There are many paths you can take when it comes to reporting software.
Today, we’re looking through two popular management reporting and business intelligence options. Crystal Reports is a veteran reporting software (one of the first of its kind, actually), and Tableau is a web-based report visualization software that has taken off in recent years.
I’ve summarized the most important elements of both software options below to help you determine which (if either) product is a good fit for your organization.
Crystal Reports is a Windows-based business intelligence solution currently owned by SAP, a German software company. It was created in 1991 and has been acquired, merged, and rebranded multiple times. It’s important to note that Crystal Reports was one of the first products on the market that allowed business analysts to connect to databases and create reports simply by dragging and dropping the fields they wanted onto the report. Before this type of technology, the analysts would have to ask their IT team members to write SQL queries, etc. to access the data.
Over time, Crystal Reports became a well-known standard in reporting, and began to dominate the market. It is a widely considered to be a robust reporting tool, and is possibly the most popular reporting software in the world.
Crystal Reports allows you to:
Albeit the most popular reporting option, Crystal Reports does have its downfalls. Gaëtan Voyer-Perrault, a software engineer who used Crystal Reports for years, notes: “To be meaningful, the report needs to be organized by a business expert, but a business expert typically only has knowledge of the end result and maybe some vague mental map of the data.” He believes that the core problem with Crystal Reports is that “any sufficiently advanced reporting requires that you be able to output a bunch of code-like statements.” His opinion is echoed by others as well––that the learning curve is difficult for many companies to handle, and the complexities may hinder the value you get from using Crystal Reports. (You can read more of Voyer-Perrault’s response on this Quora thread.)
Crystal Reports might be a good fit for you if you have a technical team that will be able to code in some of your needs as a strategy leader.
Tableau was founded in 2003, and positioned itself as a data visualization and analytics software. Those who use Tableau mention its easy-to-understand user interface and the simple learning curve associated with the software. It’s been noted as one of the best reporting tools in regard to appealing visualization. The advanced tools allow you to view your data in unique ways (i.e. dots on a map), which makes for a compelling presentation. The software can automatically blend data sets or calculate conversion rates.
Tableau recently released version 9.0, which allows for:
Check out this comparison between Tableau and Qlik Sense (another business intelligence software solution) for more information.
Robert Morton, a self-proclaimed “data nerd” (who happens to be a senior software engineer at Tableau) noted in this Quora thread that “Tableau is not a great tool for cleaning or reshaping your data, nor does its relational model allow for procedural computations or offline algorithms, which is something both Python and R [programming languages] are well equipped to handle.” Morton adds that for this reason, Tableau focuses on interfacing with other programming languages and code bases, rather than trying to replace them.
Tableau might be a good fit for you if you need top-of-the-line graphics that allow your data to tell a story.
Both Crystal Reports and Tableau have redeeming qualities as reporting software options. The important thing is to make sure you’ve done all of your research about the software and the vendor before you make your decision. Best of luck!