Crystal Reports and XL Reporter Alternatives for SAP Business One

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With SAP Business One retiring XL Reporter and focusing on Crystal Reports, a lot of B1 customers are looking elsewhere for a modern, powerful, and easy-to-use financial report writer.  This article explores the features and functionalities of a few solutions on the market to understand the options to replace XLR.

As I spend more time in the Business Intelligence realm, I keep meeting more and more SAP Business One (SAP B1) customers.  It is a relatively small, but definitely mighty community of users that are passionate about their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.  However, this community is dealing with a shift when it comes to Business Intelligence (BI), specifically when it comes to financial report writing.  SAP recently decided to discontinue their Excel-based reporting tool, XL Reporter (XLR), in somewhat of a confusing move because it is fairly young and seemingly beloved by its customer base.

One customer I spoke to told me that she is unhappy about the discontinuation, and she has heard “not good things” about SAP’s suggested replacement, Crystal Reports.  After SAP acquired Business Objects a few years ago, Crystal Reports has become SAP’s go-to recommendation for those that were using XLR to generate reports.  It is a fairly popular tool, perhaps due to its lengthy association with Business Objects.  However, another customer elaborated on some of those “not good things” to me.

Even though it is reportedly easier to use than older, native ERP report writers, a financial professional told me Crystal Reports uses “obscure proprietary formulas and formatting” for report writing, among other things.  He went on to note that, even though there is a wizard in place for creating reports, he has only been able to use one report that originated in the wizard – after using it for a few years.  He ended up writing his own SQL statements to connect with the database, producing reports based on his own external work.  However, this blog is not about Crystal Reports.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the celebrated features of XLR as the sun sets on this Excel-based report writer and how to replace the product as support fades out and Crystal Reports becomes SAP’s main focus for report writing.

After an acquisition in 2005, XLR became the chief financial reporting tool for SAP B1.  It was immediately popular because of the dynamic, non-technical Microsoft Excel interface and used by tens of thousands of companies worldwide for its simplicity and its accessibility capabilities.  It is an Excel-powered tool, and it came pre-integrated to the SAP B1 database.  Additionally, it could be used for both General Ledger (GL) and sub-ledger reporting.  Crystal Reports is perhaps equally as powerful, but technically complex and not written as a report writer specifically for financial reports or for non-technical business users.  For the SAP B1 customers that I have met relying on XLR, this is a crossroads.

Most SAP B1 customers are now looking for an adequate replacement for XLR, a solution that is modern, powerful, and business user friendly.  This kind of search will result in an investment of time, energy, and money, so they are hoping to take their reporting and more generally, their other BI processes to the next level.  Some of the SAP B1 customers are viewing this crossroads as an opportunity to hopefully expand into a full suite of BI tools – budgeting for SAP B1, dashboards, and even a data warehouse to combine their data sources for a unified BI experience.  In short, they’re looking for an upgrade.

While Excel is still the favorite for business users in terms of report writer budgeting interfaces, finance teams are looking for more ways to access their financial reporting.  In the current landscape of reporting tools, there are options for Excel add-ins, web reporting, mobile applications, as well as “push” reporting via e-mail, which means that reporting is automated and sent to selected participants on a schedule.  Some solutions have one of these functions, some have more than one, and there are few that have all accessibility options.  I’ll compare the following XLR replacement options with an examination of their features and functionalities: BizNet, SQL Server Reporting Service (SSRS), and Solver’s BI360.

BizNet announced in fall of 2013 that they would be integrating to SAP B1.  The short time span of integration is not really a concern for me.  While they do offer real-time reporting that is Excel-based, they don’t integrate to a data warehouse, meaning that depending on the number of business users and the size of query, the SAP B1 server can really slow down.  Moreover, the integration focuses on the GL, without analysis of sub-ledger information.  BizNet does have the capability to read and write Excel reports to and from the cloud, but the reporting is simply not very powerful, and that might be because BizNet has integrations for nearly 30 different ERPs and thus cannot go too deep in each ERP database with their integrations.  With that breadth, it makes sense to me that the depth of analysis is not quite the upgrade you might be looking for at this crossroads.  SSRS has more breadth because it can link to anything in the B1 SQL databases, but it is just as technical as Crystal Reports.

SSRS is a free reporting tool from Microsoft that comes with the SQL Server license (and SAP B1 runs on SQL Server), and it can both report live on SAP and on an OLAP cube. This blog has debated data warehouse versus OLAP cube before, but in general, this product seems pretty adaptable, mainly because it is a commercially available software that is known globally, and it can extract information from theoretically any SQL database, so that versatility might be attractive to some.  For me, as someone who is researching SAP Business One financial report writers, I have come to realize that XLR and Crystal Reports had reporting locked down for the ERP system, and I am looking for an upgraded reporting tool that will similarly lock down the functionality I need.

Launched in late 2009, Solver’s BI360 has focused on a handful or so of ERP systems, with SAP B1 making that list.  Their depth involves a comprehensive suite of reporting, budgeting, dashboards, and a fully built data warehouse, and their accessibility includes an Excel add-in, web reporting and dashboards, and a mobile application, as well as “push” reporting.  Perhaps most important to note: some of the original creators and developers of XLR work for Solver, and accordingly, BI360 is very similar in user friendliness, powerful, beyond-the-GL reporting with real-time SAP B1 and Data Warehouse integrations.  The relative youth of the product might scare some away, but it seems as though that has lent itself to the modern demands of financial report writers.  If upgrading is the idea, it is important to consider an upgrade on all fronts of the BI function.

There are lots of aspects to consider when it comes to finding a true upgrade from the trusted, but retired XLR.  If you are looking to avoid the shortcomings of 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.