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Thought-Provoking Commentary for the Lawson Software Community
I recently got a chance to see a pre-release version of Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, That’s a pretty long name, which is probably why it was formerly known as "Rosetta". I call it the "Crystal Killer".
Unifying Disparate Data Sources
SQL Server Reporting Services will augment the existing analytical (OLAP) capabilities provided in SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services. Reporting Services can report on data from any OLEDB, or ODBC Data Source, be it SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, etc., and can include data from multiple data sources on the same reports. Using Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, developers can connect to custom data sources. I’ll bet we see a Lawson-delivered native .NET data source–built on the Lawson OLE DB provider–which embraces Lawson security.
Report Authoring Features
If you’ve ever used Microsoft Access’ report designer or wizards, you’ll feel right at home with the authoring tools in SQL Server Reporting Services. In addition to the layout tools, you use a tool very similar to the SQL Query Analyzer to develop your queries. You get all the features you’d expect, such as summary/total fields, formatting, subreports, etc.
A report developer will need Microsoft’s .NET Framework 1.1, Visual Studio .NET 2003, and a SQL Server connection/license on their desktop in order to create reports. By integrating SQL Server Reporting Services into .NET, you have the entire .NET toolset available when creating reports.
SQL Server Reporting Services supports both on-demand (pull) and event-based (push) delivery of reports. You can create traditional page-oriented reports as well as highly-interactive reports with drill-down. Reports can be delivered to a portal, e-mailed or accessed via a Web-based application. Reports can be exported to all the usual standards, including HTML, Adobe PDF, TIFF, XLS, CSV, and XML.
Navigation and search features help users locate and run the reports they need. Personalized subscriptions let them select the rendering formats and schedules they prefer. I also expect that Reporting Services will be combined in some way with SQL Server Notification Services, to provide timely delivery of targeted information. So, you could build your own notifications, similar in functionality to Lawson’s Smart Notification.
One of the "Crystal Killer" features that I saw and liked the most is that you can provide your users with dynamic data-driven parameters, something you can’t do without custom programming in Crystal Enterprise.
SQL Server Reporting Services also includes comprehensive functionality for managing reports in a wide variety of environments. Report Manager is a Web-based tool for managing reports as a Web service. Managed reports can be executed either on demand or on a specified schedule, and are cached for consistency and performance. Security can be tailored to meet a variety of needs. Users may be granted access to run reports on demand or tailor individual report subscriptions. Administrators can delegate content management functions to specific individuals for different reports.
The server requirements are standard Microsoft: Windows Server 2000/2003 and the IIS Web Server. SQL Server 2000 is required for the reporting repository, which can be deployed either on the same server or a different one.
Visual Studio Integration
In addition to developing and delivering your reports, you can use SQL Server Reporting Services to integrate reports into your custom applications as well. Because Reporting Services are written as an XML-based Web service, IT organizations can easily embed reports in any application and make them available to users over any Web interface. The Web model allows organizations to make reports available to customers and partners over an extranet, isolating these audiences from the complexity of the underlying data sources while providing personalized, interactive access to data that’s critical to their own decisions.
Microsoft is working with other reporting software vendors, such as Crystal, Cognos, and Brio to standardize on a common ".RDL" XML-based report definition file. This will allow each vendor’s products to interoperate across your various reports. So, if you have Crystal ".rpt" reports, you could open them in Crystal, save them as ".rdl" files, and deploy them with SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. Or vice versa.
When it’s released (expected to be towards the end of the year), rumor has it that Reporting Services will be a downloadable add-on to SQL Server 2000. Once you understand the functionality it provides, this alone makes it an obvious choice if you’re running Lawson on a Windows platform. In addition, if you cringe at the licensing cost for Crystal Enterprise named users (which are required if you want to properly implement report security), you should evaluate Reporting Services.
Is it a "Crystal Killer"? Well, time will certainly tell. With the acquisition of Crystal Decisions by Business Objects, and Brio by Hyperion, it looks like we’re in for some significant changes in the reporting software business.