Business Intelligence

SQL Server Reporting Services (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)



SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is the oldest solution from the modern Microsoft BI stack. Released as add-on to SQL Server 2000, it allows covering most of an organization’s reporting requirements, either if we talk about tables, matrices or crosstab displays, raw data, aggregations, KPIs or visualizations like charts, gauges, sparklines, tree maps or sunbursts.

The Good : Once you have a SQL query based on any standard data sources (SQL Server, Oracle, SharePoint, OData, XML, etc.), it can be used in just a few minutes to create a report with the help of a wizard. Sure, adding the needed formatting, parameters, custom code, drilldown and drill-through functionality might take some effort, though in less than an hour you have a running report. The use of templates and a custom branding allows providing a common experience across the enterprise.

The whole service is available once you have a SQL Server license, fact that makes from the SSRS a cost-effective tool. The shallow learning curve and the integration with SharePoint facilitates the development and consumption of reports.

With its pixel-accurate display of data, SSRS is ideal for printing business documents. This was probably one of the reasons why SSRS become with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 also the main reporting platform for the further versions. One can use an AX 2009 class as source for the report, or directly use the base tables, which can increase reports’ performance in the detriment of reengineering the logic from AX 2009. With a few exceptions in finance area the reporting logic is easy to build.

With SQL Server 2016 it got a HTML5 rendering engine, while with SSRS 2017 it supports a responsive web design. The integration of the SSRS and PowerBI environments has the chance to further extend the value provided by this powerful combination, however it depends also in which direction Microsoft will develop this idea.

The Bad : One of the important downsides of SSRS is that it doesn’t allow custom authentication. Even if some examples exist on the Web, it’s hard to understand Microsoft’s stubbornness of not providing this by design.

Because SSRS still uses an older MS Office driver, it allows exporting only 65536 records to Excel, fact that makes data consumption more complicated. In addition, the pixel-perfect isn’t that perfect, the introduction of empty columns when exporting to Excel, adds some unnecessary burden.

In total, the progress made by SSRS between the various releases is small when compared with the changes suffered by SQL Server. Even if the visualization capabilities cover most of the requests, it loses field when compared with PowerBI and similar visualization tools.

The Ugly : SSRS, as the typical BI developer knows it, is different than the architecture frameworks provided when working with Business Central, respectively Dynamics 365 and CRM. Even if there are maybe entitled reasons, Microsoft failed to unite the three architectures into a flexible solution. Almost all the examples available on the Web target CRM, and frankly it’s hard to understand that. It feels like Microsoft wants to sabotage their own product?! What’s hard to understand is that besides SSRS and PowerBI Microsoft has several other reporting tools for Dynamics 365. Building reports for Business Central or Dynamics 365 requires certain skills, while the development time increased considerably, thus SSRS losing from the appeal it previously had, allowing other tools to join the landscape (e.g. electronic documents).

SSRS can’t be smoothly integrated with Office 365 Online, remaining mainly a solution for on-premise architectures. This can become a bottleneck when the customers move to the cloud, the BI strategy needing to be eventually rethought as well.

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IT professional/blogger with more than 24 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management