Long gone are the days when all you could cheer for was Report Writer and Advanced Financial Analysis. Now, your colleagues seem to be talking sophistication: FRx, Crystal Reports, SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and SmartLists. You may wonder how it is that time went by so quickly and how you missed the boat.
In this article, I explain the most important tools that have emerged over the last couple years, in terms of where each stands in the reporting spectrum.
Reporting tools are divided into three categories:
1. Financial Reporting Tools. These tools allow the creation of reports designed to show your company's financial performance during any given period. Financial reporting tools work by interacting directly with the GL tables. Examples of such reports include the balance sheet, income statement and cash flow reports.
2. General-Purpose Reporting Tools. These tools adopt a "free style" approach to report development and supply the user with virtually endless possibilities for reporting transactional data. Examples of such reports include an aged trial balance report, a sales order document, a customer or a vendor list, among others.
3. Analytical Tools. Analytical tools are specialized reporting interfaces designed to take advantage of decision support software. These tools are generally used to perform time-based trend analysis of critical information, such as sales, purchases, inventory, and even financial information. Data is then rolled up and stored in cubes that can be rotated or "sliced and diced" by the user in numerous ways that general-purpose reports cannot imitate.
Available today are a number of reporting tools that can be catalogued as internal or external to the application. These tools provide various degrees of capabilities based on the expected outcome.
1. Report Writer. Internal to Microsoft Dynamics GP, Report Writer is the first and most commonly used reporting option available to users. In fact, Dynamics GP includes more than 1,500 out-of-the-box reports, most of which can be customized to fit a particular business need.
2. Advanced Financial Analysis (AFA). The first internally built financial reporting tool available for Microsoft Dynamics GP. AFA is a relatively intuitive easy to use financial reporting tool with simple controls that allow for basic financial reports, such as balance sheets, P&Ls, and cash flows.
3. Crystal Reports. Crystal Reports is an external reporting application used to design and generate reports from a wide range of data sources. Several applications, such as Microsoft Dynamics GP and Microsoft Visual Studio bundle an OEM version of Crystal Reports as a general purpose reporting tool. Crystal Reports became the defacto report writer when first released with Microsoft Visual Basic.
4. FRx Financial Reporting Extender. FRx has become a standard financial reporting tool that enables users to create management and financial reports based on their general ledger. FRx integrates to a wide array of accounting systems, including Microsoft Dynamics GP, Dynamics SL, Dynamics AX, as well as with non-Microsoft ERP systems such as Sage's MAS 500 and Epicor Vantage. FRx also combines GL information with other sources such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
5. SQL Server Reporting Services. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services (SSRS) delivers enterprise, Web-enabled reporting functionality so users can create reports with content from a variety of data sources, allowing publishing in various formats, based on centrally managed security and subscriptions. With the release of Microsoft Dynamics GP 10, Microsoft has bundled a set of predefined SSRS reports, initiating the transition away from Report Writer-based reports.
6. SmartLists and SmartLists Builder. These are two data delivery and reporting tools clearly designed with the end user in mind. They are an alternative to raw SQL Server queries and hardcore development. SmartLists deliver a powerful set of predefined queries that are customizable through the addition of columns and implementation of filters on pre-existing data.
SmartLists Builder has been positioned as the "point-and-click" query builder for delivering new lists not included with standard Dynamics GP application. Both tools are internal to the application and require little to no configuration making them the true "plug and play" query and reporting tools. SmartLists offers automatic exports to Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.
7. Analysis Cubes for Microsoft Dynamics GP. Analysis Cubes in Microsoft Dynamics GP enables users to take full advantage of SQL Server Analysis Services by providing out-of-the-box preconfigured OLAP cubes. Analysis Cubes provides virtually unlimited ways to look at data with interactive analysis, using familiar tools such as Microsoft Excel.
Keep in mind that the more tools available to you, the better, since each serves different purposes and has different capabilities, so Buen Viento y Buena Mar, set sales and free your imagination by making the most of your data.
Published on MSDynamicsWorld.com on May 26, 2008
Mariano Gomez, MIS, MCP, PMP
Maximum Global Business, LLC