ACT! Reporting, OLEDB & SQL

This is something we get asked to do for clients a lot…History Summary Reports. ACT!, has a built in report using its native reporting engine called the History Summary Classic Report. This report is a very cool report but it highlights one of the greatest weaknesses of ACT!, namely Reporting and BI. In short it’s terrible! Almost every client (if not all) of ours use customised Activities and to modify the History Summary Classic report means that we have to go into many sections of the report and do VBScript…all in all its nasty, ugly, cumbersome and very time intensive.

We actually stopped doing that a very long time ago and now we approach it in a different way.

  • Do you want the report to be viewed within ACT! as a dashboard without any further interaction?
  • Would you prefer to have the report viewable within Excel and interact with the report?
  • Would you like it to be published using SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)?

Each of these requires the use of SQL to varying levels of complexity. The first can initially feel a little involved and so can be intimidating, but it’s fairly simple surprisingly. Sometime back, Allen Duet (the Product Management Director for ACT!) developed a free plugin that allowed us to drop in custom OLEDB reports into the ACT!, Dashboard. It surprised me on a couple of levels but firstly was that a Product Director from Sage actually knew what OLEDB was, secondly a Product Director could code (shock horror!) and thirdly why on earth hadn’t I thought about this! This free plugin has now been incorporated (and a little diminished truth be told from the original) into the core product.

**********EDIT**********

This post has been changed, originally I had gone into all the steps to do this with pictures etc. I’ve now made a YouTube video called “Create a History Summary Classic Report in Sage ACT! Within the Dashboard” that can be watched instead.

**********EDIT**********

Excel, Pivot Charts & OLEDB

I have to be honest and say that this one of my more preferred methods since it’s so simple and powerful for reporting! If you’re going to only report from a single table/view then you do not require any SQL input at all, it’s just a simple case of selecting your table and creating a pivot table/chart.

Since Excel 2003 pivot charting has become so easy anyone can do it. I remember that Pivot Tables used to be really complex things to create in earlier versions and in fact I used to avoid them like the plague! But now it’s all point-&-click and you get some very good looking and powerful reports as a result. You can also save these xlsx files and just click refresh later to get the most up-to-date data.

**********EDIT**********

This post has been changed, originally I had gone into all the steps to do this with pictures etc. I’ve now made a YouTube video that can be watched instead.

**********EDIT**********

SSRS & BI

Ok so this is unquestionably the most complex route taken but results in publicly shared and published reports that auto refresh themselves from live data.

I’ve found varying levels of performance of SSRS reports and the quality of the SQL you write can have a direct influence over the performance of these reports as well. To use SSRS you’ll need three components:

  1. SQL data and queries
  2. IIS (Webserver)
  3. Microsoft BI Designer

There is also an optional 4th component SharePoint. One of the very cool things with SSRS when you have SQL Standard or Enterprise Edition is that you can have these reports emailed out to your users on a schedule! Unfortunately this facility is not available in the EX edition which comes with ACT!, but if you publish the reports to SharePoint it is possible to get SharePoint to do this kind of thing I am led to believe.

The steps involved in creating an SSRS report really are too long and involved for me to create a simple video here and, besides, I have gotten too bored of this post now!

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