Crystal Reports and dashboards

Wednesday 4 June 2014 @ 11:01 pm

My daughter always wants to try whatever the grownups are eating. When she was very young she saw my wife eating something new and blurted out:

“I want summa dat … wad is dat?”

We still laugh about that. And I often remember that when people call me about dashboards. They tell me they need a dashboard, and then they make it clear that they don’t really know what a dashboard is. Often, someone higher up has heard the buzzword or seen something flashy on a web site and decides that they want “summa dat”.

So lets start with a definition of a dashboard. According to the dashboard specialists at ExcelDashboardWidgets, a dashboard is a report that:

1) Fits on a single page or screen
2) Is graphical and easy to read
3) Shows Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
4) Shows the current status in real time*.

Of course, “real time” varies based on the need. In a manufacturing plant “real time” might mean every few minutes. In other business, it might mean once a day or even once a week. Whatever the frequency, a dashboard report should function like the dashboard in a car where you can see the speed, fuel level, temperature and a few warning indicators if something else goes wrong. A dashboard report should do the same for your business.

I am not sure everyone agrees with me on this. If you call someone at SAP and ask about dashboards they will talk about “SAP Crystal Dashboard Design” (formerly known as Xcelsius). This is for creating interactive dashboards where you can twist dials and slide levers to change inputs. They can be fun interfaces for exploring historical data or playing with future projections but most of my customers have no use for these. I think that the essential purpose of the dashboard remains simple, to show the current state of things.

I am also not convinced that you need another tool to create your dashboards. Unless you need “eye candy” you can create pretty sophisticated dashboard reports in Crystal Reports. Usually it requires a handful of subreports, each reading data for a different metric. The subreports are usually presented as charts that illustrate each metric visually. You probably already have this data in your more detailed reports. You simplify these reports to become the components in your dashboard.

Not that the process is easy. I think the biggest challenge in setting up a dashboard is defining the list of metrics. You have to avoid the temptation to squeeze in the data from every existing monthly report and focus on the key metrics.

So, if you need some help working through the process, please give me a call.

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