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Planning Your BIRT Report

As you need to address more complex reporting requirements, you will find it is much more efficient to work from a plan. This chapter shows you how.
This chapter is from the book

The tutorial in the previous chapter demonstrates how easy it is to build reports using BIRT, so you may be puzzled when you next see a chapter recommending that you plan your report development. This chapter receives its prominent position because as you need to address more complex reporting requirements, you will find it is much more efficient to work from a plan.

You should always plan a report on paper before you begin to create the report with BIRT Report Designer. Planning helps clarify the report requirements and saves time in the long run because you do not waste time creating and fine-tuning a report that does not meet your users’ needs.

Before you start creating a report, you should have the following documents prepared:

  • A specification that describes the requirements for the report project
  • A prototype, or mock-up, of the report

Ideally, your documents should be reviewed and approved by your report users to determine if the proposed layout meets requirements they may not be able to predict without seeing a mock-up on paper.

In organizations with large IT departments that have strong formal processes in place, report developers typically receive requests for new reports that are accompanied by a specification and perhaps a mock-up of the report. Sometimes, report developers discuss report requirements with the person who requested the report, and they develop the specification and mock-up together. Either way, both documents are essential planning tools before a report developer even starts BIRT Report Designer.

If you are responsible for writing the specification, you need to identify the information that the report should provide and determine how best to present the information. This chapter provides guidelines for defining the specification and designing a mock-up of the report. If you receive a specification from somewhere else, use the guidelines to ensure that the specification covers all the information that you need.

Identifying the content of the report

This step is the most important one in the planning process. To get started, answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the report?

    A purpose statement helps you determine the information that you need. It also gives the report a starting point.

    The following example is a sample purpose statement:

    • The purpose of this report is to show monthly sales by region, then by sales representatives, and to flag the representatives whose sales figures fall below a certain amount.

    Make the purpose statement as specific as possible. A vague requirement, such as a monthly sales report, does not help define the precise data requirements.

  • Who is going to read the report?

    A report can be viewed by different types of users. For example, sales representatives, sales managers, and the vice president of sales can all use a sales report. Each type of user is interested in different types of information and different levels of detail. Knowing the users of your report helps you plan the report data accordingly. Reviewing the list of data to be included can ensure that the data needed by each of the users is, in fact, included in the design. Having a representative from each of the groups of users available to review your proposed layout assists in ensuring that you are meeting each set of requirements.

  • What information should appear in the report, and where is it coming from?

    Much of the information in a typical report is taken directly from data fields in a database, application, or text file. First, you need to know the source or sources of data for the report. Second, you need to understand how the data is structured. If, for example, the data source is a database, you need to know what tables are in it, the relationships among tables, the columns in each table, the data types, and so on. If necessary, ask your database administrator for this information.

  • Does any of the data need to be calculated?

    Some report data comes directly from data fields, such as sales representative names or addresses. Some information must be calculated, such as the percentage by which sales figures exceed or fall below a certain amount.

  • How will the data be calculated?

    Some data can be calculated by performing a mathematical operation on data field values, such as multiplying Item.Quantity by Item.Price to get extended prices. Some data may need to be calculated by using a JavaScript function or a user-defined function.

  • Do you want to enable the report user to specify what data to display?

    You can create a report that always displays a specific set of data from the data source. You can also create a report that lets users specify what information they want to see. For example, rather than displaying sales data for all regions, you can prompt the user to specify a region for which the sales data appears in the report.

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