Monday, 29 April 2013

Maximising Every Opportunity with BI

In order to survive today's global economy, and keep up with the risks of every day business, companies of all sizes must make smarter decisions.

However, effective decision making requires accurate data.  Key business analytics can help maximise existing revenues plus taqrget areas of expansion, by revealing exactly what's driving a business and new opportunities.  More visibility and greater insight equals better decisions.

SAP Business Intelligence Solutions provides a dashboard with a single, reliable and real-time overview right across your company with the ability to track your competitors and spot market opportunities.  It delivers quick insight and reduces your dependency on IT.  You can even measure the business impact of a particular change by running what-if tests and unlock insights buried online in blogs and social networking content.  And conveniently, all this is available on mobile devices as well as desktop computers, at an affordable price.

With information you can totally turst, you have a clear competitive advantage.

Click here to see how you can get on-the-go business intelligence.  More.

Want information that you can totally trust?  Contact us on 0800 652 4050 or email us at to see how SAP Business Intelligence Solutions can help you to achieve this.

Planning for Tomorrow with Business Intelligence

If your company has seen its growth rocket through the tough economic times, that's great news.  However, rapid growth can bring its own challenges if you don't have the right infrastructure in place.

With a flurry of activities, you probably don't even have time for a coffee, let alone think about whether your software meets your business needs.  But as your company expands, accurate, up-to-date information is the key to achieving your business potential.  You'll need an IT solution to monitor and manage every part of your company and it'll need to support your growth.

SAP Business Intelligence Solutions provides fact-based, quality information to help you identify and implement business controls.  What's more, it'll meet your employees' needs for mobility.  All this insight is available on mobile devices as well as desktop computers, so you can always be in touch - even when you're out of the office.  Better still, SAP offers the ability to adapt as your business grows - whether you're handling 100 transactions, or 1 million transactions.  All at an affordable price.

Want to know more about SAP Business Intelligence Solutions?  Contact us on 0800 652 4050 or email us at

In a best run business, decisions are based on fact.  Click here for more.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Crystal Reports Saved My Life

The story of an eighteen year voyage with the number one report design tool

Today I’m travelling to Nottingham by train from the West Country. Outside there is low cloud and the rolling hills are rushing by as we approach Bristol.

Tomorrow I will be delivering a Crystal Reports course. I have been conducting these courses since 2001 and I’ve made countless journeys around the UK and occasionally into foreign lands to teach, promote and encourage the use of this exceptional reporting tool.

Crystal Reports is twenty two years old this year, and in my opinion it is still the number one report design tool in the BI space.

Back in 1995 I was working as a software trainer for a small application development company in Reading.  A few days after I started I was handed seven floppy disks and was instructed by my then manager to install Seagate Crystal Reports version 4 as we were bundling it with our own application called OrderActive. At that time Seagate had two divisions, the NSMG (Network and Storage Management Group) and the IMG (Information Management Group). OrderActive was a Windows order entry package specifically targeted for the Mail Order industry.

Having had no experience of report design, I attempted to work out what Crystal Reports actually did, without much success to start with.  But eventually I started to understand how it worked and was able to contribute by writing some of the reports that were packaged with OrderActive. These were typically customer facing documents and each time we sold a copy of OrderActive I customised the look and feel of the packaged Crystal Reports as part of our service offering.

Very soon I started to enjoy working with Crystal Reports much more than working with OrderActive. And on replying to a job advert in my local paper for a ‘Report Writing Software Traineer’ in late 1997 and accepting the job in early 1998, I started to work with one of the first Seagate IMG partners in the UK.

At first I didn’t do any training. Instead, with a colleague, I set up a report writer’s user group. This was initially aimed at anyone who used report writing applications. This is where I was able to compare Seagate Crystal Reports with R&R Report Writer, (owned by Wallsoft at the time) and one or two other competitive report writing tools in the marketplace.

As we venture beyond Bristol the landscape is scattered with church spires, livestock and undulating green countryside. Bird’s nests are prominent in the bare trees.

Very soon, it became clear that Crystal Reports was the leading report writing tool in terms of popularity and functionality. We renamed our user group to ‘The Crystal Reports and Info Exchange’.

I got the opportunity to really learn Crystal Reports by manning a support desk for three years. Now instead of customising the same set of reports, I was given all manner of challenges solving other Crystal Users’ technical questions.

In June 1999 Seagate released Crystal Reports 7 and then in the year 2000 Seagate Crystal Reports 8. It was to be Seagate’s last release, as by 2001 Crystal Decisions had acquired Crystal Reports and Crystal Reports 8.5 was introduced.

At last, in 2001, I was given my chance at training Crystal Reports. Now, twelve years on, I have been lucky enough to visit a multitude of cities, towns, (I haven’t been to Middlesborough, Hull or Blackburn yet!) and even rural communities to share my knowledge and help people to understand the world’s best report writer.

At last there are some lambs in the fields; everything is late this year, there still aren’t any leaves on the trees as the train speeds through Worcestershire with alacrity. Allotments replace countryside scenes and tower blocks replace allotments as the surroundings change. There are Canada geese and ducks on the canals as we approach Birmingham.

I have worked for DSCallards for four and a half years now. My role with Crystal Reports hasn’t changed much. People often ask me ‘don’t you get bored training the same courses over and over again’. My answer is always the same.

I never get bored because every course and every course delegate is different. People learn at diverse speeds. This makes each course feel different. I have been fortunate enough to meet hundreds, (maybe thousands, I’ve never counted), of individuals across many types of businesses and industries. I have often been required to learn their three letter acronyms and gain an insight into how their particular industry works.

I’ve been able to write Crystal Reports for many companies and see these reports being used in their day to day activities.

But the best reward has been the chance to help people get started, or enhance their existing knowledge in what I’m sure will continue to be the most widely used and established report design tool in the world.

Back to the present and back to reality. I’ve got to change at Derby in a minute!!!

Written by:  Steve Chapman, Senior Business Intelligence Consultant, DSCallards
For more information visit:

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Roll Up Roll Up ... Why Crystal Reports for Enterprise Loves the Universe

With previous versions of the Crystal Reports integration with the Business Object universe your universe query was converted into an SQL command, a purely SQL object. This approach was an arranged marriage, required to enable the houses of Business Objects and Crystal to join together and rule business intelligence as one.

Over time and under the tutelage of supreme ruler SAP, the two technologies have developed a special kind of love which has been rewarded with shiny new editions conceived and built to work together.

With the SAP BusinessObjects BI4 Information Design Tool (easy for you to say…), universes now sit firmly in the current century with multi-source, modular components and modern user interface. Crystal Reports for Enterprise also appears with the BI4 release. It has very similar functionality to Crystal Reports 2011 in most areas, but delivered within a more modern user interface, designed to be more intuitive.

A definite functional difference with CR4E vs CR2011 comes when you query a universe and the way Crystal rolls up the data.

Where Crystal traditionally returns every row of data, one of the clever things that Web Intelligence has always done is roll up / collapse the data to a short list of distinct entries. So for example, in the xtreme database (the Crystal sample db) orders table there are 2192 transactions/rows, each with one of six couriers in the ‘ship via’ column. Querying this column in Crystal 2011 either directly against the database or via a universe will return 2192 rows in the report. Querying it with CR4E via a BI4 universe will return six rows. CR4E now effectively applies a group by clause to the display data based on the universe dimension objects displayed in the report, just like Web Intelligence always has. It’s what Business Objects calls semantically dynamic.

Whilst report designers experienced with SQL may want the flexibility of controlling roll up themselves via Crystal grouping (which still exists in CR4E), the CR2011 behaviour of repeating distinct values in this way can be confusing for non-technical users. If someone selects ‘Courier’ they would naturally expect to see a list of all couriers; seeing them repeated over multiple rows is confusing.

There are also many cosmetic differences targeting CR4E at less technical users, for example:

  • Crystal beginners used to get confused between 'suppress' and 'hide' - what was 'suppress' is now 'hide'; what was 'hide' is now 'show on drill down only'.  (Sounds confusing but makes sense when you use the tool).
  • Sections also confuse beginners, 'details' is now called 'body'.
  • In CR2011, sums are inserted by default in the group footer, whilst the group name is in the group header, making the two hard to correlate.  With CR4E you are promoted with a plain English 'sum above or below data?' option.
And finally, a health warning:  Crystal Reports for Enterprise (CR4E) only supports the new .unx flavour of universe, so don't get caught out!

Written by:  Angus Menter, Business Intelligence Project Manager, DSCallards.
For more information, visit

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Great Web Resources

While this list may become obsolete quite quickly (after all the interweb does move at a fair pace!) I thought it could be useful to provide a quick synopsis of the resources I use on a day-to-day basis.

Each of these web resources I've either used directly as a central bread-and-butter part of my everyday work, or have heard great things about and need to look into further! There is also a compilation of web-gurus to which you really should subscribe - these are incredibly knowledgeable and clever people who are completely immersed in all things web. If they speak or blog about it - you should listen!

I'll break this into categories to make this list a little easier to digest: HTML, CSS, Javascript, Mobile, Testing & Sharing.


W3C The World Wide Web Consortium is an international community where member organisations, full-time staff and the public work together to develop web standards. Led by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, W3C'2 mission is to lead the web to its full potential. Compatibility tables for support of HTML5, CSS3, SVG and more in desktop and mobile browsers is a community driven site that aims to become a comprehensive and authoritative source for web developer documentation. Discover browser support for HTML5 & CSS3. Also provides recommendations for polyfills and implementation so you can decide how to put features together.

HTML Frameworks 960 Grid System is an effort to streamline web development workflow by providing commonly used dimensions, based on a width of 960 pixels. The premise is ideally suited to rapid prototyping, but works equally as well when integrated into a productions environment Modernizr is a JavaScript library that detects HTML5 and CSS3 features used in the users' browser. Taking advantage of cool new web technologies is great fun, until you have to support browsers that lag behind. Modernizr makes it easy to write conditional JavaScript and CSS to handle each situation, whether a browser supports a feature or not. Easy progressive enhancement.

CSS Founded by CSS mastermind, Chris Coyier, is geared towards web design, education and inspiration.
Twitter Bootstrap is a sleek, intuitive and powerful front-end framework for faster and easier web development. Less.css is a dynamic stylesheet language. LESS extends CSS with dynamic behaviour such as variables, mixins, operations and functions. LESS runs on both the server- or client-side. is a cross-browser CSS3 rule generator./p>


jQuery makes HTML document traversal and manipulation, event handling, animation and Ajax much simpler with a simple API that works across most browsers. At the time of writing more than 60% of the top 10k websites use jQuery. jQuery has changed the way that million of developers write JavaScript.
jQuery UI is a Curated set of user interface interactions, effects, widgets and themes built on top of the jQuery library.

Mobile Development enables you to test the display of your website in a mobile phone.
Mobile HTML5 Boilerplate. Best practise baseline for mobile apps. Helps you create rich, performant & modern mobile web apps. Kick-start your project with dozens of mobile optimizations and helpers. Open source mobile phone detections.

Sharing Gist is a simple way to share snippets of code with each other. All gists are git repositories, so they are automatically versioned, forkable and usable as a git repository.
JSFiddle is a playground for web developers and online editor for web snippets. Helps isolate bugs. Many frameworks supported.
jQuery Mobile is a touch-optimised web framework for smartphones and tablets. A unified, HTML5-based user interface system for all popular mobile device platforms. It's lightweight code is built with progressive enhancement and has a flexible, easily themeable design.

Testing provides live, web-based browser testing. Instant access to all desktop and mobile browsers. Say goodbye to multiple virtual machines and devices. is a new set of tools to help you support modern and older version of Internet Explorer. Scan for common coding problems.
Jasmine a behaviour-driven development framework for testing JavaScript code. It does not depend on any other JavaScript frameworks. It does not require a DOM. And it has a clean, obvious syntax so that you can easily write tests.

Other resources

Appliness is a digital magazine for web application developers. Created by developers, for developers. Focusses on how to use web standards to build desktop and mobile apps. is packed full of HTML5 tutorials, frameworks, development tools and inspiration, is a great place to learn HTML5.

Web Guru's

The knowledge and insight these guys & gals have is immense. Sit up, take notice and learn!
Addy Osmani Chrome dev tools guru, working to improve development productivity and satisfaction.
Paul Irish A former jQuery team member who now works with Google Chrome's Developer Relations team. Creator of Modernizr.
Alex Sexton Javscript authority, yayQuery co-host, Modernizr team member. Creator of YepNope and on the jQuery board of advisors.
Chris Coyier CSS mastermind, founder of and
Rebecca Murphey Javascript developer & speaker evangelising code organisation and best practise.
Cody Lindley Talented and experienced client-side engineer concerned with performance.
Remy Sharp Founder of Full Frontal UK Javascript conference, technical author & front-end development specialist.
John Resig Javascript ninja & creator of the jQuery library. Authority on all things JavaScript.
Elijah Manor Microsoft ASP.NET MVP specialising in JavaScript and jQuery front-end development.