Our professional services team has constantly been asked by several SAP users what the similarities and differences are between Crystal Reports and Performance Canvas Financials (PCF) Reports.
We generally do not like lifting one’s chair by dragging down another’s, so we always try to be objective in our answers, and we try to answer the question from the customer’s point of view. Sometimes that answer favors Crystal Reports, and sometimes it favors PCF reports; it depends on the customer’s needs. After all, choosing a financial planning software or financial reporting software boils down to effectively solving customers’ specific pain points.
Before we get to the meat of the matter, let us first look at the history of both products.
Crystal Reports’ history can be traced back to 1991, when they first debuted their BI software. It wasn’t until 2007 that SAP acquired the company. SAP then looked at the system architecture to cater to small to medium-sized businesses.
Today, Crystal Reports is the replacement (add-on) of the once-loved XL Reporter within SAP.
Performance Canvas Financials’ (PCF) history can be traced back to 1999 when DSPanel, the company behind it, first debuted its BI software. Since 1999, several Scandinavian and American companies have been using their BI tool. A few years later, PCF shifted in focus from being a BI tool to being a complete Corporate Performance Management (CPM) or Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) tool, and it has also been white-labeled by a major ERP player in the US. If you are unfamiliar with PCF, it is understandable because it is known by other names white-labeled by its partners globally.
Today, PCF is a reliable third-party (add-on) software for financial reporting, budgeting & forecasting, and consolidation within SAP and other ERP systems.
Typical Customers and Packaging
The typical customers of Crystal Reports are small to medium businesses, while the typical customers of PCF are medium to large companies.
SAP usually has a license calculator for Crystal Reports where you need to select creation mode, whether you want it on your desktop or web or mobile, and choose the report distribution method. All these affect the price of Crystal Solutions. You can read more about it here.
For PCF they have three packages to choose from – Basic, Standard, and The Works. Each box has different capability inclusions, but they give users both Excel and Web user interfaces. Workflow and distribution are also already part of all the inclusions. You can read more about PCF packages here (see New 2022 PCF Product Packages)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
We can talk for days about several technical differences between the two. Still, essentially this will be all about the satisfaction and reviews of both financial reporting software users.
We start with the good.
Crystal reports have been around for a while and have the advantage of being within the SAP umbrella of products where they can leverage a rich web of resources. Crystal reports are also highly customizable to reporting requirements of customers. It can provide a robust static reporting mechanism, though limited in the broader aspects of workflow, data visualization, and preparation.
PCF has also been around for a while and has focused its time and energy on being a reliable and extensive CPM suite. This means it is not only a financial reporting solution but also a budgeting & forecasting, and a Consolidation solution. From a cost-efficiency perspective, this one definitely has an advantage. Both come with report templates, and both come with data drill-downs.
Now we go to the bad.
Crystal report is primarily a BI tool more than a reporting tool. This isn’t an issue for some who think there is no difference. PCF is mainly a reporting and budgeting tool and less of a BI tool. Whenever you talk to Crystal Reports users, you will quickly learn that there is a steep learning curve and that this tool requires technical know-how. This is a tool that is meant to be used by IT professionals who are comfortable coding. Particular notions of SQL and knowledge of the ERP structure are needed to get the most out of this product. This isn’t precisely your day-to-day accountant’s software. Many companies who have Crystal Reports leave it to IT or external consultants to generate their needed financial reports, so you have to factor that into the costs.
PCF’s web browser interface is intuitive and easy to use, but there is plenty of room for improvement on its Excel interface. While its current version of Excel interface (2022) is a powerful and flexible tool, it also has a steep learning curve since you have to get used to navigating your way around it. Most customers of PCF today are using the web, though, as PCF is primarily a finance/accounting tool and has very little involvement from the IT team.
Now the ugly.
Crystal Reports is a BI tool, but many other BI tools tramp it in the market like PowerBI, Tableau, Grow, Phocas. It isn’t up to par with these BI solutions out in the market.
As a reporting tool, it also falls short. As mentioned, it is a reporting tool that the accounting team cannot really use unless they are technically skilled.
There is also a wealth of reviews online that touch upon several known issues of Crystal Reports over several decades. Performance issues, cumbersome processes, a workflow that doesn’t make so much sense, data latency, the fact that it looks dull and looks like any other office application, and it is expensive, to name a few.
PCF does not compete in the BI space as it has always identified itself as a CPM/ FP&A tool. The problem with PCF is that it does not have a very active user group online, owing to the fact that PCF is white-labeled in most markets.
Those who use it also turn to tutorial videos since they are available for free. Therefore, the user groups of PCF become very specific to those ERP systems it integrates with, and much smaller in comparison to Crystal Reports users. This can be a problem because you get quick answers from user groups than with support with most software. This is the main criticism of PCF.
Choosing a financial reporting software or financial planning software to work with your SAP ERP system is a personal decision, and many variables are in play.
From a professional services standpoint, perhaps it is more important to look at who your primary users of the system will be. If the software is meant to be used primarily by your IT or your developers, I think you would find Crystal Reports to be a decent solution.
On the other hand, if you think the primary users of this financial reporting software are accountants, then PCF is your best bet. This tool is geared towards end-users and not developers.
As with most solutions, there is always a learning curve, but the critical question perhaps would be who will be learning? IT or Finance?
Unfortunately, Crystal Reports do not offer free trials, but if you want to try out PCF, they offer a free 30-day trial, so you can experience this for yourself.