Financial Reporting Alternatives to Crystal Reports for SAP Business One

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SAP Business One retired XL Reporter to focus on Crystal Reports, causing plenty of SAP users to look for alternatives.  This article will discuss powerful, easy to use financial reporting options.

More SAP Business One (SAP B1) customers than ever are looking for a true replacement for XL Reporter (XLR) – and I’m not talking about Crystal Reports.  SAP B1 has a passionate population of users that are loyal and invested in their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.  This user group is at a crossroads of sorts, with SAP more recently discontinuing the Excel-powered financial reporting tool, XLR, and shifting to Crystal Reports because of acquisitions.

If you browse the internet or talk to SAP B1 customers, you’ll generally hear some less-than-flattering things about SAP’s successor to XLR, Crystal Reports.  SAP acquired Business Objects a few years ago, then slated Crystal Reports as the recommended and supported financial reporting tool for users who were relying on XLR.  Because of its long-standing association with Business Objects, it is a well-known tool, but it has an underwhelming reputation amongst business users.
I have spoken to several SAP B1 customers, and one of them told me that Crystal Reports relies on “obscure proprietary formulas and formatting” for report design.  This particular user noted that, despite there being a native report design wizard, he has only produced one usable report with the wizard, over the course of a few years.  He wrote his own SQL statements, connecting with the database to produce reports based on his own external legwork.  But let’s shift the focus away from Crystal Reports and zoom in on what customers like about XLR and how you can truly replace it today.
XLR launched in 2002, and SAP B1 acquired it in 2005, making it the go-to financial reporting software for B1 users.  Because of the non-technical, dynamic Microsoft Excel interface, it was immediately well-received, utilized by tens of thousands of organizations because of how simple, accessible, and capable the product was.  It came pre-integrated to SAP B1 as an Excel-powered solution, and it could be utilized for both General Ledger (GL) and sub-ledger analytics.  Crystal Reports is arguably just as powerful, but it is proprietary, technically complex and is built for low level transaction listing, as opposed to financial report design for non-technical business end users in the familiar Excel user interface.
If you are looking for a true replacement for (and ideally, an upgrade to) XLR, you are not the only SAP B1 customer doing so.  Shopping around is an investment of your time, energy, and money all its own, so you might as well upgrade to something user friendly and powerful for more modern BI analytics.  You might even consider expanding your search to include a complete suite of BI solutions – budgeting and forecasting, data visualizations, and perhaps a data warehouse to consolidate your data sources into a single space for a more cohesive BI toolbox.  Time for an upgrade.
Standard Excel is popular around the globe as a reporting writing platform, but finance departments are seeking more flexibility in how they access their reports.  Today’s best reporting tools offer the user options for working with dynamic Excel add-ins, in a browser with Web reporting, or on the go with mobile applications, in addition to “push” reporting via automated reports emailed straight to selected users’ inboxes on a schedule.  Some software has one or more of these capabilities, and there are a few that offer all of this accessibility.  Let’s compare some of today’s XLR replacement options by taking a look at their features and functionalities:  BizNet, SQL Server Reporting Service (SSRS), and Solver’s BI360.
In the fall of 2013, BizNet announced that their product could integrate to SAP B1.  Their integration is only a couple of years old, but a more pressing concern might be their nearly 30 different ERP integrations and relatedly, the lack of depth that they offer for the SAP B1 ERP modules.  More specifically, while being an Excel add-in, BizNet leaves out sub-ledger analyses, which is a downgrade from XLR.  BizNet does provide real-time, Excel-based reporting, but they do not integrate to a BI data warehouse, which means that, if you have several users querying data sometimes simultaneously, your B1 server can become sluggish.  BizNet can read and write Excel reports to and from the Cloud, but it simply lacks depth of integrations, probably due to the amount of integrations they have developed.  With the breadth BizNet might be known for, you can expect that the depth of your analysis might not be worth your investment.  And SSRS has even more breadth because it can link to everything in your B1 SQL databases, but it is just as technically complex as Crystal Reports.
A free Microsoft reporting software with a SQL Server license, which is what SAP B1 runs on, you can integrate live from SAP B1 or pull your data from an OLAP cube with SSRS.  We have debated data warehouse versus OLAP cube on this blog before, but generally speaking, this software is pretty malleable, primarily because it is a globally known, commercially offered tool, and it can technically pull data from any SQL database, so you might find that versatility attractive.  But SSRS is not a true financial report writing tool, even though it can serve that purpose.  If you’re looking for something that is more powerful (and an actual upgrade to XLR and Crystal Reports) because it focuses on financial reporting for SAP B1, you’ll want to keep looking.
Solver’s BI360 officially launched in late 2009, steadily adding integrations to leading ERP systems, like SAP B1.  BI360 is a complete suite of BI tools, including reporting, budgeting, dashboards, and configurable data warehouse.  Their Excel add-in solutions can also be accessed on the Web and a mobile application, with “push” reporting.  Something that might be interesting to you: a few of the original developers of XLR work for Solver, and you’ll see the similarities in BI360, specifically regarding how user friendly, powerful, and deep the reporting can be with both real-time and data warehouse integrations.  The youngness of the product has been beneficial in that it has responded to modern business problems and helped users achieve powerful financial report writing.  BI360 seems like the modern-day follow-up to XLR in a lot of ways.
You have plenty to consider when you go about shopping for a replacement to XLR and an alternative to Crystal Reports.  If you are looking to truly upgrade your financial reporting experience, 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.
To learn more about BI360 as a powerful, business user friendly alternative to Crystal Reports, click here to watch an informational webinar detailing the suite’s modern features and functionalities for robust financial reporting.

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