In the previous article, we looked at a checklist for evaluating the developer features for .NET reporting components and tools. In this article, we will cover web-base, rich, ad ad hoc reporting capabilities that your chosen solution must also fulfill to be considered useful in the context of new self-service BI demands from your customers. Example of a Web-Based Ad Hoc Report Designer (Ref: ActiveReports Server).
As noted in the previous section, while most .NET reporting tools have historically included a stand-alone "end-user report designer," it is hard to make it usable for non-technical business users who have no idea about the underlying technical details. The right thing to do is to deploy ad hoc reporting capabilities, typically Web-based, that are designed for business users from the ground up. The ad hoc reporting tools should use business-friendly logical data models to abstract the physical data. In addition, an intuitive, drag and drop report interface will make the entire user experience as easy as using a Microsoft Office™ application. Check if the chosen vendor has true ad hoc reporting technology that can be embedded in applications.
Historically, when it came to the heavy lifting at the back end to securely store, share, and administer reports on a server, developers were out of luck for an out-of-the-box solution and had to build it all themselves at considerable cost while incurring significant risks. Not anymore! Today, choose from competitively priced, royalty-free reporting servers that act as integrated, secure, and scalable report repositories. These reporting servers are easy to deploy and integrate with Web applications via ASP.NET components and web services. As a bonus, developers are no longer dependent on prohibitive server licensing schemes from platform and database vendors.
Databases are built and maintained by and for technical users. This poses a problem when a business user wants to access the data in an ad hoc manner for business reporting. For example, the database administrator may know how to relate two tables via a third table in the database, while the business user may not. This cognitive gulf between database design and business reporting is the motivation for the creation and adoption of the Logical Data Models technology in leading ad hoc reporting solutions. The Logical Data Models act as lenses to view and extract physical data in a user-friendly way that anyone can understand. Be sure to check if the selected ad hoc reporting vendor actually uses a logical data modeling technology. If not, they may just be a regular reporting tool calling themselves by a different name to appeal to a new audience.
The number of users who are utilizing mobile devices to access line-of-business applications over the Web is rapidly increasing. Developers must ensure that your users can view and share reports on mobile devices just like they do on the desktop. Choose a reporting solution that has mobile BI capabilities today and will continue to enhance it in the future. That way, developers will not be left high and dry when users request access to reports and business intelligence from their phones and tablets.
Another common business requirement from business users is the ability to schedule their own reports for delivery at given intervals. Users should be able to easily schedule and deliver their reports to multiple stakeholders, setting them to run once or at intervals of minutes, hours, days or weeks. They should be able to add new schedules, edit existing ones or delete them - all from within their Web browser. Choose a reporting solution that allows business users to accomplish this.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications are fast becoming a norm. If developing a web application that will be deployed within a multi-tenant, hosted environment, the selected reporting server must have a way of extending its default security model to recognize different tenants (accounts) and allow selective data access at run time. It requires an extensible architecture and a programming framework that will make it easy to integrate with the application.
For a web-based reporting system, it's only appropriate that the tool allows 100% Web-based administration and deployment to minimize management overheads. Check for a role-based security architecture that will simplify configuring access control for business users. The IT administrator should be able to configure any reports, data connections and permissions as appropriate before handing over control to business users.