With the explosion of databases and ERP/CRM/SCM functionality in the eighties and nineties, organizations have been increasingly been creating and storing data about their business. One of the major complaints about these implementations is that although a substantial effort was made to capture the data, in a lot of cases, the reporting and analysis of this data was often overlooked.
When speaking with the majority of companies out there, most of them understand what a Crystal Report is and have heard of Crystal Enterprise, but are not sure exactly what it does.
Crystal Enterprise provides a prefabricated, extensible infrastructure for creating, managing, and distributing information to a wide variety of information consumers.
The reason Crystal Enterprise is referred to as a prefabricated infrastructure, rather than an application, is that Crystal Enterprise is extensible. This means Crystal Enterprise provides a number of application programming interfaces, or APIs, that enable users to change the functionality of Crystal Enterprise. The look and feel of one Crystal Enterprise system might be totally different to the look and feel of another; it depends upon the user requirements and how the Crystal Enterprise infrastructure was modified to suit them.
The content creation tools come to you in the form of Crystal Reports and Crystal Analysis. Crystal Enterprise also enables you to create content, either via its APIs or using some of the Business Objects prebuilt applications such as the Ad-Hoc Application.
Crystal Enterprise provides a central place to store and manage content. This can apply not only to Business Objects native file format such as Crystal Reports (.rpt) or Crystal Analysis (.cap), but now also applies to third-party file formats such as Microsoft Excel (.xls) or Adobe (.pdf).
Chapter 23, "Using Crystal Enterprise with Web Desktop," includes a full listing of files that can be hosted by Crystal Enterprise and how to publish them.
Related to this is Crystal Enterprise's capability to manage not only the hosted files, but also an interface and API to manage the infrastructure itself. The Crystal Management Console, or CMC, enables you to start and shut down Crystal Enterprise components or apply security to prevent a user from running reports.
For more information on the Crystal Management Console, p. 598
How Crystal Enterprise distributes the information depends on the requirement. Crystal Enterprise provides a wide variety of viewers from zero client Web-based Dynamic HTML (DHTML) viewers to thick-client viewers installed on the client desktop. The distribution of information is not limited to reports but can be anything from XML files to Excel spreadsheets. Furthermore, the device on which the information is distributed is not limited to the PC. It can be a cell phone, printer, or PDA. In some cases, the information from Crystal Enterprise might not be viewed by a human at all, but uploaded into another computer system.
The last statement brings up the topic of what is an information consumer. For the most part, an information consumer is a human who is reading (consuming) the information. However, the information consumer could be another computer system that requests that a file be transferred to it, or it could request the information via a Web service. For example, a nightly scheduled job could transfer a file to another system and this file is then uploaded (consumed) by that system.
The key word in all of the above is information. The value that Crystal Enterprise and its content creation tools, Crystal Analysis and Crystal Reports, bring is the tools they provide to transform data into information. This transformation enables users to ask questions about how much inventory they have or what were their share trades for the day. This easy and efficient transformation of data to information is the real value of Crystal Enterprise.