Technically speaking, its metadata repository allows XL Reporter to extract information directly from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution without altering that data in any way. That keeps the underlying tables and field structures intact with no risk to business-critical master data. At the same time, XL Reporter gives users a familiar Microsoft Excel-based interface. Even the most non-technical users can easily combine data from many parts of the source database and generate reports in real time, anything from simple transaction details to advanced financial statements.
“We developed a tool that controllers and non-technical people can use to easily and quickly create custom reports,” says Jarle Roti, development manager, SAP Small Business Solutions, SAP Norway. Roti co-founded iLytix, the company that created XL Reporter and he is the tool’s original architect. SAP acquired his company in 2005 and made XL Reporter an add-on to SAP Business One. This year, after high SME demand for more comprehensive reporting functionality, XL Reporter becomes a standard component.
The tool is developed using several different programming languages and with modern, object-oriented design. It adheres to Universal Modeling Language (UML), the de facto standard in system modeling. Integration of the tool into an existing ERP solution takes just a few days.
“One of the most important aspects of the product is the metadata repository,” Roti says. “We abstract the database information to the user, so he doesn’t have to deal with technical database structures and programming objects. This is not the case with other reporting products on the market.”
The metadata repository is a user-configurable database that stores a logical and a physical model of the ERP solution. The physical model describes the ERP information in terms of tables, views and columns. The logical model defines user-oriented objects like dimensions and facts. There is no need for special modifications to XL Reporter no matter what ERP system is in place.
XL Reporter is a two-tier, client-server application. It can be deployed on many computers linked to one or more database servers. Or it can be installed on just one computer as a standalone application. Each client must have Microsoft Excel 2000 or XP and Microsoft .NET Framework installed.
Roti points out that even though it’s based on a Microsoft Excel interface, XL Reporter in SAP Business One is not part of Duet, the joint product from SAP and Microsoft. He also notes that while it comes automatically within SAP Business One starting this year, customers can also purchase it as a separate reporting tool that will work with any existing systems.
Familiar face and up-to-date data
In addition to its metadata repository, Roti says XL Reporter has two usability features that make it particularly valuable in fast-paced SME environments. First is the Microsoft Excel interface. Anyone, even a novice, can use its drag-and-drop utility to create profit and loss reports, sales reports, inventory reports and many kinds of ad-hoc reports. Users recognize the formatting options, calculations and other characteristics. That ease of use promotes rapid adoption across a company while requiring limited or no user training.
The second key usability feature is the use of live, up-to-date data. While relying on the tool’s Report Definition Wizard to create a new report, users can view and refresh data as they go along. The newest ERP data automatically populates the fields so that reports are both timely and accurate.
Roti says because of the acquisition of iLytix by SAP and because XL Reporter is becoming a standard component of SAP Business One, he has an opportunity to reach more customers with the tool. As a result of customer feedback he has decided to create a set of new report templates. The idea is to give XL Reporter users even easier starting point for report creation. For instance, there will be several types of profit and loss templates that allow users to simply insert the necessary accounts.
SMEs from across all industries are using XL Reporter. For example, Wolf Peak International, a Utah-based maker of industrial and sports eyewear, uses it for commission reports and other important reporting and budgeting tasks.
Such functionality is only possible because of the metadata repository Roti included in the tool. “The main reason SAP XL Reporter in SAP Business One stands out from other report generators is its powerful ability to combine data from many different parts of the source database,” Roti says.