BI on a Budget

Codestone explain how buying a single copy of Crystal Reports 2020 compares to using the free version of Microsoft Power BI Desktop that comes with your Office 365 subscription.

For a one-off payment of a couple of hundred pounds you can own a lifetime copy of SAP Crystal Reports 2020, or as part of a standard Microsoft Office 365 subscription you get access to the desktop version of Microsoft Power BI. Both tools allow you to connect to loads of different types of databases that could be your CRM, ordering or production systems. Use them to report on complaints, sales or costs – they’ll both enable insight into your company’s information.

But what are their strengths and weaknesses and how much power and flexibility do you get for your small investment?

SAP Crystal Reports 2020 is the latest in a long line of Crystal tools and represents a bullet-proof reporting experience that has satisfied users’ needs for decades. It allows you to produce paginated reports, data dumps, interactive drill-downs, grouped lists and more. You can use it to produce pick-lists, delivery notes, account statements or personalised letters.

Microsoft Power BI is a modern tool that focuses on interactive visualisations with in-report filters, drill-down, drill-through and hyperlinking. It’s an evolving developer tool that has been widely adopted quickly and effectively. It comes with a very powerful data manipulation tool in Power Query built into its backend.

Distributing reports is where the smaller budget creates some problems for users. In their desktop forms there are limited options for publishing and sharing the reports. SAP Crystal Reports can be exported as PDF, CSV, XLSX and other formats or even sent direct to printers. Microsoft Power BI reports can be exported to other Microsoft formats such as PowerPoint as well as PDF. Both tools lose any interactivity by exporting them to these formats.

In its free version Microsoft Power BI reports can be published to your personal workspace (similar to a personal Teams channel or intranet site only you can see) where interaction will work fully. SAP Crystal Reports 2020 can be viewed interactively in a read-only format, in a report viewer that could be obtained from one of several suppliers (including SAP).

So both tools are cheap but in this form lack some of the key features of Enterprise level reporting tools – the ability to automate processes, secure data and share insight with colleagues easily. To access these you’ll need to upgrade to SAP Crystal Server or a Microsoft Power BI Pro licence.

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