MSSQL Server Reporting Services: Reporting Services Basics: Create a Reusable Template Report

About the Series …

This is the tenth article of the series MSSQL Server
2000 Reporting Services
. The series is designed to introduce MSSQL
Server 2000 Reporting Services ("Reporting Services"), with the
objective of presenting an overview of its features, together with many tips
and techniques for real-world use. This column also serves as a vehicle for
sharing my conviction in Reporting Services’ role as a new paradigm in
enterprise reporting. As I advise clients on a more and more frequent basis
these days, this is the future in a big way. I hope you will consider my input
valuable, and that you will investigate closely the savings and advanced
functionality that will soon be available to anyone with an MSSQL Server 2000
(and beyond) license.

Important: For information concerning the applications to which you will
require access to benefit the most from our series, please see our initial Database
Journal
article, A New Paradigm for Enterprise Reporting.

It
is assumed that you have access and the other rights / privileges required to
complete the articles within the series. For details on the specifics of the
adjustments necessary to quickly allow full freedom to complete the exercises
in this and subsequent articles, as well as important assumptions regarding
rights and privileges in general, please see earlier articles in our series, as
well as the Reporting Services Books Online.

Overview

In this article, we will venture away from the functionally
specific focuses of recent sessions, and concentrate on a basic consideration that
can save us a great deal of time in our work within reporting services. As
most of us who have worked with enterprise reporting packages have come to
realize, report templates can offer us many advantages in creating reports to
meet the needs of information consumers.

When I say "template," I mean a "pattern,"
or "boilerplate," which we can create and store, and which we can
later call upon to accomplish many of the repetitive steps we might encounter
in building a report. A template can serve as a "starter report," saving
us myriad similar steps in authoring. This increases report author productivity
because much or all of the design work is already done when they begin creating
a new report. A template, as we shall see, is simply an existing report
file whose attributes can be applied to a new report. We can use templates to
give any number of reports a consistent look, while sparing ourselves the need
to format each one individually. Finally, in addition to more productivity and
support for standardized reporting, templates often offer an added bonus to our
report authoring team: they can enable many users to create sophisticated reports that
might otherwise be beyond their existing skill levels.

While
templates can be evolved to any level of completion before saving them, a
template best embodies, once again, a pattern upon which we base the creation
of new reports. Because the templates attributes become the basis for the
report we are creating, we should try to find that ideal point in the creation
of the template where it contains many or all of the characteristics that our
reports will hold in common, while leaving out those features that we will have
to remove from individual reports after we jumpstart their creation. Templates
are, in effect, reports without any actual data, or with minimal "dummy
data," perhaps, that can be used as placeholders with which we can easily
substitute the real data that needs to appear in the new report. Templates are
obviously the most useful when report authors frequently need the same type of
report, and we can create these "models" to match the various "standard"
reports that arise within our organizations as soon as we recognize the
recurring nature of these reports.

Templates
in Reporting Services can contain many kinds of report objects, examples of
which include:

  • formatting

  • text

  • pictures

  • Report
    items
    such as:

    • Textboxes

    • images

    • lines

    • rectangles
  • placeholders
    of various sorts

  • calculations

  • summaries

  • "global"
    report variables, such as the date or time that the report was created

Regardless
of the variety of report types with which we work in the business environment
as report authors, it is common to encounter scenarios where our reports
represent hours of development investment to produce formatting and other
features that we wish, going forward, to apply to subsequent reports without
reinventing the original. Template reports in Reporting Services are simply
existing .rdl files that we can use, as we have said, to "kick start"
new reports – and often shortcut creation cycles dramatically. It is certainly
not hard to imagine how creating these surrogate "boilerplates" can
help us to grind out large volumes of reports quickly, while retaining the appearance
and characteristics to which the organization has become accustomed, or wishes
to present as a corporate standard to the targeted audiences.

The
process is straightforward, and perhaps intuitive to many of us (depending upon
previous reporting applications with which we have had experience), but the step-by-step
procedure is not detailed in a straightforward manner in the online help that
accompanies Reporting Services. In this article, we will explore the creation
of a basic template which we will then enable for use at any point going
forward in the report authoring process. In this session, we will:

  • Create a basic
    report in Report Designer to use as the basis for a template report;

  • Create header
    and footer sections in the template report;

  • Add basic
    formatting, system variables and images, and other rudimentary objects to the
    template;

  • Preview the
    report to ascertain that it meets the needs of its intended audience;

  • Install the
    template appropriately to ensure its easy selection as an option in the
    creation of any report in Report Designer;

  • Verify the proper
    operation of the template in the initial steps of creating a new report.

William Pearson
William Pearson
Bill has been working with computers since before becoming a "big eight" CPA, after which he carried his growing information systems knowledge into management accounting, internal auditing, and various capacities of controllership. Bill entered the world of databases and financial systems when he became a consultant for CODA-Financials, a U.K. - based software company that hired only CPA's as application consultants to implement and maintain its integrated financial database - one of the most conceptually powerful, even in his current assessment, to have emerged. At CODA Bill deployed financial databases and business intelligence systems for many global clients. Working with SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase and Informix, and focusing on MSSQL Server, Bill created Island Technologies Inc. in 1997, and has developed a large and diverse customer base over the years since. Bill's background as a CPA, Internal Auditor and Management Accountant enable him to provide value to clients as a liaison between Accounting / Finance and Information Services. Moreover, as a Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) - a Certified Public Accountant recognized for his or her unique ability to provide business insight by leveraging knowledge of information relationships and supporting technologies - Bill offers his clients the CPA's perspective and ability to understand the complicated business implications and risks associated with technology. From this perspective, he helps them to effectively manage information while ensuring the data's reliability, security, accessibility and relevance. Bill has implemented enterprise business intelligence systems over the years for many Fortune 500 companies, focusing his practice (since the advent of MSSQL Server 2000) upon the integrated Microsoft business intelligence solution. He leverages his years of experience with other enterprise OLAP and reporting applications (Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal, and others) in regular conversions of these once-dominant applications to the Microsoft BI stack. Bill believes it is easier to teach technical skills to people with non-technical training than vice-versa, and he constantly seeks ways to graft new technology into the Accounting and Finance arenas. Bill was awarded Microsoft SQL Server MVP in 2009. Hobbies include advanced literature studies and occasional lectures, with recent concentration upon the works of William Faulkner, Henry James, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Dickens. Other long-time interests have included the exploration of generative music sourced from database architecture.

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