Benefits of Report Development as a Managed Service

report_developers-150x150 Benefits of Report Development as a Managed Service

Report developers are ready to go.

Outsourcing report development as a managed service is becoming increasingly common.

In the age of big data, companies are finding it challenging to utilize their existing data to its full potential. The value is not in the data, it is in how the data is interpreted and accessed. The goal of business analytics is to collect, organize, and display relevant data to key stakeholders.

In the current environment where every company is seeking cost cutting measures, outsourcing non-core activities to experienced third parties is becoming increasingly common. Business Intelligence, data management, and report development are some key examples of managed services that vendors offer to such companies.

Vendors such as IBM, are redefining the managed services concept that was earlier limited to application support. Specifically, outsourcing report development has become part of the strategic thinking process for a growing number of companies who leverage the data at their disposal.

Key questions when managing report development:

  1. How to find a technology expert who can leverage data and generate reports for business units, in a short period of time?
  2. What would be the most cost effective manner to have a long term relationship with someone who can bring resource pooling agility and reduce the risks associated with staff turnover?

These days vendors provide report development as a managed service to their clients. Vendors work with their customers on various projects with the help of their dedicated global team.

Benefits of using a managed service for report development:

  • Overhead cost control: Managed services help reduce the IT department’s overhead costs by providing an efficient alternative to in-house report development and query writing. This also frees up management to focus on more strategic endeavours.
  • Agile process: Managed services enable agility and scalability of report development at highly competitive rates.
  • Access to experts: Companies get easy access to expert report developers. Companies can tap into world-class expertise and higher quality at a fraction of the cost of hiring or contracting a specialist – this is especially true when migrating from one reporting system to another.
  • No risk of losing skills from staff turnover: Companies eliminate risks of losing critical skills in a volatile employment market and lessen the need to hire and ramp up new employee talent for extremely critical technology(ies).
  • Continuous availability and on demand bandwidth: Vendors who provide local delivery and global report development offer 24 X 7 services to their clients. Additionally, companies benefit from the flexible bandwidth during development and release cycles.
  • Industry standard IT governance: Good vendors make sure that there is industry standard IT governance that leads to extensive customer satisfaction. This will generate a higher value alternative to internal delivery and a higher success rate.

Managed services are not only limited to report development, they also extends to the complete business intelligence portfolio, including cloud offerings. We are seeing many vendors similar to Optimus expanding in this horizon to provide end-to-end business intelligence as a managed service, such as Teradata. In my view “Report Development as a Managed Service” is a flexible and needs-based model that allows companies to access resources at the most efficient price point.

Optimus provides report development services in Vancouver, Canada. We have expertise to develop cross-platform and cross-applications reports. We specialize in Mircosoft SSRS, Crystal Reports and other open source tools. If you would like to learn more about our report development process and experience, please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to sit down and discuss your needs.

(image credit: lumaxart)

SSRS: An Ideal Business Intelligence Reporting Tool

ssrs-150x150 SSRS: An Ideal Business Intelligence Reporting Tool

SSRS Reports are well integrated with the Microsoft stack.

Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is a flexible platform, incorporating a centrally managed reporting system and on-demand web-based and desktop applications. From report writing to deployment, the SSRS business intelligence reporting platform supports the entire report life-cycle.

Based on our experiences in SSRS report development, SSRS is an ideal tool for business intelligence reporting due to the following key factors:

Five Styles of Business Intelligence

The five styles of BI are:

  1. Reporting: Operational and financial reports that are mainly used by the junior to mid level management to facilitate their day-to-day work
  2. Scorecards and Dashboards: Graphical representation of data that is mainly used by the senior level executives to monitor the organization’s performance
  3. Ad-hoc query and analysis: Interactive reporting mainly used for scenario analysis
  4. OLAP analysis: Simple form of analysis that uses standard features such as page-by, pivot, sort, filter and drill up/down to flip through a series of report views.
  5. Alerting and Report Delivery: Proactive notification/reports that will be delivered directly to the users (via email, web, or XML files) whenever a critical  alert, alarm or system event occurs

SSRS is a single technology where all five styles can be used as plug-and-play modules. It allows companies to post reports as download items to a portal, email them to users, or allow users access via a web-based report server. Users can locate and run the reports as required using subscription, search and navigation features. Through personalized subscriptions, users can select the versioned format they prefer to personalize the reports.

Data and User Scalability

Companies collect and generate an enormous volume and scope of data over the years. The infinite number of systems in an organization, including supply chain management, sales force automation, ERP, websites and also CRM, contribute to this massive data influx.

SSRS and SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), when combined, can access very large databases, while comfortably interacting with the users. High volume environments can be supported by the scalability of its modularity and web-based design. As more people use the system, the performance is enhanced by a dynamic multi-level caching architecture, which makes each user’s experience faster and more interactive, while imposing the minimum load on database resources. One could serve thousands of web-based clients though creating a reporting server farm with multiple report servers accessing the same core reports.

Self Serve BI – Ad hoc Reporting

With the increase in user base and the amount of data, user self-service becomes critical. Users can create their own operational or financial reports and explore organizational data using an SSRS ad hoc reporting tool. Users without deep technical understanding can build reports through Report Builder’s user-friendly business query model.

Granular Analytic Capability

SSRS reports incorporate drill down and parameterized functionality, which has become standard in today’s BI market. Company’s performance can be easily measured with the help of SSRS’s advanced functionalities. By combining data planning and trending, SSRS can be used to provide valuable insights to future performances.

Security and administration

To protect reporting resources, SSRS implements a flexible and role-based security model. This model ensures that every employee of the organization is allowed access to data which their user role entitles them to. By using SSRS’s extensible interfaces, other security models can be easily integrated.

Microsoft Office integration

SSRS integrates with Microsoft Office products seamlessly. The end-user can view and manage reports completely from within a SharePoint document library. Additionally, SSRS can provide pixel perfect reporting by exporting reports into Excel and PDF. There is no requirement of any programming or customization for this integration. It also increases the productivity of the users due to it’ s familiar desktop environment.

Branding and Presentation

SSRS enables company branding with picture perfect formatting. Adding the company logo and client information with reports documents is a simple process due to the ease of integration with Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF.

Automated Maintainability

Through SSRS, reports can be updated automatically, reflecting continual changes to fundamental business definitions,  structures and database. All users have access to a single version of truth through the centrally defined and managed business rules provided by SSRS.

Cost Effective

SSRS is already available with an Enterprise or Standard edition of Microsoft SQL Server. If a company already has these running, it does not need spend extra money for purchasing SSRS. This is one of the key benefits of the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack which provide a complete set of tools for end-to-end BI solutions.

SSRS has the lowest licensing cost among the leading business intelligence vendors. This provides a cost effective benefit for companies that without any SQL Server, but are inclined to buy Microsoft’s BI stack. Additionally, the server-based license model of SQL Server is definitely more cost-effective compared to per-user-based licenses.

Open APIs

Traditional and interactive reports can be created, managed, and delivered through a complete, server-based platform offered by Reporting Services. Additionally, with the help of its modular design and extensive application programming interfaces (APIs), enterprises, data providers and software developers can integrate reporting services with legacy systems or third-party applications. Other environments such as Visual Studio .Net development can be easily integrated with SSRS.

To learn more about SSRS report development, connect with us. We are happy to provide free consultations.


Best Practices for Engaging SMEs in BI Reporting Projects

working-with-SMEs-on-report-development-150x150 Best Practices for Engaging SMEs in BI Reporting Projects

Involve SMEs when gathering requirements. They know what they need!

In most report writing projects, the biggest challenge as a consultant is to quickly gain an understanding of the client’s data. A consultant needs to get a good grasp of all systems and business logic at the requirements gathering stage before embarking on report development.

It is useful working with the company’s IT department, especially in terms of understanding the use and impact of the chosen technologies/applications on the project. However, a consultant also needs to understand the business itself, which includes gathering knowledge on the company’s business model and its success drivers, KPIs, and how the report’s data will be used in monitoring and controlling these drivers.  This is very important in order to ensure that the requirements are complete and make sense, both from a technical and business perspective.

It can be challenging to gain a deep understanding of these factors if the sources of information are limited to the IT department. Meetings with subject matter experts are required to achieve depth and breadth of knowledge. Some clients do provide schema diagrams and a few sample queries, but the success of a BI engagement demands much more.

The consultant needs to make a concerted effort to find the people that know the data. These people may or may not be included in the BI project but their knowledge on how to pull the data and analyze it can be invaluable to the BI initiative. A consultant should make sure that these key players are an elemental part of the requirements gathering and testing process. These individuals can usually determine very quickly if the data is correct, reducing time wasted. Having them available as a resource throughout a BI project can not only make the requirements gathering and development process easier, it can help ensure that the data is accurate and used properly to allow for optimal business analysis.

Here are some of the key areas which these individuals can help with include:

  • Generalizing specific information obtained for a single report, which enables the consultant to anticipate future requests and be flexible in meeting client needs in the future. The knowledgeable individuals can help to define clear and clean criteria.
  • Refining specifications that are incomplete or open-ended, taking into consideration both technical and business perspectives, to reduce redundancies and repetition.
  • Reconciling the “logic-based” mindset of a programmer with the “business-based” perspective of the user. This may lead to illogical requests that generate no data.
  • Codifying generalized user requests. It is a good idea to have the user create a request in a single sentence, in the form of an actual question the report will provide the answer to. This will reduce wasted effort and allow the consultant to deliver the report in the most concise, comprehensive, and efficient format.

We are helping our clients with their report development and business analytics projects. To learn more about the report development process, connect with us. We are happy to provide free consultations.

SSRS and Crystal Reports Comparison: An Ongoing Debate

ssrs-versus-crystal-reports-150x150 SSRS and Crystal Reports Comparison: An Ongoing Debate

Two major reporting vendors in a constant race.

For the past couple of months, I have been working on reporting projects for a few clients in British Columbia that have put me in an excellent position to make a comparison of SSRS and Crystal reports. One of the clients is using SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) as the reporting platform for all organizational reports, including custom built Microsoft Dynamics AX. Another client is using Crystal Reports (CR) as their core Business Intelligence application.

Both SSRS and CR are business intelligence applications that take data from data sources of varied formats and generate reports providing decision support information. The reports can be interactive Web reports, tabular, graphical, free-form on-screen or print reports. For example, data can be accessed from Oracle and SQL databases, Excel spreadsheets and local file systems, and reports generated in Excel, PDF, DOC or executed right in the browser.

I have encountered many debates regarding the comparative advantages and disadvantages of SSRS and CR. The debate has been complicated by two major factors. Firstly, many of the complaints relate to earlier versions which might not be present in the latest ones. Secondly, the applications are used in varied environments for varied purposes and some might find SSRS more suited to their requirements while others might find CR the right choice.

One general objection is that CR is problematic to work with, being immense and slow. This can be the result of the peculiar challenges its development team faced within the context of ownership changes, and that too with a product designed for a very different environment.

SSRS, on the other hand provides a far more pleasing experience. However, there are complaints about it not being able to meet finer formatting requirements. Born in an earlier era, CR is more likely to come with more low-level features that enable detailed requirements.

Most users might find SSRS a better choice, which is more suited to modern environments and requirements, especially when paired with the Microsoft stack (SharePoint). On the performance front also, SSRS is likely to score much higher in most environments. On the other hand, CR has been in existence for a longer period and more people are likely to be familiar with it. And those who are finicky with the smaller details might prefer the low-level features of CR.

Day by day I am observing that the market is migrating towards SSRS. Overall, SSRS is a better choice for the modern user who is more concerned with performance and ease of use. SSRS is a server based report generation and scheduling software system that considerably reduces the time required to generate and send business intelligence reports. With SSRS one can also tailor reports to organizational needs. With customizable report templates at hand, business managers and executives can easily take full advantage of SSRS. The reports can also be published and accessed on demand. With its familiar, widely used Microsoft Office Excel interface the SSRS can be comfortably used by new employees in an organization without extensive training.

OptimusAnalytics offers both Crystal and SSRS report development. To learn more about our reporting experiences and solutions, contact me directly at