Compare Business Central Report Builder Options

August 31, 2023
8 min read

In today’s fast-paced world of business, accurate and timely reporting plays a pivotal role in steering informed decisions and achieving strategic success. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central houses a suite of robust reporting tools to support your decision-making journey. The problem is, the average user often encounters challenges in using these tools effectively. And over time, these usability and performance difficulties can impede an organization’s ability to fully leverage their Business Central data and keep up with the pace of the competition.  

As integral as reporting is to navigate the complexities of business, the sheer scope of available tools within Business Central can sometimes eclipse the invaluable insights they provide. That’s why we have charted a course through Business Central’s extensive report building options and mapped a guide to help overcome these obstacles.

Built-in Reporting Options in Business Central

Business Central comes loaded to the gills with comprehensive report building tools crafted for a wide array of users, from the everyday business user to the highly experienced technical developer. Understanding these tools, their intended tasks, limitations, and the learning curve required to use them is essential to truly mastering effective report building in Business Central.  

We’re going to look at five report building tools available in out-of-the-box Business Central: Excel reporting, Account Schedules (now Financial Reporting), Analysis Mode, RDLC reporting, and Power BI reporting. Each of these Business Central report builder options comes with its own set of unique strengths and caters to a variety of reporting needs.

  • Excel is the go-to reporting ally for those familiar with Excel’s environment – which is basically everyone. Its strength lies in its simplicity and familiarity, with flexible formatting, sorting, calculating, and graphing to create basic reports with ease. The key point to emphasize here is simple. At the end of the day, this report builder is still a spreadsheet and can lead to risky inaccurate and inconsistent reporting practices depending on how the data is governed, how much manual input and management is required, and how the spreadsheets are organized and distributed.

    To continue using Excel, as many users desire, most Business Central customers have to invest in a third-party reporting solution to do it efficiently and effectively (read more about this in the blog post referenced below). For more complex or detailed reports, you’ll either need a third-party Excel-based reporting solution, or you’ll need to venture into Account Schedules and RDLC reporting. 

    Also read: Business Central Excel Reports: Understanding Real-Time vs. Near Real-Time (NRT) and Batch Processing

  • Account Schedules, now called Financial Reporting, simplifies the process of creating custom, detailed financial reports directly from your chart of accounts in Business Central. This reporting feature enables your business to establish income statements, balance sheets, cash flow analyses, and other financial reports with ease. These reports can be highly personalized with the ability to define row setups (what makes up the lines of the report) and column layouts (the specific time periods, formulas, or comparison periods you want to see in the report) to empower decision-makers with a valuable, customized view of financial insights. 

    These schedules are limited to the GL data only and are rigid with their format inside Business Central. They can be easily exported into Excel, allowing users further analysis and manipulation, but that must be done each time an Account Schedule is generated and still poses the drawbacks around governed reporting management that disparate spreadsheets introduce.

  • Analysis Mode was introduced in the 2023 Wave 1 release of Business Central to add basic PivotTable view functionality of real-time data directly inside the ERP application. You can initiate Analysis mode from any page view in Business Central, and you will only be able to access the fields from that page. Essentially, Analysis Mode equips Business Central power users with a swift solution to various inquiries without resorting to exporting data to Excel, exiting the application, or devising tailored reports for answers to simple questions.

    This feature is undeniably an impressive enhancement to the Business Central in-client experience. However, it doesn’t cater to every reporting need. It’s crucial to understand that Analysis Mode doesn’t encompass operational reporting, financial reporting, analytics, data management, or collaboration. Instead, it serves a valuable purpose as a supplementary tool in the overall data analysis process.

  • RDLC Reporting pushes your report formatting capabilities even further. As one of the more powerful report building tools in your native Business Central reporting arsenal, RDL is a report definition language capable of creating the more detailed, customized, and complex reports that most operations and businesses require. Great power, however, comes with great complexity, and RDLC demands a steep learning curve and knowledge of XML, SQL Server Reporting Services, and Visual Studio.

    To modify RDL layouts, you can use either the stand-alone Microsoft Report Builder application or Microsoft RDLC Report Designer, which is an extension of Visual Studio. To leverage the benefits of RDLC reporting, most organizations must hire an in-house, technical specialist or pay their Microsoft Dynamics VAR or delivery partner to build them. It should be noted, this technical bottleneck is required with every minor modification to the report as business visibility needs evolve.

  • Power BI is another popular out-of-the-box report builder available in Business Central with the ability to produce incredibly valuable dashboards and visuals – as long as it’s set up right and your data is optimized for Power BI. To do this with native Business Central and Microsoft Power Platform tools requires advanced technical knowledge and an understanding of data modeling, database structure, DAX language, and SQL code. Alternatively, you can more quickly and easily access the visual capabilities of Power BI by leveraging a trusted, third-party data management and modeling platform built for Business Central’s cloud environment.

    Also read: Why Your Business Central Reporting Tool Needs Power BI Integration 

The Hidden Costs of Technical Complexity

Empowering as these tools may be, many of them demand a level of technical expertise that can be difficult when you don’t have that experience on staff or readily available. Trying to use reporting tools that are outside your scope of knowledge typically results in time-consuming workarounds, error-prone copy and pasting into Excel, and costly compromises.   

In the journey through Business Central’s reporting tools, challenges can emerge, causing stress and increased costs due to data inconsistencies, technical complexity, report customization limitations, and overall performance issues. It would also be a challenge to overcome these obstacles by mastering each reporting tool or trying to manage their stipulations. Using Excel by itself requires intense and near-impossible governance, Financial Reporting expects proficiency in its setup and management, RDLC Reporting calls for programming skills and familiarity with Visual Studio, and Power BI as a stand-alone demands fluency in data modeling.

In addition, recognizing each tool’s limitations in report formatting is crucial to effectively customizing your reports. Even RDLC reporting, while robust and flexible, can feel like tackling a space mountain. Terms like ‘DataSet,’ ‘Table,’ ‘Matrix,’ ‘List,’ ‘Report Items’ might toss you around if you aren’t equipped with the right technical know-how. Customizing RDLC reports involves programming skills in Visual Studio and understanding the nuances of Report Designer. 

Much like a treacherous asteroid field, technical complexity can stealthily impact your productivity and business efficiency. Time spent in grappling with complexities is time lost in generating valuable insight from your data to drive your business forward. The need to invest time and resources in training staff or outsourcing to external experts is critical to finding value in your data – or you can consider adopting a third-party reporting solution designed to eliminate these areas of concern right away.

Simplifying the Report Building Process in Business Central

Throughout this article, we’ve explored the various reporting tools in Business Central, pinpointing their strengths and delving into the challenges faced by everyday business users. The mission is clear—it’s crucial to invest time and resources in understanding reporting obstacles and then seek help to empower users with flexible, better, and more robust reporting that’s intuitive and can be self-served. 

To help you on this reporting journey, we have developed a detailed guide on the most common reporting usability and performance challenges in Business Central. Guided by Cosmos’ principles of speed, simplicity, and empowerment, our seasoned reporting experts share ways to understand and overcome these obstacles and put you on track towards creating smart, useful reports (in the format you need) that drive impactful business decisions.

Explore Business Central’s Top 7 Reporting Challenges
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