Compare Four Ways to Build Custom Reports in Microsoft Dynamics 365

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The real value of your CRM system is the data you have collected. You can only realize that value if you can get to the data you need, quickly and easily, with the right reporting.

There are four main ways to report on data in Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE. Each option has its own advantages and requires different skill levels. Presented in order of complexity, here are your options:

  • Report Builder

The easiest way to build a report in Dynamics 365 is with Report Builder. The report builder wizard will guide you through a series of steps asking which fields you want to use, which order you want them in, how you want them sorted, etc.

The results can be formatted with options such as bold colors, and italicized placement.  These types of reports are usually meant to be printed or viewed as PDFs.

It is challenging to do a high level of customization in Report Builder; you would need the skills of a visual studio programmer. You can preview a report and export it to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or save it as a PDF.

With the built-in wizard, it is easy for any Microsoft Dynamics 365 user to use Report Builder.

  • Dashboards

Dashboards use views and charts so users can see information that's important to them on a single pane of glass. This includes pie charts, funnel charts, bar charts, and all the other charts similar to those provided by Microsoft Excel. Multiple types of charts can be used in a single dashboard.

Dashboards typically are created for a specific person or job role, based on what is important to each individual. A salesperson might create a dashboard that shows their year to date sales, current activities, and open opportunities.  They can add additional metrics that motivate them, for example, their sales revenue compared to that of other salespeople in the organization. Or a manager can set up a dashboard to see how many phone calls are being made each day by each rep or the global opportunities set to close that month.

All users can create personal dashboards. As long as a user is comfortable using Microsoft Excel, they should not have any trouble setting up a dashboard in Dynamics 365.

  • Advanced Find

Advanced Find is used to build search lists that Microsoft calls "views." A view is a grid of information with columns and rows that you can move, filter, sort, etc. I always say that these are called "advanced" for a reason. They can get quite complex, depending on the queries that you want to build. Admins can create public views for the whole company, and individual users can create personal views for the information they need to see.

Each view can be exported into Microsoft Excel as a static or a dynamic file. A static file is like a "snapshot in time" that doesn't change. A dynamic file is updated each time you change the data in Microsoft Dynamics 365, so you always have the most current information. On the flip side, you can quickly change mass amounts of data in the dynamic file in Excel and have those changes pushed back into Dynamics 365 without opening, changing, and saving each record.

While all users can learn to build simple views, power users of Microsoft Dynamics 365 will have more success in creating the complex views that some companies require.

All of the options above – Report Builder, Dashboards, and Advanced Find - allow you to drill down on the data to get to the actual record. For example, if you click on a salesperson's name, you can see all of his jobs and related data. This makes it very easy to view and edit your data.

  • Power BI

Power BI is becoming extremely popular because it allows you to report on anything. You can pull data from your accounting system, your production system, or other applications you use. Power BI takes data from all these different sources and morphs them together into a friendly dashboard. You can drag stuff right down to the pixel and set it up exactly the way you want it. These Power BI dashboards can be saved directly in your Dynamics 365 CRM for quick access.

You can also set up slicers, which act like filters. Every time you change a filter, all of your data automatically updates.

The downside of using Power BI for reporting is that you can't easily drill down and get right to the CRM record. It is great for analyzing data, but not as good for editing data.

Again, power users of Microsoft Dynamics 365 with a technical background will be able to learn to use Power BI, but it will take some effort. It is definitely not a half-day of learning type of thing. But it is a useful skill to have in-house, and once it is set up, it is very intuitive.

Also read: What is Business Intelligence?

Is there an additional licensing cost?

Report Builder, Dashboards, and Advanced Finds are all included in the cost of Microsoft Dynamics 365. Power BI is an additional $10 per user per month. However, you only need a license for the user that is creating the Power BI reports or dashboards; you do not need to pay to consume the data.

You can also publish Power BI reports to the web so the general public can view them. For example, if you are analyzing quality control, and you want to show your accident trend, you can post this metric on your website.

Why should you let your Dynamics Partner build the reports?

Your users can indeed learn to build their own reports. If a company really wants to lower costs, and they are willing to invest the time to dive in and learn all this, they could technically do it on their own. But you have to balance that with how much your time is worth. Sometimes it is just not as easy as it looks. Here are two examples:

Fields: Microsoft Dynamics 365 literally gives you hundreds of fields that you won't use. So, it's a matter of navigating through the ocean of information to find the ones that you need. For example, if you are looking for close date, not estimated close date, or actual budget amount, not budget amount, you'll have to be careful of the subtle differences. Many fields sound exactly the same, but are quite different. If there is someone on your team willing to get some training on how to do this, they can become experts. But you can also save yourself a lot of frustration and time by allowing you Microsoft Dynamics Partner to do it for you.

Visualizations: Microsoft Dynamics 365 also has a feature called "visualizations."  And there are hundreds of them.  A visualization is like a pie chart or a bar chart; it is how you choose to visualize your data. You need to decide which one to use, for example, a table or a matrix. They are very similar and look nearly identical. However, there are reasons why you would use one versus the other. Microsoft Partners that use these visualizations all the time know the differences. Some partners have even developed their own visualizations.

Next Steps

In the end, you can use these four methods above to build reports in Microsoft Dynamics 365. You can save money by building them yourself, or you could save a lot of time by paying your Microsoft Dynamics Partner to build them for you. We hope this information helps you compare your options.

If you would like assistance building Microsoft Dynamics 365 reports, contact P2 Automation. We offer a comprehensive Business Intelligence service specifically designed to bring you closer to what your data is trying to tell you.

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