Replacing XL Reporter with Modern Reporting Tools for SAP Business One


If you are looking for a true upgrade to XL Reporter (XLR), this article will compare a few alternative solutions with the goal of highlighting important features and functionalities for your SAP B1 financial reporting experience.

I keep running into SAP Business One (SAP B1) customers as I spend more time in the world of Business Intelligence.  While the population of SAP B1 users is somewhat small in comparison to other popular accounting systems, it is a passionate group that is steadily growing.  And right now, as SAP has retired the trusted Excel-based financial reporting tool, XL Reporter (XLR), this community of customers is at a crossroads.

If you took an informal poll, in person, or via an online scan of customer forums, you will quickly find the dissatisfaction and frustration with the SAP move toward XLR’s replacement, Crystal Reports.  SAP acquired Business Objects a few years ago, and they have shifted their focus from XLR to Crystal Reports to design and run reports.  Despite the underwhelmed response you can easily find online or by talking to customers, it is pretty widely used, most likely due to the affiliation with Business Objects.  However, after speaking to some Crystal Reports users, they had plenty to report about what disappointed them.
While it might be easier to use than typical native enterprise resource planning (ERP) report designers, Crystal Reports is a proprietary platform with formatting and coding that is simply not the familiarity nor the flexibility of Excel.  One accounting professional told me that, while there is a report writing wizard, he has only used one report that he built in the wizard, after a few years of using Crystal Reports.  Instead, he felt like he needed to write his own SQL statements to connect with the database, so he could produce reports utilizing his own external legwork.  Regardless, Crystal Reports is SAP’s focus right now, but you have other options as we see the end of the XLR era.  As SAP’s support of XLR fades out, this article will zoom in on how to replace the product with a true upgrade.
SAP acquired XLR and framed it as their chief financial reporting tool in 2005.  The SAP B1 customer community immediately adopted it due to the dynamic, business user friendly interface rooted in the familiarity of Excel.  In addition to the Excel accessibility, it also was pre-integrated to the SAP B1 database, with reporting on the General Ledger (GL) and sub ledgers.  Crystal Reports is a modern offering, with equal power, but not written specifically as a financial report writer – for business end users without an IT background.  Thus, some customers feel like they can follow the line to the seemingly mediocre Crystal Reports or find an alternative solution.
There’s a substantial population of SAP B1 users that are now seeking a tool that still offers Excel-based report design but that is an upgrade instead of a replacement – both powerful and modern, but easy to use.  Any investment of this sort will take time, energy, and money during the shopping and the implementation processes, so this is a good time to expand and move your BI analysis to the next level.  Some SAP B1 customers are using this opportunity to find a more complete solution by also looking at budgeting, dashboards, and/or data warehousing solutions for a best-of-breed, fully integrated SAP B1 experience.
Even though Excel reigns supreme in the realm of report writing and budgeting platforms, flexibility and mobility are becoming more and more valuable.  Today’s marketplace of third party reporting tools have Excel and/or web reporting, mobile applications, and/or “push” reporting via e-mail, meaning that reports can be automated and scheduled to send to selected recipients.  Some solutions are more flexible than others, and you will have to decide what is most important to you and your team.  This article will compare and contrast the features and functionalities of BizNet, SQL Server Reporting Service (SSRS), and Solver’s BI360 for replacing XLR.
In the fall of 2013, BizNet announced an integration to SAP B1.  The young age of this integration is not a big deal to me.  However, BizNet does not integrate to a data store, so all reporting must be live, which can slow down the SAP B1 server, depending on how many users are querying data for real-time reporting.  Furthermore, the integration to SAP B1 is limited to the GL, meaning that sub-ledger reporting is not an option.  BizNet is powered by Excel, but because of the GL exclusivity, the reporting is not very powerful.  This might be due to the fact that BizNet has integrations for around 30 different accounting systems, meaning that depth is likely not their aim. With their breadth approach, I would say that their solutions will not quite be the upgrade you are going to want to purchase at this juncture.  Meanwhile, SSRS from Microsoft has even more breadth as it can link to anything in the SAP B1 SQL databases, but is just as technical and complex as Crystal Reports.
A free report writer made by Microsoft that comes with a SQL Server license, which SAP B1 runs on?  And it offers both a live integration and an integration to an OLAP cube?  What’s the catch?  I have written about the differences between a data warehouse versus OLAP cube in the past, but generally speaking, this product is extremely flexible as it is a globally known, commercially available software, and it can theoretically extract data from any SQL database, so the adaptability is undeniably there – and might be attractive to some.  On the other hand, I would like to find something that is made specifically for financial reporting as well as consolidations, with a deep and comprehensive integration to SAP B1.  Again, you should seek a true upgrade as opposed to a tool that you could make work for you and your team.
Solver’s BI360 was launched in 2009, with integrations to a handful or so of accounting systems, including SAP B1.  The depth you get from BI360 involves a full suite of reporting, budgeting, dashboards, and a fully built, customizable data warehouse.  In terms of flexibility in access, the product is a third generation Excel add-in, with web reporting and dashboards, with a mobile application and “push” reporting.  Interestingly enough, all of the key original developers of XLR work for Solver, and relatedly, BI360 is fairly similar, but more modern in terms of user friendliness, powerful reporting that moves beyond the GL with real-time analysis as well as data warehouse integrations.  The young age of the product has seemingly lent itself to development of the modern consumer demands for a powerful financial reporting tool.  BI360 offers a lot of power in such an easy-to-use upgrade.
There is plenty to take into consideration when upgrading from XLR.  If you are in the market to avoid Crystal Reports, Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use reporting solution positioned within a full suite of BI tools for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities.