People who have had to set invoice, order, purchase order and every other customer facing document layout to meet the company style guidelines using Dynamics GP report writer will curse when its name is used. It has limitations on image sizes, multiline text formatting, to difficulties in getting data from external data set or tables. Compared to SSRS for example, it is a general pain when trying to accurately lay out good looking designed documents with prescribed fonts and graphics and sizes or do sophisticated document generation.
SQL Server Reporting Services
I thought long ago by now native SSRS support was going to take all that away. I fully expected SSRS to replace Report Writer with full integration into GP. I honestly expected to see embedding of the SSRS designer into the GP application, as the native report writer is today. That never happened, instead another idea was announced, using word as a reporting tool.
Whilst GP does well at supporting choices when it comes to reporting, non are refined or seamlessly integrated for design and runtime (other than the native one). I applaud the recent moves to allow SSRS reports to be called from some of the standard windows with standard parameters passed, but really all I want is the report writer experience with a crystal/SSRS quality of design time experience, including the use of ad-hoc data sets, c# scripting against fields, right click property windows full of rich controls, report section layout groups, all the kinds of things you get used to in other tools.
It is not a reporting tool
Today I realised I’ve been thinking about Word incorrectly thanks to something Mariano Gomez said. It was never a reporting engine, the implementation is actually just a document generation engine. Think about it, the report design still originates in the native report writer. In fact the dataset is generated in XML by the GP report engine. It is not supposed to be a Crystal or SSRS replacement, it is a different beast, an experiment. Perhaps thinking of it in this way will make me feel better about what could have been?
It has issues
The Dynamics GP Word templates functionality is layered awkwardly over the native GP report writer, with security, configurations and settings scattered in various places. This makes setting up and administration of Word Templates daunting. I do concede that I really like some aspects of the design, like keeping report document templates in the database. However it feels unfinished. Examples are having to drop files onto the TemplateGenerator.exe to create new reports, having to extract XML from existing reports and feed them into word, having to keep the native reports and Word reports in Sync, all these feel like areas where the tooling was never finished. There is also lack of one GUI view to see a holistic view of the setup of Word Templates. Surely all that should be hidden behind a smooth easy to navigate GUI?
Am I bitter?
Why am I bothered? - I am bitter, I admit that, I dislike the native Report Writer with passion and remember Errol announcing what sounds like its retirement some time back, a retirement that has never arrived. Indeed that announcement raised a cheer from the listening audience such was the emotion around report writer. The delivery of Word Templates whilst on an operational user side of things is great and is really interesting from a developer perspective to see what they achieved with the solution, but it’s just too clunky, disjoined and slow, finicky to work with for the administrators and developers. I never like it when I feel like I’m fighting with a tool rather than the tool helping me -that is the feeling I’ve had for the last couple of days working with it again.