Business Intelligence (BI) has become a must-have for most companies. As a tool for analyzing the mountains of data even smaller businesses produce, BI is invaluable for a complete understanding of business and customer data, and to track it, many businesses of all sizes turn to tools like SAP’s Crystal Reports.
Unfortunately, for several reasons, many businesses are using older versions of Crystal Reports. Unlike many other, more modern tools, there is a cost for upgrading from older versions, and even for those that are willing to pay, there is not a simple migration path from older versions.
In many cases, upgrading requires a hardware update and in some cases, existing legacy reports need rework — at which point, many users may find themselves exploring alternatives since even the updated versions don’t offer many of the benefits of more modern software.
As SAP has put its resources into its many other software products, even the newer versions of Crystal Reports look and feel like a legacy application; hard to navigate and operate, with a much clunkier user interface than much of the newer software on the market. And SAP, while still supporting Crystal Reports, has not made it a priority in its extensive product lineup; therefore the pace of development is slow.
For more direct access to data and the ability to access self-service features, SAP users must move to Business Objects, which is considerably more expensive and doesn’t necessarily meet the specific use cases users often turned to Crystal Reports for in the first place.
With so many obstacles in place, more and more users have told us they are seeking to replace Crystal Reports and are searching for Crystal Reports alternatives.
Because of its focus on specific use cases, though, the Crystal Reports replacement must also fit those use cases. It must be affordable, which Crystal Reports is and many competitors are not. Additionally, many users we spoke to do not want to move to a cloud-based BI platform. Most Crystal Report users have databases housed on private networks, and the third-party cloud-based storage requirements of many modern BI tools don’t work for many organizations using Crystal Reports — they want software they can install and manage on their own servers.
With all that in mind, what are some of the alternatives to Crystal Reports? Here we take a look at five, plus we have one bonus option to take a look at below.
Microsoft’s data visualization tool includes a suite of tools for working with data. The software, priced at $9.99 per month, integrates with many other types of software and offers access to both on-site and cloud-based data. However, all of the data must flow through the Azure cloud, which can be a negative for those who chose Crystal Reports for its on-premise capabilities.
An open-source BI tool, Metabase was built and is maintained by a dedicated team, but its GitHub repository means the community can help improve it as well. Metabase is quick to set up and free, so the price is certainly right. However, the free, open-source nature means fewer support options for users, and it doesn’t have all the reporting options Crystal Reports users may be used to.
Recently acquired by Salesforce, most BI users are likely familiar with Tableau, which is one of the most commonly used BI tools. A robust option with some customization options, the software is known for its ease of use, allowing users to dive right in and drill into some top-level data. However, Tableau is generally considered to be more of a visualization tool than a reporting tool, and many users have told us that to get the most out of Tableau it is necessary to not only have a power user skillset, it requires starting with a properly structured dataset. Add on its much higher price tag, and Tableau is not necessarily the right tool for many general business users.
Qlik Sense, like Tableau, is a visualization tool with reporting functionality. It allows users to slice and dice data and gain insights and is reportedly easy to learn. It is scalable and can have an on-premise deployment option. However, unlike many other BI tools, it is not a query-based tool, using an inference engine that maintains data associations automatically. Its self-service discovery and visualization can create difficulties for non-technical users.
Jaspersoft is another open-source BI tool and is known for its embedded reports capabilities. It is open-source, comes at no cost, and offers a self-service reporting environment, and its architecture-agnostic software means it can be deployed anywhere — public or private cloud or on-premise. It bills itself as being designed more for developers, rather than data analysts and end-users, so its usefulness depends on a particular business’s use case.
We believe in transparency and honesty, so we’re not trying to hide the fact that DashboardFox is a viable alternative to Crystal Reports. But we don’t want to toss our hat in the ring as a Top 5 replacement, that is for you to decide. So the bonus option we mentioned above, it’s us, DashboardFox.
Here are a few reasons we think DashboardFox is perfect for Crystal Report environments:
Affordable. Outside of some of the open-source options, we listed above, DashboardFox is a one-time cost, no annual subscription like many of the modern Crystal Report replacement options like Tableau or Power BI. Plus with our concurrent user license, you are able to serve a lot of people for an affordable price, which is important for former Crystal Report customers.
Self-Service BI. We find that many Crystal Report users are looking to get out of the business if writing crystal reports. They want something more user friendly and something their business users can use without technical assistance. DashboardFox was designed for business users and there’s no requirement to write SQL code or have direct access to databases.
Modern Features. Many Crystal Report customers are asked to move to the more expensive Crystal or Business Objects Server for features such as web-based dashboards, mobile access, report scheduling, semantic layers (called Universes in Business Objects), and more. DashboardFox includes all of that out of the box, no add-ons, no extra fees.
Best of all everything is self-hosted so that you can keep all your data in place with no changes required.
We told you we were transparent, we told you the good above, here’s the bad and why in some cases we are not a fit as a replacement of Crystal Reports.
Pixel Perfect Reports. DashboardFox doesn’t have them. Luckily, many Crystal Report customers we talk to are ready to abandon static reports, but in some cases they need them. They may be forms they need to print out, or receipts, or certificates, finance reports with a specific format and structure, there are a lot of reasons to need a static report. Out-of-the-box, there is no way to create pixel-perfect layout reports in DashboardFox.
Our solution, if you only have a few static reports, you can leverage our API to get a real-time and secure dataset in XML or JSON format and then bind that to a web template to replicate your static report. This works well if you just have a few and they don’t change often. If you have a lot, DashboardFox probably is not the right solution.
Offline Viewing Client. We find many Crystal Report customers that need to maintain the ability to install a desktop viewer to run a report file offline, or to run it from a local database via the viewer and an RPT file (this is a use case of software vendors who may have embedded crystal reports as their reporting method).
DashboardFox can’t do this. We are a client/server-based architecture, so we do require a server and then all the client access if via a web-browser. We don’t have the ability to install a desktop viewer and run an offline report.