Desktop Based Scheduling Engines

Saturday 13 March 2010 @ 11:10 pm

(This article was written in 2010 but there is also an updated version of this article.)

How would you like your reports to be automatically run, exported to a PDF and delivered to your Email InBox every Monday morning at 6am?  The Crystal Reports designer doesn’t provide a way to do this (unless you upgrade to CR Server or BO Enterprise).  But if you look at third party products like those on my LINKS page you will find several reasonably priced (or even free) tools that are designed to help you do this.  Some do even more.

So this post will compare desktop scheduling tools, providing you with their core features and prices so that you can narrow down your search.  I am working on another post covering server based scheduling tools that I hope to have ready in a few weeks.  If you think one person can manage all the scheduling you are probably fine with one of the desktop tools – regardless of the number of recipients.  If you plan to have multiple people scheduling reports then you will want to look at the server based tools.

Below is a brief introduction to each product and what sets that product apart. I have also created a detailed feature matrix (PDF) that shows some of the specifics for comparison, including prices and the install base of each product.  Each section is linked to the vendor’s website so you can get more information if needed.

To avoid repetition, when I say a tool covers “all the basics” I mean that it:
1) Automatically runs a report at a scheduled time.
2) Delivers the report to a printer, exports to a file and/or Emails the report to a user.
3) Includes it’s own internal scheduling engine(some use Windows Task Scheduler or other schedulers).
4) Exports to all of the standard file formats.
5) Allows you to name the files with a date time stamp.
6) Allows you to generate an Email message that incorporates dynamic data.
7) Allows you to launch scheduled tasks from a command line (like a batch file).
8) Remembers chosen parameter values for reuse.
9) Allows you to specify different data connections within the Schedule.
10) Stores the connection information for a report with an encrypted password.

Some tools add an additional feature called “Bursting” which can be very valuable.  Bursting is when you take a single grouped report and automatically turn it into multiple exported files, one file for each group.  These individual exported files can then be Emailed to the specific Email address for that group or saved in specific folders.  Note that the tools that do bursting do it in different ways. If you are going to use bursting you should make sure you know how the tool does it.  Some tools require you to do a few steps.  Others burst your report by refreshing it repeatedly and filtering the data to each group, which means more server activity. The best version of bursting lets you do this in one step and in one pass through the database.

One note on versions compatibility.  My matrix shows the versions that are FULLY supported by each tool.  So if it says through v12 (CR 2008) that means that this scheduler uses the CR v12 engine which can display the very newest features.  But even the tools that only fully support v11 can still run v12 reports. If you aren’t using any of the newest v12 features the report will be the same in all of these tools. If you are using any of the new v12 features the report will still run fine, but the new features will not be displayed in the report.  If you rely on the new features (calculated cross-tab columns, optional parameters, etc) you should use a tool that fully supports v12.

In most cases I have not used the tools and rely on the vendor for information.  So if you plan to purchase one of these tools, especially the ones at the high end, you will want to confirm with the vendor that they will do what you want in a way that works for you.  Another reason to contact the vendor before making a purchase is to gauge their responsiveness.  I have received complaints about the lack of responsiveness from some vendors and you want to check that before you purchase.

I have also not tried to evaluate ease of use because that can be very subjective. I recommend that you use this review to narrow your search to 2 or 3 tools.  Then talk to the vendors, and then use the free trial (they all have one) before making a decision.  If you have already tried one of these products, or are currently using one,  I would love to ask you a few questions – on or off the record.

Crystal Delivery by Groff Automation:
In 2003 Kevin Groff needed to automate his reports and decided to try his hand at programming. The result has morphed over the years into Crystal Delivery.  Kevin has generously released this tool as freeware, and accepts donations to help cover the costs of hosting the files.  He has recently found some new developers to work on the project and so you might see some new features added.

It covers all the basics except for providing command line options.  It’s scheduling engine includes exclusions for Business days and holidays and also includes relative date calculations. But remember that this is a volunteer project so don’t expect a team of support technicians waiting to help you if something goes wrong.  If you need support there is an internet forum where Kevin and some users share ideas and suggest solutions.

Logicity Pro by Saber Logic:
This is a combined viewer/scheduler developed by a professional consulting group.  It is also available for free (without support) as Logicity, while the paid version, Logicity Pro, includes some added features and support.  Both cover all the basics except the ability to incorporated dynamic data into the Email body message and the ability to specify the data connection in the schedule. They add a few other features like running multiple reports in one schedule, sending reports to multiple destinations and encrypting the exported files. And because Logicity is also a viewer, the user can run reports on demand and interact with them in preview mode without having CR installed.

Logicity also has a workaround that can accomplish a burst. But since it takes multiple manual steps so I don’t show it as a bursting tool in the matrix.

Logicity Pro costs $45

EasyView by Easy Street Software:
Easyview is another combination of viewer and scheduler that has the lowest price above free ($39).  It covers all the basics and adds a few unique features like delivery to cell phone (SMS) and some foreign language editions.  And it is also a viewer as well as a scheduler.  It can deliver to multiple destinations and can even put the file in one destination while sending an  Email notification to another.

Report Scheduler Pro 9.0 by Crystal Desk:
This scheduler covers all the basics.  It also allows you to schedule multiple reports as a batch. The scheduling engine adds an option for 4-4-5 period scheduling (for folks that use 445 accounting periods).  It can do File Transfer via RAS to a remote PC and also delayed delivery, where you run the report now, but deliver it later.

Report Scheduler Pro is $259

cViewMANAGER by Chelsea Technologies:
Chelsea Technologies is based in Auckland, New Zealand and this is the only product I have listed that is based outside the USA.  Their scheduler covers all the basics except for the option for launching from the command line.  They do report bursting by rerunning the report repeatedly with changing criteria. Their scheduler includes business day scheduling with Holiday exclusions, and 4-4-5 period scheduling  (for folks that use 445 accounting periods).  cViewMANAGER is $599.

Visual Cut by Millet Software:
This is the “Swiss army knife” of the schedulers with more special features than can be listed in this short article.  It covers all the basics with the exception of not having its own scheduler engine.  Instead, Visual Cut generates commands that can be run by any scheduling engine including the Windows Task Scheduler.  It adds a sophisticated single-pass bursting engine and the ability to dynamically embed field/formula values from the report inside any processing choice such as export file folder and name, Email body or Email headers (subject, from, too, cc, etc). The burst can also be run on demand and even from saved data where the entire burst never touches the database.

Visual Cut’s PDF functionality includes generating bookmarks, table of contents, index, splitting and merging documents and several other specialized features.  It’s Excel functionality includes exporting to multiple tabs, appending or replacing data in an existing spreadsheet.  It can also do ODBC exports that can append to or replace data in an existing table.   It can generate exception reports, Email alerts, and the list goes on. For the complete list you would need to check out their features list.  Visual Cut is $300.

Report Runner Batch by Jeff-Net:
This is the most expensive tool in this list ($1,650) and will also appear in my next review of the larger server-based schedulers.  You can get a much less expensive version of Report Runner Batch but these come with restrictions on the number of jobs (reports) that you can schedule.  Another unusual feature is that it is priced more as a service than a product, with an annual fee required to continue using the product.  The reason for the pricing model is that they have a strong focus on support, with a team available 24/7/365 for critical support: Critical tickets send pages out to two people on call every night 24×365.  They also provide support by phone, email, and online chat.  That is something to consider if scheduling is a critical business process for you. It should be noted that included in the annual fee are all product updates and upgrades.

Report Runner Batch covers all the basics and adds an extensive list of delivery destinations including to Fax, Twitter and SMS (cell phone text).  It does bursting using a multi-run approach and includes bursting to a newsletter. You can do event based scheduling (run a job when a data condition is true) and it even allows you to schedule non-report tasks.  The scheduling engine includes Business Day schedules, Holiday exclusions and 4-4-5 scheduling.

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