The data you collect while operating your business is as vital as the operation of the business itself.
Using a database or spreadsheet solution, you can capture information about your clients that will help you better serve their needs and, hopefully, increase your profits.
However, at some point data collection becomes useless unless you can find out what it means. Programs, such as Microsoft Access, have built-in reporting tools that allow you to create reports based on the specific data you need to know and also format the report to look exactly as you see fit.
Other solutions, like QuickBooks, have prebuilt reports that provide most of the information you need in common small business accounting scenarios. However, their customization options are limited.
If you don’t have a program with built-in reporting, one of the best third-party reporting tools on the market is called Crystal Reports. Made by SAP, it’s rock-solid reporting application. Crystal will connect its reporting capabilities to any data source, including a database, Excel file and many other file types.
Crystal Reports are completely customizable, from design to record grouping. With user-friendly “experts” — similar to what Microsoft calls wizards — you can create advanced formulas and analyze your data as you may never have been able to before.
One of the biggest advantages of a separate reporting tool is that it can’t harm your existing data. Each time you run your report, you are freshly querying the data and pulling the records into Crystal.
Any calculation or manipulation of data that you do at that point is solely in Crystal. This aspect of Crystal opens the door for how you can analyze data further because you can even retrieve records from multiple sources and pull them into one report.
Once records are in Crystal, your possibilities are endless. With advanced grouping and sorting features standard to the program, you can turn your data upside down to find the answers your business needs to know.
A feature I love in Crystal is creating a “parameter” field and using it effectively in my reports. This allows one report to become flexible by allowing the user to enter a new value for a field each time the report is run.
For example, maybe you want to run the same report but change the city that the records come from each time. A parameter report saves you a ton of time by not requiring you to redo the report each time the city value changes.
If your business needs a more robust reporting tool to connect to your existing systems, be sure to check out Crystal Reports and see if it works for you.
[This article was originally published in The Coloradoan on 10/19/12.]