You requested it, so I added a category for Retail Management System.  Now, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be posting much in that area in the near future, as Amy is our resident RMS expert.  However, here’s something I’m going to throw out, not only for RMS’ers, but for SBS’ers as well:

Have you guys checked out SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services yet?  All I can say is WOW!!  Earlier this week I posted about one of our customers and their painful accounting system migration.  Well, I mentioned in there that they had extensive customizations?  Well, the customizations weren’t to the app itself, but they used custom Excel spreadsheets that pulled data out of the accounting system, and gave them their job reports (they’re a mechanical engineering / HVAC general contracting firm).  Basically, these custom spreadsheets would give them awesome information – to the point that they ran the business off of these spreadsheets.  For any given job, the various spreadsheets would give them proposal vs actual numbers, labor breakdowns, material costs, etc.  They could know exactly where they were standing in terms of profitability on each job at any given point in time, and one of the speadsheets would create detailed monthly billing for whichever job you selected, accessing all of the time ticket entries in the accounting system, totalling & grouping hours for each workman type (journeyman, etc.) since they have different billing rates, as well as access materials requisitions, automatically calculate markups on those, etc.  The current accounting partner is working on creating many of these reports within the accounting app itself, and it is taking much longer than anticipated (and costing the client much more than they anticipated).  And due to the complexity of some of the reports, they run very SSLLOOWW since the data is on the server, but the client is doing the processing for the report.

Ok, so you’re probably wondering what this has to do with the SQL Reporting Services, right?  Well, the accounting application has an optional ODBC connectivity module that allows various environments to connect to it’s data (read only) via ODBC.  Luckily for me, the client bought this module.  SQL Reporting Services can connect to a wide variety of data sources besides SQL, including Oracle, Paradox, OLE DB & ODBC.  So, now do you see where I’m going?  We can install SQL Reporting Services on the client’s SBS 2003 Premium, access their accounting data via ODBC (which conveniently enough lives on the same server), build our custom reports and publish them to the server, where users can run them from their web browser.

Now, let’s go one step further – SQL Reporting Services allows for a push model.  Therefore, users don’t have to necessarily go and open the report they want every time they want it.  For example, with our client their project managers get a report on each of their projects once a week so they know where they’re sitting in terms of profitability / budget.  With SQL Reporting Services, once we get this profitability report built, each project manager could configure the server to automatically generate these reports and send them via email on a set schedule.  So we go from just a few months ago where the girls up front were printing a separate report (via those Excel spreadsheets) for each active job, collating according to project manager, and giving each PM a stack of paper every Monday, to the server handling the dirty work and dropping the right reports in each PM’s inbox . . .   boy, if I can pull this off, Amy, Cynthia & Rena will really love me . . . :^)  

The only potential downside is for the accounting partner – I have a feeling it may not bode well for them if I can provide a faster, integrated, scalable reporting solution in a fraction of the time that the other partner has taken and for pennies on the dollar of what the other partner charged . . .  :^)   But I’ll let them worry about that after I get Reporting Services installed and a report or two configured . . . 

In short, this opens a huge window of opportunity for us to provide additional value and big business solutions to small business.  I’m also going to argue that this is a perfect reason for retail shops to deploy SBS Premium as well.  Besides the general benefits of SBS (Exchange & RWW), Reporting Services offers an impressive custom reporting solution for the RMS data.  I’m going to have to get myself familiar with this quickly.  We have a retail customer where in about six weeks we’ll be deploying RMS at their primary retail location, along with SBS & RMS Headquarters at their corporate office, and they’re deploying Great Plains for accounting as well.  Then over the next year we’ll bring each of their four other retail locations online.  I can already foresee that Reporting Services combined with that RMS & Great Plains data will allow us to provide them with some impressive value-added reporting options . . .    Ooooh – this is exciting!   (Can you see my database developer side coming out?)

Reporting Services requires a valid SQL 2000 license, and can only be installed on the SQL server.  In addition, you need to have a copy of Visual Studio to build your reports (yeah MSDN Universal Subscription!)  Anyway – there’s a great demo of SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services here.  I strongly suggest you take approximately 20 minutes to watch it . . . .  You can download the trial here, or you SBS Premium owners can order it (only cost you S&H) here.