Slow-down not affecting reporting vendors

It may not be considered as sexy as some of the other aspects of technology -such as wireless – but reporting is one of the most basic functions in the industry. Recently, Crystal Decisions released Crystal Reports 8.5, a reporting tool that continues its emphasis on the Web.

With many upgrades, the idea is to increase functionality and offer the end user a reason for using the latest version.

Fred Tummonds said that since Version 6 of Crystal Reports, the primary goal was on a Web focus. Now XML has become vital to the program in its latest release. “XML data sources and XML publishing (was) a key issue for us, a key feature that we emphasize in V8.5,” Tummonds said.

Tummonds, the group production manager for Crystal Decisions in Vancouver, added that since a large number of its customers are developers, the company extended features to developers by increasing its report capabilities in their applications.

The software continues to be a wizard-driven interface and Tummonds said a copy of Crystal Enterprise is included with Crystal Reports. “It allows our customers to (go) through a wizard to publish reports that they have created to other people in their organization using our Web technology.”

He added that this allows the user to manage the reports as well as schedule the reports. The scheduling and managing of reports are also new with this release.

One analyst agrees that while reporting is far from glamorous, it does serve a very basic function for businesses.

“It’s not a sexy, fancy product. If there’s a difference between nice-to-have and must-have, I would put this in this must-have category (because) everybody needs some type of reporting,” said Dan Vesset senior analyst for IDC Corp. in Framingham, Mass. He said that Crystal’s ability to combine both the analysis and reporting tools strengthens their position by incorporating the tools together.

He added that their ability to format the reports online have been created in a very user friendly format. The Web capabilities, he said, also allow organizations to constantly update their reports on an ongoing basis. According to Vesset an added benefit is that the report can be sent to a PDA or other mobile device if the person is working off site.

Vesset said the trend in the industry is indeed moving toward Web-based reporting tools, but expressed some surprise at how well vendors are coping with the current economic slow-down. “In these tough economic times when IT spending has gone down, we’re seeing reporting vendors, including Crystal holding up pretty well.”

One long-term user of Crystal said the reasons for remaining with the company is because of the service it offers its customers.

“One of the reasons we stayed with the product for as long as we have is that we’ve always been able to get the support around a fair amount of complex issues, ” said Lynne Ralston, one of the senior leaders of regulatory strategy for TransCanada Pipelines in Calgary. Ralston said Crystal has a good support centre that helps developers work through issues and concerns, and called the relationship with the company more of a partnership. She added that TransCanada is leaning toward incorporating Crystal Analysis, which allows data to be put up onto the Web.

Crystal Reports 8.5 is available in Standard (US$199), Professional (US$395) and Developer (US$495) editions.