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Creating SSRS Reports Efficiently Through Best Practices

Posted Mar 20, 2015 by Mickey Stuewe

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking for Pragmatic Works. For the month of March, they are highlighting Women in Tech and have the whole month lined up with female speakers for every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am ET. 

SSRS Questions

I was the first in the line up for the month and it ended up being my largest audience to date. There were 419 people listening in. I even saw some comments about there being others who couldn’t make it. Wow!

Thanks to everyone who came to listen to my session. While I couldn’t hear anyone, I enjoyed reading the questions and comments that were sent to me afterwards, and let me tell you there were quite a few. Below you can find the answers to HALF the questions that were asked. The other half of the questions will be answered in my next blog post.

Questions Answered

1. The number one question that was asked was: Will your documents, like your requirements document, be available?

Yes! You can find all the assets to the presentation under the Resources\Presentation menu on my website. I list all my presentation on this page, so just scroll to the correct presentation title.

I did get some comments about my SSRS templates missing. That has been fixed. Here are the three separate downloads:

If you missed the presentation, don’t worry. Pragmatic Works will be adding it to their catalog of past presentations here. You can also watch a recording of my session at the end of this blog.

2. Hey, can you please share us that sample database?

I’m not sure which sample database this was pertaining to. Please email me.

3. Would you give that mock up tool again?

It’s called BalsamiqThey are a wonderful company with a great user support forum. You can find tons of templates on their website and get your feet wet with a trial version.

4. Do you have any scripting that can be used to see what subscriptions are set up using all the various parameters?

I broke this question up into two questions because I wasn’t clear on if you wanted existing subscriptions or executed subscriptions.

Executed

The ExecutionLog3 view in the report server database will have this information for you. You can filter the data on the RequestType field to show you only subscriptions. The Format field will tell you how it was rendered and the Parameters field will tell you what all the parameters were set too. The down side, is they use special escape characters, so you’ll have to decipher it.

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DECLARE
     @StartDate DATETIME = '03/1/2015'
     ,@EndDate DATETIME = '04/5/2015'
 
SELECT
     InstanceName
     ,ItemPath
     ,UserName
     ,RequestType
     ,ItemAction
     ,TimeStart
     ,Status
     ,Format
     ,Parameters
FROM
     ReportServer.dbo.ExecutionLog3
WHERE
     ItemPath NOT LIKE '/DataSets/%'
     AND TimeStart >= @StartDate
     AND TimeStart <= @EndDate
     AND RequestType = 'Subscription'
     AND ItemPath <> 'Unknown'

Existing  

For existing subscriptions you can look in the Subscriptions table in the ReportServer database. This lists the subscriptions that are set up, how they will be rendered, and the parameter values that will be used as well as other information.

5. Is there is way to bulk change the owner of a subscription? We have people leave and then when their account is deleted, the subscriptions stop working.

I’ve been asked this before. The information is stored in the ReportServer database, but I am always cautious about directly modifying this database. So, if you change it,be sure to test it heavily in development before applying the changes to production.

To help with this problem in the future, I would recommend a new standard. All subscriptions should be directed to Active Directory distribution lists. Even if the distribution list has only one person in it. I try to use existing distribution lists, but when I can’t, then I work with the Active Directory Admin (or whoever wears that hat). You could make a distribution list for a specific title, position, or category of people. I also make sure the description on the distribution list is filled out and included something like, “Do not delete this distribution list. It is used for subscriptions.”

6. What tool do you use for your report catalog?

There are several ways to create a report catalog. I started with an Excel document. After I outgrew that, I ended up creating a custom work item in TFS (Team Foundation Server). This allowed me to catalog the report, keep track of the workflow as the report went through its life cycle, and associate work items and bugs to the report.

Here is a blog post by Ted Gustaf on creating custom Workflows in TFS 2010.

7. Don’t you think that its better to get the Requirements and have them sign off on that? Prior to a Mock Up?

Yes, it would save us some work too. Unfortunately, I found that the end users have a hard time verbalizing what they actually want. I find that the changes they request after seeing the mock-ups are not normally based on scope creep, but on the way they verbalized their needs when they initially gave them. This can be due to them not understanding what they really want and assuming we know their data as well as they do. By creating the mockup they have something tangible to look at. It’s analogous to telling a realtor that you want a three bedroom house, but the first one they show you is not what you were looking for. Now that you’ve seen the house, you can better articulate what you really want in a house.

8. Did you discuss the data quality requirements with your customers?

This is a very good question, and a delicate one. Some customers are very glad you bring this question up, and some customers assume all the data is accurate and will become concerned with past reports if they think the data is “dirty”.

Here are some scenarios and how I handled them. 

  • I was replacing an existing report that had bad data. This is an example of a delicate situation. My manager ended up coming with me to the meeting and backing me up. I showed samples of raw data under both reports and explained why the data was inaccurate before. Always save the explanation and data in an easy to locate place, because they will be back asking again why a previous report is so different than a current report.
  • I had to aggregate data based on key phrases in a text field. This is an example where the customer is expecting to have a dialog about the quality of the data found. I spent some time looking at the raw data that did not match her phrases exactly and provided recommendations on additional phrases.
  • One of the requirements I was given for a report was based on ranges of numbers. For this report, I approached my client about the data I found that did not fall into the ranges he was expecting. In this case, it uncovered the need to validate the data when it was entered, so the client was grateful.

The bottom line is, be careful how and to whom you bring this question up to. It is a very important question and should always be addressed. It just may need to be addressed with your team instead of with the client, directly with the client, or in a very subtle manner with the client.

9. How do you place the Tablix color palette in the template form? And, could you provide in your blog info about Microsoft’s suggested methods of maintaining tracking info.

Below are the steps for creating a “color palette” on a new template. For your second question, I don’t know if there is an article from Microsoft for best practices on tracking info. In next weeks post, I have examples of how I did it.

Steps for adding your own color palette to a template

  • Add a table control (Tablix) to the body of a new report.
  • Remove the header row.
  • Make sure there is a column for each color in your color palate.
  • Make the width of each cell 0.2 in.
  • Change the background property of each cell to the name or hexadecimal value of your colors.

DeGraeve.com is a really cool website that can be used to create a color palette from an image.

Awesome quote from one of the attendees:
A formal report request process gives the requestor an opportunity to think closely about what is really wanted. Does not force it to happen, but increases the likelihood that a good and complete request will be done.

10. What do you use for Version Control?

I have used both Team Foundation Server (TFS) by Microsoft and Subversion, which is an open source product. There are a few versions of Subversion out there. I used the Tortoise version.

For maintaining my SQL source code easily, I also use Redgate’s SQL Source Control product. It’s like a bridge between your repository (TFS, Subversion, etc.) and SSMS. I am happy to talk to anyone on Redgate’s products. Just send me an email(No, I don’t work for them. I’m just addicted to their products.)

11. Is it better to use Visual Studios of Report Builder?

Better is not the word I would use. More Powerful is the adjective I would use. Report Builder only has a subset of features that you have in Visual Studio. It was designed to empower “power users” and to provide “self service BI solutions”. If you are designing reports all the time, I would highly recommend using Visual Studio. To see the power of what you can do in Visual Studio, take a look at my Scalable SSRS Reports Achieved Through the Powerful TablixIt’s recorded on Pragmatic Works website.

Here’s some additional terminology for you with regards to the different versions of Visual Studio. The version that comes with SQL Server is all that you need to design reports. For SQL Server 2012 and 2014 it’s called SQL Server Data Tools and commonly referred to as SSDT. For SQL Server 2008 and 2008R2 it was called Business Intelligence Development Studio and commonly referred to as BIDS.

12. What’s the major difference of standalone SSRS and the SSRS on SharePoint server?

I have never worked with the SharePoint version of SSRS. From what I know, the major difference is how the metadata for the management of the reports is stored in SQL Server. The SharePoint tables are used instead of the ReportServer database. I don’t think the creation of the reports is any different.

13. Can excel templates be imported or easily developed so that if I export to excel it looks like the data came from excel?

I’m not aware of the ability to bring in an Excel templates as an SSRS template. If the user exports the report using the Excel render type instead of the CSV render type, then the report should look like it came from Excel. You might need to email me an image of what you are trying to accomplish for me to answer this question better.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will answer more questions that were asked during my session.

 

Tagged With: SSRS


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