RE8, Blackbaud Enterprise CRM and the case for Crystal

There has been much discussion on various forums and between different organisation about the rumour that Crystal Reports is not going to be supported on the Infinity platform. While I don’t have any inside information from Blackbaud about this I can dispel a couple of myths.

Currently in Raiser’s Edge 7, Crystal Reports is used as the reporting engine for all canned reports. Blackbaud use components that feed their data into various Crystal Reports so that you need merely click on a button and the report appears. These reports have a predefined format and although the user can change some aspects of this it is very limited.

In RE8, BBEC and the Infinity platform the canned reports do not use Crystal Reports as the reporting engine but rather SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). This is server based and comes with SQL Server. Blackbaud currently bundles Crystal Reports with their software but this version is client based. To bundle the server version would clearly mean a greater expense for them (and ultimately their customers).

When it comes to custom reports there is some uncertainty. I am not sure how the Infinity platform handles custom reporting. I am sure that there will be some kind of function to integrate custom reports with RE8 but most probably via SSRS.

There is a lot of investment in Crystal in the community so it is obviously of concern to think that Crystal will no longer be used. This, though is not strictly the case. It should be quite possible to use Crystal against the BBEC and RE8 database. After all Crystal can run against any kind of database. Many RE7 users develop reports that run directly off of the database rather than using the custom mechanism inside of RE. This offers much more flexibility.

One other possibility that I am currently looking into is developing a Crystal Report engine to integrate with the Infinity platform. That way data can be exported from RE8 and BBEC and linked to a Crystal Report in the same way as is currently the case in RE7. It does seem a shame to waste all the Crystal knowledge out there. Watch this space…

What are your thoughts on the shift to SSRS? Do you currently use SSRS with RE7 or other products and how does it compare to Crystal Reports. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “RE8, Blackbaud Enterprise CRM and the case for Crystal

  1. At the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston we’ve been using Reporting Services instead of Crystal for custom reports for about a year. I really enjoy using Visual Studio to build and deploy reports and would not want to have to go back to Crystal. Because it’s a web report, there’s no desktop application (Crystal or RE) for me to worry about, and there’s no learning curve for a report user. Even for a seasoned Crystal report writer, I would think learning Reporting Services and Visual Studio would be worth it. It’s a pleasure to use. One of my favorite features that Crystal doesn’t have is the Tablix report, which automatically builds and formats a report based on table output from a SQL query. This is great for deploying ad hoc reports to users, so they can refresh their own data. It just takes 2 or 3 minutes to go from an ad hoc query to a deployed report. Export to Excel from the web report is seamless also.

  2. Your posts about Crystal reports are intriguing. It seems to be an incredibly powerful tool, but I’ve seen a lot of complaints about how difficult it is to use (including the comment from Tom above). I’d like to ask more about your experiences from the developer and client side, as I am researching this space to find out if what my company has is of value. My company lets users create ad-hoc custom reports by typing what they want into a search-like interface, using simple, natural input. It’s like Google meets custom reports, but also pulls out deep linkages across the fused data set, so one can see data relationships that may otherwise be difficult or impossible to discover. We think users would want it if they could see it, but we’re having a hard time figuring that out. Getting the opinion of an objective third party who knows the space would be really valuable. Please email me? Thank you!

  3. Linda,

    I am not sure what your background is but within The Raiser’s Edge there are a number of simple reporting tools such as you describe. There are canned reports where the format cannot be changed to any great extent. There are good querying and exporting tools which very flexible. You can link a Crystal Report to the output of the export which gives you even more flexibility.

    I use Visual Studio when I develop code and I have no doubt that developing reports in it is relatively easy to do. I have since writing this post dabbled in SSRS but would by no means say that I have mastered the tool. One thing that I found hard though was to create a report where the fields were completely freestanding. Maybe I was missing something but it seemed like you could only build grid or table like reports.

  4. I’m not familiar with Raiser’s Edge, but what I’m talking about doesn’t involve any building or coding. To the user, it looks like a search box, and the user types things like, “show contacts, New York” or “show email, delivery date.” The output shows all related info, such as all the accounts, cases, notes, etc. connected with the input criteria. It is content-addressable, so it finds exactly the data one wants, and does not depend on traditional DB queries and schema. It does currently only produce table-like reports, although can also build timelines if desired. So to your question about freestanding fields (by which I think you mean fields that appear anywhere in the data, not just as table keys or primary objects), my company’s technology is designed for just that sort of thing.

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