, you could imagine information being delivered via an internal portal (e.g., SharePoint) or within another vendor’s application (e.g., Sage CRM). For SAP Crystal Reports, and other reporting tools, this has been a cornerstone for engaging partners and proliferating BI content.

Operational Reports

When you think of reporting, you would typically envision something like operational reports. These are reports that contain specific details about an entity and are directly responsible for supporting business processes. For example, if you were a support representative and were helping a customer on the phone, you might want to see a list of all orders that the customer has placed over the past 12 months. An operational report, such as the one below, would be one way to display this information.

In addition, operational reports are usually embedded directly within other applications. In the above example, the reports for support representatives could be embedded directly within a CRM application. This would allow the individual on the phone with the customer to click a button or a link and quickly bring up the information that they need to reference. In this scenario, the data is either contained within a database behind the CRM application or is generated by the application. In either case, the data is then pushed into the embedded report while the application is running so that the support representative can get what they need in real time.

The figure below shows an example of an application, Sage SalesLogix, which currently embeds Crystal Reports content.

In this workflow, a user has searched or browsed a list of available reports in order to find the one that is relevant for them.

In any case, the important bit is that Sage did not need to develop a report component on their own. They were able to take something, Crystal Reports, which was already built and embed it. The benefit to their customers is that they have a well known reporting solution built in, they can create their own reports using Crystal Reports, and can more easily upgrade their reporting solution by leveraging the SAP BusinessObjects suite to deliver other types of BI content.

Leveraging Embedded Reporting as a Model for Embedded BI

The widespread embedding of Crystal Reports, and other reporting solutions, into other software begs the question of how we (as a general BI ecosystem) can leverage all of this experience of embedding reporting so that we can make it easier to embed BI as a whole. There are examples out there today where interactive BI content and analytics are being embedded; however, this is an area of growth for BI.

What examples do you know of where this is being done today? How can BI software vendors make this easier?

Coy Yonce is a Principal Technical Architect at EV Technologies and has worked in Business Intelligence for over 10 years. Before joining EV Technologies, Coy was a Crystal Reports Product Owner at SAP for many years. His main focus is leading conversations and being active in the BI community. Connect with him directly via:

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5 Responses to “Operational Reporting: Leveraging Crystal Reports as a Model for Embedded BI”

  1. Coy
    This is all near and dear to my heart. I think the key differentiators we see is those that
    a) embed the BI into their application (i.e. SalesLogix )
    b) those that integrate a BI platform for embedded BI.

    We currently help customers with the latter example by using web functionality components that can be integrated as SOA type modules without adding the additional libraries to the application itself.

    This really fits best into the Software as a Service model (SaaS) rather than thick client applications.

    In the end the goal is achieve that the application designer can use the best of breed reporting tools like Crystal Reports without the complexity or deep API knowledge necessary to integrate and support the functionality by using the techniques and power of web application integration.

    As more applications move to the web, cloud, Platform as a Service (PaaS), etc these types of techniques will prevail and I believe the Crystal Platform and its API’s will assist customers in staying ahead.

    Kevin McManus
    Founder, LaunchWorks

  2. Coy Yonce says:

    Hi Kevin.

    I agree. In fact, that approach that the Crystal Reports team is taking is the same. The new APIs that are being developed are all centered around RESTful web services, oData, and JavaScript technologies. There is less of a focus on fine grained APIs and more focus on ease of integration. There are also plans for revamping the embedded reporting solution to make it more PaaS friendly.

    Of course, this approach is being considered across the entire BOE platform and not just for Crystal Reports.

    I think that it’s important to learn from the deep history of integration, successes, and failures that has been experienced by technologies like Crystal Reports. Developers can be a persnickety bunch and, if the integration process is too difficult, they will be less likely to use your technology.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Coy,

    It’s not a Crystal example, but we just posted a case study that talks about how Yellowfin and our tool, Windward, were embedded into a mobile app by Cogent3D. The interactive BI tool – Yellowfin – was built in to handle the advanced analytics required for crop, ground and farm surveys, while Windward was used to create hard copy documents that conform to specific government standards.

    Here’s the link: http://www.windward.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Cogent3D-long-case-study.pdf.

    I’m interested in hearing if people have more examples, especially with Crystal Reports.


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