Have you ever felt like you put in a lot of information into your database or business software but don’t seem to get any value out of this information? Or, have you ever had the need to produce a report but were unable to because you didn’t know how to do it?
Put simply, most software packages only include basic enquiries and reports that make the software functional (I will explain why this is the case in another article). However from time to time businesses would have a requirement for information that either cannot be found using the standard reports and/or enquiries, or would take a considerable amount of manual effort to find.
As an example, a sports club that I know of likes to update their list of “Most Committed” members each month and uses it for motivational purposes. However, the membership software they use doesn’t come with a pre-built report for this purpose and as a result one of the administration staff spends a long time (more than a day) every month going through the complete list of members (past and present) to summarise how many training sessions each person attended. If you add this up over the course of a year, just think of how much effort would have been spent on this activity alone!
In situations such as these, a simple database reporting software would come in handy. By ‘database reporting software’, I am referring to software packages such as Crystal Reports, Business Objects and DataVision. These are purpose built to work with a multitude of databases and produce a variety of reports. Common features of these software include record selection, sorting, grouping and generating any graph of your choice and in a variety of formats.
Admittedly some of these software are not cheap while there are others that are open source and are completely free!
If your business has someone who is database savvy, the process of introducing this new software becomes a breeze. However, if your business does not have this luxury, it would be a wise investment to have a consultant familiar with the chosen reporting software to come in and setup your first couple of reports. Once you have created a report or two, it usually becomes easy as you can quickly create your own new reports by simply copying and modifying the existing reports. More often that not, you will find it easier to have an expert create the reports you want in a short period of time than to have a staff member slave away for days trying to understand complex database structures. It is possible that you may encounter problems in this process, even if you hire an expert.
Some common issues we have come across in the past include:
1. The database cannot be accessed
This could be due to a couple of reasons. Firstly it could be because there is some database security that needs to be overcome. Some vendors secure the databases that are shipped with their software to ensure no one can get in and corrupt the data, be it deliberately or accidentally. If you encounter this problem, you would need to either contact your database administrator (if you have one) or the software vendor for the access details.
The second reason could be a missing database driver. If the database driver is commonly used, you may be able to find and download it by doing a search online. Alternatively you may have to contact your software vendor for help in locating and installing the required database driver(s).
2. Vendor backlash
Software vendors tend to be attached to their products and in some cases do not like the idea of someone else messing around with their databases. I have seen examples where the only option is to use the same software vendor to develop any additional reports.
It is always good practice to know ahead of time as to what you are up against should you wish to create your own reports. This is something you need to ask your software vendors at the time of software selection. If not researched properly, the selected software will cost your business lot more in ongoing charges rather than just the purchase and subscription fees.
I hope this article sheds some light into how you could go about developing your own business reports and what you might be up against. Feel free to drop us a note if you require any further advice or if we can assist you with any reporting needs your business may have.