One of the most common tasks in IT today is the creation of reports. More often than not, a skilled report developer is required for this, because reports are generally written in a reporting language or tool that is highly specialized, and very flexible. This constant need for reports has even prompted some consulting firms to “give the software away for free, and make money on reports”. There are many ad-hoc reporting systems available today that might eliminate the need for a skilled developer to create reports – but many of these tools are very expensive. Are they worth the investment?
The way an ad-hoc reporting tool works (or at least the way the best ones work) is that they provide a “user level” view of the database or data warehouse and allow the business user to create reports against it using drag and drop. One of the best tools (in terms of ROI at least) for this kind of work is Microsoft’s SQL Server Report Builder. This tool allows a developer to create a “Report Model”, which a business user can then user to build reports.
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The cost savings really come in three areas with this tool. Firstly, a business user or data analyst can do the work themselves, and in general those resources are cheaper than a software developer. Secondly, since the business user knows the requirements first-hand, they don’t have to spend the time translating the need and doing multiple revisions with the software developer. Finally, even if the software developer remains the person responsible for report creation, a tool such as SSRS Report Builder will lessen the amount of time it takes them to create reports, which of course creates cost savings.
There are many other ad-hoc reporting tools available – the nice thing about Report Builder is that it is free, but of course you get what you pay for. However, because of the incredible value these tools offer, there’s really no reason that you shouldn’t be investing in these now. Once your business users are trained, it can increase your organization’s ability to use data quite a bit.