Monday, 17 November 2008

Report Builder 2.0 for SQL 2008 - No need for a report model

I've always considered the Report Builder tool that ships with SQL Reporting Services to be a good tool for generating reports without SQL knowledge, and in the context of CRM it's much more powerful than the CRM 4.0 Report Wizard.

One drawback of the Report Builder for SQL 2005 was that it needed a Report Model to abstract the underlying data, and Report Models are not dynamic (see below for why this was a pain). One major advantage of SQL 2008 is that it ships with a new version of Report Builder, Report Builder 2.0, that allows direct connections to the SQL database. This will make it a lot more useful in CRM deployments, especially when your schema changes. A good overview of the use of Report Builder 2.0 can be found here.

Why Report Models are a pain with CRM
Earlier, I said 'Report Models are not dynamic' Put another way, if you built your Report Model on your CRM database, then added a new attribute to an entity, you would have to regenerate your Report Model. In itself this wouldn't be too bad, but when you generate a Report Model from a filtered view you end up with a lot of unnecessary attributes, and a fair bit of work to do to provide a sensible set of attributes in the Report Model. To get round this we wrote a set of tools to manipulate the Report Model files directly and automate a lot of the rebuilding. This saved a lot of time, but still required a deployment process to allow reports against new attributes or entities.