Today's guest blogger is Jacob Cynamon-Murphy, a Technical Specialist at Sonoma Partners.
It's no secret - I have opinions and I like to share them, so during a demo, it came as no surprise when a prospect asked about how they might share opinions of their own. Exploring a migration from a proprietary CRM system, they wanted to understand how CRM 2011 supported adding ad-hoc comments to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) reports. I've heard this request a few times while talking with customers, so I wanted to share a variety of approaches that yield similar results, but address somewhat different needs.
Parameterized comments in the SSRS report
If you know in advance that you would like to have ad-hoc comments on a report, it is easy to create a custom parameter in the report definition to support this. When the user selects filters, they could also submit a block of text as a comment that would then show up in a "summary" or "comments" section of the report. Although this technique would make it easy for a user to add comments to a report at the time of generation, it does require a SSRS admin to customize the report and limits the user's comments to a pre-defined area. This approach is best-suited for scenarios where you may have a need for a summary or header area that is drafted from scratch for each report generated.
Emailed comments with an attached report
With this technique, no custom report definition is necessary; simply render the report in your preferred format, write up your comments in an email and attach the document. I am assuming that every user in your organization who is creating or reviewing reports would have access to email. This approach requires no customization, but doesn't bind the comments with the report; if a recipient replies to the email, the attachment will not stay attached for reference. For one-off exchanges, this technique should be fine; for more in-depth reviews, look to the next approach to get what you need.
PDF report with embedded comments
Easily my favorite of the approaches, I call this the Romeo and Juliet approach - marrying Adobe Reader and CRM 2011 to create fully-commented, distributable reports. I discovered this feature by accident while reading a whitepaper. This feature may have been available in versions prior to version "X" of Adobe Reader, but I only noticed it after Adobe updated my software to the latest version.
When you open a PDF in Adobe Reader X, there is a button on the menu called Comment. When you click on Comment, a sidebar expands on the right side of the window, allowing you to add two types of Annotation - Sticky Note and Highlight Text. They're self-explanatory, so I won't go into too much detail - the takeaway here is that you can use this feature of Adobe Reader to apply comments to your read-only PDF report, sharing your opinions and thoughts with colleagues. There is even a concept of replies and checkboxes, so you can have multiple participants commenting and reviewing together. While this is likely most useful for editable PDFs, it allows us to address a common requirement of comments on reports, while preserving the read-only nature of the report itself. The comments travel with the report and remain for all readers to
1. After generating the report, click on Export and select Acrobat (PDF) file.
2. If you are prompted to Open or Save, select Open.
3. Inside Adobe Reader, apply your comments.
4. Select File | Attach to Email… to kick off a new email.
5. Click Attach to open your email client and send your annotated report.
As we have seen, there are several options for including ad-hoc comments on CRM reports. The three I outline give you some great options that you can use to include your own thoughts on the reports that you share, but that's just my opinion ;-) Happy reporting!
Author’s Note: Special thanks go to Brendan Landers and Corey O’Brien for reviewing this content and for Neal Sullivan for authoring the ad-hoc report with parameterized comment.