Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Expanding on the built-in reporting capabilities in Labtech, ConnectWise, and ShoreTel

The Problem: Reporting as an afterthought

We've all used software that boasts reporting capabilities, but how often do we actually take full advantage of this functionality? Personally, I only look at reporting when I actually need the report. My own time management issues aside, when I finally find the time to jump into reporting, I am usually extremely underwhelmed by the canned reports that are available to me. They are often static, have fields that I do not want, and cannot be exported automatically, on a schedule to a central repository. In an environment such as mine, I want to set up a report once and never touch it again. I want the reports to run on a schedule and I want the results to be automatically published and available via a version history.

I've finally come to the conclusion that many others have settled upon. Sharepoint with SQL Reporting Services is the ideal reporting solution for reporting across various . Software vendors can now officially stop adding reporting "features" into their enterprise software. Just give us access to your SQL or MySQL database, a schema description, and call it a day.

Thought shift: Reporting as an API

Unfortunately, in the MSP world, most built-in reporting "features" either misses the mark completely or is only slightly effective in delivering an overall business intelligence.  It would be great if software manufacturers started to think about reporting as an API function instead of trying to bundle it in as part of their software. This is where business leaders in the software development field need to stand up to their project managers. Resist the urge! Do not bundle crappy, limited reporting into your software. Instead, spend your time documenting your database structure. Release this via a developer network and then let others develop easily against your software.

ConnectWise has done this already and are quick to offer reporting services to their customers for a fee. Good for them I say. My question is, why not remove the built in reporting completely. It may serve some people for one off reports, but for anyone who is serious about business intelligence, they will have to look elsewhere. Strangely enough, ConnectWise uses SSRS but misses the mark when it comes to educating partners on how to actually use these powerful features.

Labtech Software has attempted to revamp the reporting in its software package as well, but again, misses the mark as reports are stored inside the software itself and not easily exported. They are often clunky to navigate. Labtech is moving to a more robust web control center so perhaps they will have "reporting" built in to that. One thing is for sure, Labtech being on MySQL and ConnectWise on Microsoft SQL has limited how much the company is able to offer in terms of reporting.

The Solution: Bridging the gap with Sharepoint and SQL Server Reporting Services

Sharepoint with SQL Server Reporting services allows for us to bridge the gap between Labtech and ConnectWise. We can run reports against both MySQL and MSSQL with the same system. All reports can be run on a schedule automatically and dumped into locations on Sharepoint that are immediately accessible to all members of an organization, not just those with access and knowledge to a specific system.

Although the setup time and effort needed to write the SQL queries is much larger than the built in reports, we can actually start to learn about the inner workings of our organization. The metrics are usable, relevant, and you set them up once and walk away.

Using the same system I've been able to write reports against our Shoretel call logs as well. This gives us an idea of call volumes over time and on how our employees are doing on answering calls.

I try to go into a bit more detail later on how exactly this can be implemented.