Most legacy ERP systems still utilize Crystal Reports for creating detailed, flexible and dynamic business reports. However, multiple acquisitions of the software over the years has resulted in it falling behind software trends in Data Analytics systems. Even its latest owner, SAP, is moving to Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Service as its go-to solution.
The SSRS add-on to SQL Server has evolved to a web-based report server featuring essential Data Analytics functions such as data-driven subscriptions and a multi-format rendering engine. Additionally, its scalability potential far exceeds that of Crystal Reports. Since many companies already own an SQL Server license and SSRS comes bundled for free, many are anxious to convert legacy Crystal Reports resources to SSRS.
Migration Process Overview
If your organization is fortunate enough to have only a handful of relatively simple reports to convert, you might employ one of several third-party automatic CR/RPT to SSRS/RDL tools. If you are using SQL Server 2016, you will need to further upgrade the RDL output via SQL Server Data Tools as Microsoft has recently made changes to the internal report object model.
Most companies, however, will have dozens or hundreds of reports of varying complexity for conversion and many of these will not lend themselves well to automatic conversion.
Step One: Report Analysis
In order to reduce the number of reports to convert and prioritize the remainder, follow these guidelines:
- Determine if the report is still used directly or indirectly via another report
- Record how the report is accessed and how often
- Discover which individuals or group users are using the report
- Prioritize which report items are most important to their business decision value
The results of this analysis will reveal the shortest path to converting the highest value reports and report data. This step often suggests ways in which reports can be consolidated or standardized by sharing common information across reports. This presents opportunities to share SQL stored procedures across reports as well.
In preparation for migration, also document various technical aspects such as the specific data sources being used, which may be databases offline and online or software products such as OLAP Intelligence or MicroStrategy Intelligence Server.
Step Two: Migration Implementation
You should now be prepared to recreate report characteristics as new SSRS reports. Proceed in this order:
- Create new SQL queries and then fetch and verify the data sets for accuracy
- Set up the SSRS report layouts noting that Crystal Reports is a banded report design, whereas SSRS uses a Table object
- Incorporate row-level data while building grouping relationships and subtotals
- Devise formulas and procedures to derive condensed results from primary data
- Create visual reporting artifacts such as charts, graphs and matrices
- Finally, set up any required sub-reports and linked reports
Unfortunately, completing these steps accurately may require serious sleuthing skills if the original reports are not well documented, which is often the case.
Difficulties of Automation
Although some conversion steps above may appear amenable to automation, such tools often run into serious obstacles even with reports of relatively low complexity. These problems often derive from the distinct software architectures used by each product. Furthermore, no Crystal Reports conversion tool performs the initial analysis step that’s so vital to ensuring your upgraded reporting system is cost-effective and efficient.
There are numerous examples of automated conversion issues that are difficult to debug and correct:
- The use of shared data sources often generates exceptions
- Differences in parameter names may interfere with data source connections
- Parameter renaming often breaks dependencies in the same or other reports
- Required parameters in SSRS are sometimes missing in Crystal Reports.
- Layout fields and blocks often intersect, and overlapped objects render poorly
- The Keep Together feature in Crystal Reports frequently translates incorrectly
- Expressions and VB code in Crystal Reports often break or produce incorrect results in SSRS
- Multicolumn reports and text boxes frequently require manual adjustment in SSRS
Even in cases where auto-conversion may appear to work at a 95% level, it is highly recommended that the conversion be overseen by a trained specialist who can uncover hidden flaws and correct them before they reach end users who depend on a clean, fully functional reporting system.
Employ a Phased Approach
If your Crystal Reports to SSRS conversion appears evenly moderately complex, approach the migration in a phased approach including upfront detailed analysis to uncover unforeseen, time-consuming obstacles.
After initial testing, deliver reports to a select group of knowledgeable users for beta testing before widespread deployment. Reduce inevitable end-user issues by documenting thoroughly changes in appearance or usage.
Migrating from Crystal Reports to SSRS provides an ideal opportunity to evaluate and streamline your entire reporting solution to ensure BI decision makers are getting the information they require in the most effective manner. SSRS will continue to offer more advanced features and grow with your business needs due to its superior scalability.
You will likely find that automated migration presents as many problems as it solves and that using an experienced conversion partner to implement a detailed manual conversion process pays the highest dividends.