Respected Author and Expert on Information Delivery, Business
Intelligence, and Enterprise Reporting Products
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.,
has an exclusive interview with Neil Fitzgerald.
Neil Fitzgerald has more than nine years
experience working with information delivery, business intelligence, and
enterprise reporting products. He has combined this experience with his
Bachelor of Computer Science degree from Queen’s University of Kingston, Canada, and his MBA
from the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, to help provide information solutions to Fortune 500 companies
across North America. Neil is currently based in New
York City and helps Large and Small clients
alike to understand the potential of Business Intelligence through the Crystal suite of
His latest book credit, “Special Edition
using Crystal Reports 10” – is a guide to using the Business Objects’ Crystal suite of
products (Crystal Reports, Crystal Enterprise and Crystal Analysis) and
includes content creation, collection, and analysis of information and
distribution through currently available means. His previous publications and
contributions have included “Teach Yourself Crystal Reports in 24 hours” and
“Special Edition, Using Crystal Enterprise 8.5”.
thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us.
A: My pleasure.
Q: Give us a life history, what triggered your interest in computers, and
describe your career and the decisions made to reach your current position.
have been involved with computers in some shape or form since my Father
purchased a Personal Computer back in the mid to late 80s. I was remember being
impressed at that time with the breadth and power of applications available
including Lotus 1-2-3, dbase III, DOS and of course Flight Simulator and other
games. From that nascent interest and leading up to my selection of computer science
as my undergraduate focus at Queen’s university, I developed the idea that the
computer industry was one in which I might be able to make an interesting
living. Since graduation and with a 2 year hiatus for my MBA, I have been
working with information in some shape or form ever since.
Q: You have been working in the area of
information delivery and business intelligence for over eight years, please
share your three most surprising experiences.
A: 1)) Speed of BI product evolution – In the
6+ years I have worked with Business Objects (previously Crystal Decisions) and
through almost 4 versions of the product suite, it is impressive to me how fast
the product development teams both at Business Objects and in greater market
react to their client’s evolving requirements. Recent developments in
enterprise scalability and performance management functionality provide
testimony to these ongoing developments.
2) Client’s use of custom Business
Intelligence systems for competitive advantage – Despite the rapid evolution of
the products just mentioned, I have also recognized that many large firms look
to use the “off the shelf” BI products as leaping point for building their own
custom BI solutions. There are a few top notch value-add consulting firms (some
referenced at usingcrystal.com) that make their revenue by integrating open BI
software like Crystal Enterprise into other enterprise software like
Application Servers, custom security systems, personalization engines, auditing
mechanisms and/or archiving utilities.
3) Diversity of BI tools; Lack of Standards
– Although there is definitely an ongoing consolidation in the business
intelligence marketplace (See recent merger of #2 and #3 players, Crystal
Decisions and Business Objects – and also of Hyperion and Brio), most large
clients still have not moved to a complete enterprise standard. This bodes well
for consultants who make their play on the right tools and products and can
offer value-add migration services.
Q: Can you share a humorous story with us?
1) Having worked with sales teams as part of my pre-sales consulting role in the
last few years, I have definitely come across some interesting characters and
situations. A couple of the most notable situations involve different Sales
Managers at different times. The first used to regularly nod off during client
meetings and the second actually used to make personnel recommendations to our
clients as an attempt to further his negotiations. Needless to say, neither of
these characters stayed very long with our company but it goes to show that
working in sales definitely provides regular comic relief and/or disbelief.
Q: Can you give us four real-world case
studies, where the Crystal suite of products has provided effective solutions?
A: Case1: Several world-leading Financial Services’ Firms
handle their massive nightly batch reporting requirements (e.g. 100,000 nightly
reports) using Crystal Reports and Crystal Enterprise and distribute those in
Crystal Reports, Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Excel formats.
Case 2: Other Financial Services firms use the Crystal
Reports and Crystal Enterprise .NET and
Java SDKs to provide portfolio analysis and reporting to tens of thousands of individual
and institutional investors through custom built portals and applications with
custom developed interfaces and value-add features.
Case 3: Thousands of Application Developers embed Crystal Reports functionality
in their custom homegrown applications and distribute access to them to their
clients. As their applications become increasingly successful, they upgrade the
reporting engine back-end from the Crystal Report’s components to the Crystal
Enterprise servers and provide additional functionality as appropriate – user
scheduling, user personalization, ad hoc reporting, row and column level
security, auditing and archiving.
Case 4: Small Business Owners use Crystal Reports as a Data Query and Analysis
tools against their sales, orders, customer and financial databases to help
them run their business effectively.
Q: Provide an overview of your latest book,
“Special Edition, Using Crystal Reports 10”. What makes this book so valuable
and why would you recommend it as a necessary addition to one’s reference
A: Special Edition Using
Crystal Reports is a reference guide
designed to provide hands-on experience with the latest release of the product
suite. The latest version of the Crystal Reporting Suite, delivers vast
enhancements that drive upgrades from licensees who'll seek a reference to help
them migrate. The book provides unique and valuable real-world perspectives on
implementations and practical usage tips on the Crystal Reports product and
extended Crystal and Business Objects product families (Crystal Enterprise and
Crystal Analysis) and supporting SDKs (Java and .NET/COM).
The book includes content, tutorials and samples for
reporting within the Microsoft Visual Studio.NET environment, against the SAP
Business Information Warehouse and all standard relational and OLAP databases,
XML, javabeans, web logs, COM objects and .NET assemblies. New content on
report distribution, and integration into the secured managed reporting
solution known as Crystal Enterprise 10, is also now included in this
definitive user guide.
Q: Provide some
tips from the book.
A: 1) Broad Data Source Connectivity. While
people may be exaggerating when they suggest that Crystal Reports can report off
everything except smoke signals, it can report off and add value to a broad
variety of data sources many people don’t think about. In addition to all the
major relational databases, it can also report off Excel, Access, free-form
SQL, Web logs, many OLAP cubes, XML, Java classes, Web Services and .NET/COM
2) Performance Optimization. In the most
recent versions of the product (10 and above), Crystal Reports provides a
breakdown of report performance estimates to enable you to optimize report
generation and SQL performance.
3) SQL Commands. The current version of Crystal
Reports enables report designers to specify free-form SQL that can be passed
into the selected database for optimal performance and increased flexibility.
This enables developers and report designers to optimize their SQL in an
external Profiling or Planning tool and then using that optimized SQL as a data
source input for Crystal Reports.
4) SQL Expressions versus Formulas:
Reference Usingcrystal.com web site for
updated list of tips and samples]
Q: What prompted you to start writing?
A: Introduction to a publisher through a
colleague and a mutual interest in getting the word out on the world’s de facto
Q: List the best resources for technology
and business professionals.
A: Here are some of my favorites:
1) Magazine - Business 2.0
2) Magazine - Information Weekly??
3) Magazine - Wired
4) Magazine – The Economist
5) Networking groups, seminars, meetings,
6) Que “Special Edition” technology books
7) Sams “Teach Yourself in…” technology
8) ZDNet daily e-mail subscription and newsletter
10) BetterManagement.com and e-mail
Q: What future books can we expect from
A: A Crystal Reports book based on the new
Business Objects’ version XI product stack which is based primarily on the
classic Crystal Enterprise product line should be released shortly after the
version 11 product is released early in 2005. After that, we will have to see
what the market and the publisher are interested in and where I have expertise
to share – perhaps a guide to evaluating Business Intelligence vendors and
Q: What do you consider to be the most
important trends to watch, and please provide some recommendations?
A: 1) BI Standardization for larger companies.
A thorough evaluation matrix should be created with the potential use of a BI
consultant who can evaluate both your business and IT requirements and current
status. Using interviews, surveys, determining the different types of costs and
your specific requirements will enable your organization to make a decision that
will optimally fit your group.
2) Custom implementation emphasizing
personalization, custom UIs and differentiated application functionality to
enable competitive advantage for BI clients – and their clients. Increasingly,
firms are moving towards the use of custom BI applications to provide
differentiation from their competition and I recommend finding and leveraging
experts who have completed such implementations to expedite the process and
3) The pushing of BI functionality towards
operational employees. Business Intelligence is not just for the executive
suite and analyst communities anymore. Increasing numbers of an organization’s
employees, customers and suppliers are accessing corporate information through
web-based extranets/intranets and/or through wireless devices. This information
democratization is an opportunity for potential BI clients and consultants.
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: IBM Laptop with Windows XP; Desktop
running SUSE Linux; WiFi network at home
Q: What drives you to do what you do?
A: Challenging work opportunities,
interesting technical and business oriented colleagues and exposure to
world-leading business intelligence technology.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your
my background in business intelligence, I would likely ask questions that would
enable the readers to understand how they might be able to get involved in
business intelligence and what tools/products they might consider for existing
Q1: As a developer, could I use Crystal
Reports alone to design and distribute reports within my custom java or .net applications?
Where would I use Crystal Enterprise?
A1: Yes, Crystal Reports can be used to
both design and distribute reports. Report Design can be accomplished through
either the Crystal Reports GUI designer or using any of the available component
SDKs. Report Distribution for a limited number of simultaneous reporting
threads (3) can then be also be handled by using the different Crystal Reports
components (Java, .NET or COM). Crystal Enterprise would be used for enhanced
scalability from 3 to 30,000 users and to leverage any of the additional
services that it provides including security, scheduling, auditing, archiving, office
Q2: As a technical professional interested in
Business Intelligence (BI), what are the different ways to get involved from a
are many ways to get involved in a BI career. First off, you could seek
employment from a BI Software Vendor in any number of capacities including product
development, pre-sales consulting or software implementation; You could also
work within any number of corporation’s IT departments as BI has become
mainstream and is being leveraged by more and more firms; Lastly, consulting
offers increasing opportunities as these same companies look externally for
project oriented BI resources and experts.
Q3: Are Crystal Reports’ and Crystal Enterprise skills marketable? Are they
available in the marketplace for hire on a project basis? A3: Yes on both counts. Crystal Reports is
the world standard in formatted, pixel-perfect web reporting and is used by
virtually every Fortune 2000 company in the world and thousands and thousands
of small and medium size businesses around the world. Crystal Enterprise also
has millions of implemented licenses. The skills are definitely attractive to
all the firms using the tools and are offered for hire by any number of
specialized consultants – some highlighted on usingcrystal.com.
Q: Neil, thank you again for your time, and
consideration in doing this interview.
A: Again, my pleasure and make sure to
check out two web sites: www.usingcrystal.com
for updated tips and real-world examples on Crystal Reports and related
products; and businessobjects.com/products/dev_zone/
for a free 30 day evaluation copy of Crystal Reports.