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
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