Crystal Reports – It Ain’t Cool

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing Crystal Reports since 1996 – that’s almost 25 years! I remember reading Microserfs by Douglas Coupland around 1995 when I lived in Whistler. I applied to work at Microsoft, but at the time had no specialized computing skills. I was so enamoured by the idea of working for a software company.  Turned out Seagate Software was the hot thing in Vancouver at the time, so after going back to school for that specialized knowledge, I got hired there.  Never thought I’d be hitching my career to that star for such a long time.

I recently met someone who works in “cloud computing”. He said “Crystal Reports.  Hmmm. Isn’t that waning?”

I chuckled. I supposed it is when you compare it to things like big data and predictive analytics and data science (or data scientology, from a recently appreciated tweet).  Hadoop is about the first real advance in data processing and database technology that I’ve heard of in my 16 year career.  I saw an intro to Tableau the other night. That was impressive.  In general dashboards are fine, but over-done, and rarely done well. Everyone wants a dashboard, but they aren’t willing to do the requisite thinking about which business objectives to measure and how best to visualize them.

The truth is that medium sized and smaller companies still need really well-designed reports and dashboards. (Bigger ones do too, but they pretend they have it all handled.)  It’s still true that when new systems are implemented, reporting is the last thing that gets tackled when it should be the first. Afterall, what is the point of having a big, bad system when you can’t get the right info out in a format that is actionable and into the hands of the person who needs to make decisions or take those actions?

So maybe Crystal Reports isn’t cool or hip any more. I think it’s stuck in some meta-land because it’s really powerful, but difficult to master. Kind of like Excel, and kind of like the human brain: we only use 10% of  their capabilities.  Probably less.

For the last 18 months I worked on custom report design at Skire until they were bought by Oracle last month. Because of the way the system is designed, I had to design the underlying dataview for every report. But that took all the fun out of it. I LIKE to bend Crystal Reports to my will. It’s what makes it challenging and worthy of my time. (And it makes me worthy of my rate.) Often the bending was required to work around badly designed data structure, but no matter. It’s fun. So, for now, I shall continue.

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