Should You Use a Crystal Reports Developer?
When it comes to a small or large Crystal Reports project, many people are faced with a decision. Is it better to attempt to develop it yourself with internal resources? Or is it better to outsource the development to a firm that specializes in Crystal Reports development? As with many outsourcing decisions, it comes down to the three big variables: time, quality and cost.
How quickly does the project need to be completed? How much time and bandwidth do you realistically have available for doing project discovery, report development, testing and then implementation? What are the consequences if you fail to hit a deadline?
If you don't have enough bandwidth internally to get the reports completed in a realistic time frame, then an experienced outside Crystal Reports development partner may be a good fit. A partner can bring multiple developers to the table and immediately multiply your available resources, thereby decreasing the project lead time. When it comes to many ERP (enterprise resource planning) software upgrade or implementation projects, the Crystal Reports tend to be left to the end, when the time before go-live is in short supply.
What to keep in mind? A development company will be juggling several projects at once too. So be sure to ask about their current lead times and how realistic your deadlines are. Don't get into a situation where you don't have some time available as a contingency...because things will crop up. Also, if the project is lengthy, you will want to schedule regular telephone calls or meetings to review progress and milestones. No one likes surprises, so keeping things on track early will give you the flexibility you need and the time to react to help ensure that the primary deadline won't be missed.
Quality may seem to be an odd variable. Of course we want our reports to be accurate! What good is a report that doesn't produce accurate results? Well, quality in this case can mean several different things. It can refer to the person creating the report. How much experience with various versions of Crystal Reports do they have? Some things are much easier to develop in new versions of Crystal while knowledge of quirks in older versions of Crystal Reports can save you hours of frustration.
What about the quality of the developer's experience with databases? Sometimes understanding the relationships between the data in various tables can be the trickiest part of report development. Therefore someone who understands the way relational databases work, especially with regard to ERP systems, is a crucial aspect to the quality of the work.
The quality of the developer's scope of experience can also come into play. A developer who has experience with reports covering a wide range of departments, such as AR, AP, shipping, inventory, production, sales, QA, etc will be able to develop reports more quickly and with fewer questions than someone who is unfamiliar with the terms and business processes for a particular department. A larger team of developers may be able to "feed" off each other's experience and fill in knowledge gaps that a single developer may have.
Lastly, quality can also refer to the thoroughness of the report's logic. What happens when non-standard data is pulled or unexpected parameters are entered by end users? Are the reports developed to handle these unusual cases, rather than displaying incorrect that could mislead the user?
What to keep in mind? Ask your developer what experience they have had with your specific ERP or application. Familiarity with your application's database schema will be an extremely valuable benefit. But, you may not need to write-off a great developer who doesn't have experience with your specific application. If you have a data dictionary, a resource like that can guide an experienced Crystal Developer through the basics of how your data is stored and organized. Finally, be ready to help test your reports. You know your business better than anyone, so don't rely on the developer to validate the results of your reports.
Cost is definitely an important factor in any project where there are finite resources. And hiring an outside development company will never be the cheapest option. But, there are multiple factors that go into cost...at least more than just the number on the bottom of the invoice.
Your Time - You already have a full plate of tasks, which is why you are looking for outside development resources in the first place. You don't want to have to spend your valuable time answering basic questions. Therefore you want to find developers with experience in writing the types of reports you are looking for. You're want to find a Crystal Reports expert to save your valuable time for other areas that may provide more value to your company.
Speed - Time is money. In the case of an ERP upgrade or implementation, this is especially true. The sooner the project can be completed, the sooner the business can see significant cost savings. So while hiring a firm to develop your reports may be costly, it may be even more costly for the larger project (that are waiting on these reports) to drag on.
Implementation - The total cost of a report doesn't end once it is developed. The implementation and deployment of that report can also affect the overall cost. If you don't already have a Crystal Reports deployment system, look into applications like Logicity that enable administrators to deploy and control Crystal Reports while providing end users with the tools to run their reports efficiently and quickly.
What to keep in mind? Ask your developers how they will charge for their services. While having a firm quote might seem like the best option to you, it may not be the best option for your business relationship. Unplanned specification changes and hurdles always come up and you want to give the relationship the most flexibility while also protecting the interests of both parties. Ideally try to arrange a situation where the developers provide an up-front estimate and then decide how you will handle any overages. Again, having regular project management meetings will keep both sides updated on projects and eliminate any bad surprises.
As you know, you can usually only have 2 out of 3 of these variables...but not all three at once. You can have speed and quality, but it will cost you. You can save money and get it done quickly, but with questionable quality. And you can save money and have excellent quality, but don't expect a quick turn around. So weigh these three important factors in mind when deciding whether to hire an outside Crystal Reports developer.