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Extending Reporting Services with additional elements and client side script

In the age of HTML5 one of the most interesting extensions to SSRS is the ability to run client side script. Add to that several new elements that allow you to include IDs and custom CSS classes to any SSRS element , turn any textbox into any HTML Input type and turn any SSRS rectangle into an HTML Form, Iframe, scrollable region or custom HTML. At Forerunner Software we are giving you all of the features you have been wanting in SSRS. Client side script and RDL extensions open up an almost unlimited set of new scenarios significantly increasing the interactivity and ability to integrate reports into other applications. Below are just a couple of example that users have done.

  • Using client side script and input elements you can quickly turn reports into data input forms with no server side code and very little script.
  • Inline parameters in the report body with any layout using input elements and script
  • Scrollable data regions, allowing more flexible layout options
  • What-if calculations
  • Highlighting elements or rows on mouse over
  • Using CSS to style your report
  • Embed dynamic HTML5 into your report anywhere
  • Include a mini application or view with an Iframe
  • Add buttons, radio button, check boxes, dates controls, multi-line textareas and much more anywhere in your report
  • Much much more…

Combining the powerful data processing and layout capabilities of SSRS with new layout elements and client side script makes choosing to use SSRS in your applications and BI solutions easy.

Mobile Reporting with SSRS made possible without redesigning your reports

One of the key issues facing BI professionals and application developers is delivering consumable and actionable data to every device in today’s multiscreen world. Many applications are building mobile targeted or mobile friendly experiences, but when it comes to reporting, small screens are a big challenge. The biggest of these challenges is how to maintain context of the data on a 10 inch or worse on a 4 inch screen? Add to that needing to maintain interactivity so the users can drill and sort their data on these small screens. There just isn’t enough space to easily see the necessary dimensions to accurately understand the data.

One solution is to build special purpose reports for each device size and limit the amount of data based on the device. This solution works well except that it requires a lot of work to design, build and maintain because you now need to build and update at least 3 times as many reports. It also limits the usefulness of the reports because they can only show summary or limited details. So maybe you only do this for a select few reports. This also works, for a little while, but this list will continue to grow as users and managers want more information at their fingertips.

What is really needed is an automatic solution that will reformat any report and optimize it for any screen size. With this approach you only need to design, build and maintain one report and all of your users can get their actionable data on any device. At Forerunner Software we have solved this for you with our Patent Pending technology that will reformat any SSRS report and optimize it for any device size. We can do this because unlike the SSRS Report Viewer the Forerunner Mobilizer Report Viewer is a true HTML5 control that renders the report on the client. Combining the power of SSRS and HTML5 provides an ideal user experience with a fast, responsive solution on any device.

Many of you who have built special purpose reports to solve this may be skeptical. It takes a lot of work to convert a report to work on a small device, without losing any data or interactivity. Forerunner customers are amazed at how easy and powerful it is. The secret is a deep understanding of SSRS and sophisticated reformat engine that runs on the client. The benefit of doing this on the client is not only do you know the device size, it also enables the format engine to quickly reformat when the orientation changes without going back to the server, allowing the user to see more columns or more rows depending on the report.

So how does it all work you ask? Because of the power and potential complexity of SSRS reports the reformat engine is a multi-phase process.

First, all of the report elements that are not visible on the screen are moved to the left. Since SSRS elements are hierarchical they are moved from the outside in, keeping the formatting as much as possible. This means if you have a tablix or rectangle they are moved first, then only if the elements are still not visible will they also be moves left until all elements are visible.

Second, the engine restructures all tablices and hides all of the columns that are not visible in an expandable new row section under each row. In this way all of the data is available with the most important data visible by default. To determine the most important data the report designer can prioritize the columns to tell the engine in which order to hide columns. Where it get really complicated is determining what data is headers and what is data. With the combination of the report definition, and report designer hints it is possible to make any report work great on any device.

What’s even better is even though the elements and columns are moving they still maintain all of their interactivity. If a drilldown or sort column is hidden ,then each new expandable row section has the ability to drilldown or resort the data. If you are still unconvinced try it out for FREE on your own reports with the Mobilizer free trial.

Jason Carlson
Founder & Chief Forerunner

Analytics and Reporting have less overlap than you think

Throughout my career I have talked to a lot of companies looking at BI tools and vendors and asking if they should consolidate on a single solution for reporting and analytics.  They don’t necessary say it this way, usually it is “should we have a single BI tool”, but in the end the big question is analytics vs reporting.  The theory, and what many BI tool vendors will tell you, is that there would be less training, less maintenance, better insight and lower costs with one tool.  Most companies I see that go down this path either were not successful or did not see the results they were hoping for.

The reason is that the high-end analytical tools that the sophisticated data power users want and need are overkill and in most cases confusing to everyone else who just needs reports.  Even the word “report” is ambiguous, I cannot tell you how many times we debated the word “report” inside Microsoft.  For the sake of this discussion I will define a report as flexible layout of information with limited interactivity and a View as a powerful experience that enables the user to slice, dice and reform the data.

Forerunner Software

Forerunner Software

Most users simply need a report with the data presented to them in a familiar format; so that they can make a decision or take an action.  They do not have the training, time, or inclination to use more sophisticated Views.  On the other hand the sophisticated user needs powerful, intuitive tools to discover new insights.  Then validate and test them before incorporating them into practice.  This is also one of the risks with a single tool approach.  Unless you have the discipline, experience and training it can be hard to know if the insights you think you have found are real.  Making decisions based on flawed analysis can be devastating in any part of your business.

Of course one of the biggest factors is cost.  The high-end tool vendors want to sell their tools per user, and since they are so powerful they also want a premium.  They will sell them at volume discounts to make it seem like it is a great deal, just look at the power all of your users will have access to at a fraction of the cost  They will show you how easy their tools are and try to show you that anyone can use them.  I will tell you that is not the case.  I have been to many different companies and most employees have a hard enough time getting everything they need to do done without spending more time on powerful and potentially confusing data tools.  Some people will try to tell you that Excel is the solution, everyone can use Excel right?  If only that was the case, all you have to do is watch and listen to someone who gets a spreadsheet from a Excel power user and glaze over with all of the columns and formulas.

But everyone needs access to data.  I have worked with nurses, teachers, truck drivers, billers, admins, writers, you name it; they all need information from various systems to do their job well.  More and more these users are not at a desk with a computer.  The work place has expanded outside the office and is moving faster with many new and powerful devices.  If you have used Uber, been in a hospital or a classroom you know this is true.  Devices are everywhere and most of the users are used to a consumer experience.

Just as the powerful Views are not great for many users, reports and reporting tools are not great for the data power users.  Most reporting tools focus on data presentation and delivery, while analytic tools focus on data discovery and visualization.  There are fewer power users and they should have the best and most sophisticated tools to help your company compete and win.  They should not be limited by tools that try to do it all, this is where best of breed and higher cost is fully justified.  Once a new insight is verified it is usually very little work to turn this into a report.  In my experience over 90% of the effort in building a report is knowing what you want it to say and how to get the data.

So what is the right answer?  In my experience the companies who are having the most success are using both reporting and analysis tools that are optimized for each workload.  They can be from the same vendor or different vendors, but they provide each user base with the data they need and the power they can use.  The company can spend a premium on the power users because there are less of them and have a broad based reporting solution that allows everyone to get the data they need.

Jason Carlson
Founder & Chief Forerunner