With the ever-growing need for Law Firms to have a Business Intelligence solution in place to run their practice effectively, manual reporting tools, like Crystal Reports, are no longer are sufficient. They are outdated, non tailored to legal data and will only provide some relief. Using these manual reports can cost law firms and their attorneys in the long run. In addition, there are a myriad of issues and challenges that result when firms solely utilize manual reporting tools. Attorneys need a true BI self-servicing application in order to best run their practices.
SAP Crystal Reports (CR) are a primary example of a manual reporting application that law firms use to attempt to meet their Business Intelligence needs. Others include Microsoft Excel, SAP Business Objects and SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services). Each one of these present their own shortcomings for law firm’s needs. For now, we will focus on where Crystal Reports fall short.
What Are Crystal Reports?
Crystal Reports (CR) is a business intelligence (BI) application designed for small to medium-sized businesses. Sold by SAP SE, it is the de facto standard in reporting. Part of its wide-spread appeal is based on its graphical interface, wide support of various data input and output, and easy accessibility.
With CR, you can create powerful, richly formatted, dynamic reports from virtually any data source, delivered in dozens of formats, in up to 24 languages. A robust production reporting tool, CR turns almost any data source into interactive, actionable information that can be accessed offline or online, from applications, portals and mobile devices.
Once database connectivity is established, designing the reports is fairly straightforward. In the report, you have a header, detail and footer section. You drag the fields displayed in the database into the appropriate sections of the report. With CR, you can also add text objects (i.e. your own text), groups, subtotals and totals. You can also create formulas to perform calculations, much like you do in Microsoft Excel. There are more advanced features for experienced users, including creating and embedding sub-reports into main reports, linking fields and more.
Once you have setup your reporting parameters, you run CR against your data source and the results are displayed as a report on the screen. Reports can easily be converted to HTML and published directly to the Web, shared or printed.
In a nutshell, this is basically how Crystal Reports works in its simplest terms. Too good to be true? Maybe.
Why Doesn’t CR Meet BI Reports Needs for Law Firms?
Crystal Reports can be a great choice for many industries, but for a profession known to be deliberate when it comes to purchasing and adopting new technology, there are some factors you should consider when determining if CR is the best solution for you and your legal firm.
Must Upgrade for Certain Functions
Although many legal firms are initially attracted to CR because of the relatively affordable price tag, many of the features lawyers want (such as instant mobile access, dashboards or scheduled notifications), aren’t part of the basic package. You would need to upgrade to Crystal Reports Server creating an often prohibitive upfront investment than originally believed. For smaller firms, this cost could outweigh the potential savings or benefits you hoped to realize by leveraging a BI tool.
A typical employee in a law firm usually will not have the required skill set necessary to use many of the features available in CR. In fact, according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, SAP consistently receives poor marks for ease of use.
Some of the cons associated with CR are that you must have some previous knowledge of query operator to get the report setup correctly. Formatting options are also a bit limited and if you make a small change in the report, it could easily throw off your formatting and you will need to touch all those pieces again.
One of the most common reasons BI fails in law firms is due to selecting the wrong BI knowledge platform, as explained in our blog: Why BI Fails in Law Firms. Hiring an experienced CR developer to handle all reporting/updating features will drive the yearly maintenance cost up dramatically, and is another deterrent for smaller law firms. Also see our recent blog about other law firm profit killers.
Bad Customer Support
Before purchasing any pricey piece of software, do your research. According to the website Yurbi, “A quick Google search reveals SAP has their work cut out for them when it comes to customer service. In 2013, SAP extended its customer service initiative, which aims to improve its reputation for poor, time-consuming customer service." Another recent Gartner’s report says that "...while SAP’s customer service ratings have improved slightly, they have a long way to go.”
If IT professionals find SAP customer service lacking, imagine how the legal staff in a law firm, who will certainly need a much higher level of support, will cope.
What Specific Aspects Are They Lacking That Are Important to Law Firms?
The first BI used by lawyers generally focused on billing, time management, marketing and customer relations functions, which was much in line with how most industries were using it. Today, lawyers want much more from their BI. They want to use this technology for research and case preparation which is the core of their job.
The challenge for BI solution providers such as CR is that they have designed their reporting for all industries, not specifically for the law industry. In fact, if you look at the SAP Crystal Reports website, they write that, “With over 40 years of experience across 25 industries, SAP offers proven solutions for all your industry-specific needs and goals – so your business can run better, faster, and more profitably, now and in the future.”
Unfortunately, the law profession is not listed as one of the 25 industries. A BI provider familiar with the legal industry can provide exclusive features particular to the legal profession. In addition, the right BI solution provider will act as teacher and long-term strategic partner to demonstrate how attorneys can turn BI into knowledge with: case management, time management, and reporting in order to maximize the effectiveness of their data.
Like other major BI intelligence vendors, CR typically buys technology instead of innovating it. That means that there is not one, easy-to-use dashboard. Instead, a number of interfaces must be used to leverage BI, including a report designer and a dashboard designer. The staff at law firms want one platform that is capable of integrating financial and operational data, including time recording, practice management, case management and workflow, CRM and marketing, HR, Risk management, documentation management, etc.
Manual reporting applications like Crystal Reports can provide you with a lot of advanced formatting and presentation features that allow a skilled developer the power to create professional, highly formatted and complex query reports. If you can afford to hire a CR developer, then Crystal Reports may be an option.
Even still, you will not have access to the same features that a BI solution created solely for the law profession will be able to provide. Additionally, if ease of use and customer support are at the top of your list, CR may disappoint you.
If you want to learn what the keys are to using BI successfully for your law firm, download our free viewpoint document!
BigSquare is the leading provider of Business Intelligence for law firms and professional service organizations. We focus exclusively on law firm reporting, law firm BI, law firm profitability and law firm analytics.