Tim Mitchell
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SSRS 2016: Great and Getting Better

SSRS 2016Although I’ve been a regular user of SQL Server Reporting Services since it was released in the mid-2000s, I’ve done very little blogging about it. In fact, a quick search on my blog reveals that it has been almost five years since I wrote an SSRS-specific blog post. But let’s be fair – before this year, it has been a while since there’s been reason to get excited about in SSRS. Sure, there were incremental updates along the way – a new tablix, spark lines and maps, SharePoint integration improvements, and other features moved the product forward an inch at a time. The glacial speed at which changes were being implemented, especially when compared to a far more aggressive approach in competing products, left many of us to wonder if SQL Server Reporting Services was dead.

With the release of SSRS 2016, we got an answer.

SSRS 2016: The Release We’ve Been Waiting For

When I first heard the official plans for the big changes released in SSRS 2016, I was attending the PASS Summit in October of 2015. I sat in on a session by James Phillips and others who were sharing about the upcoming changes to Reporting Services, and I said to the person sitting next to me: “This is the release we’ve been waiting for.” Before I left that session, I tweeted the following:

Write it down, folks. SQL Server Reporting Services is exciting again.

Since then, Microsoft has been as good as their word, releasing a completely new reporting platform along with the release of SQL Server 2016 last June. The changes are numerous, and some of my favorites are summarized below.

A New Report Portal

The breadth of the changes are immediately obvious as soon as you open Report Manager – because it isn’t there any more. Gone is the bland, spartan interface, which gives way to a much more modern UI (now referred to as the report portal) that is both more visually appealing and easier to navigate. As described by the Microsoft folks who first announced this change a little over a year ago:

The first thing you'll notice is that SSRS now looks like it was built in this century.

I couldn’t have summarized it better myself. The new reports portal reveals easy customization through branding packages, easier printing without plug-ins, native option to save to PowerPoint, all built on HTML5 for consistent behavior across browsers. Little things, too, like an easier-to-use report subscriptions UI and high DPI support, make this experience alone worth the upgrade.

KPIs

Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are one of the most striking new features of SQL Server Reporting Services. Yes, it was always possible to manually create a KPI in a report, but in this version KPIs have been promoted to first-class citizens. KPIs exist alongside paginated reports and are displayed directly in the report portal without the need for a separate report. As much as any other single change, this addition moves the web interface in SSRS from being a utility website to a portal that can be comfortably shared with technical folks, business analysts, and executives.

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Mobile Reports

Since its inception, Reporting Services had not offered a true mobile reporting solution. Sure, it was possible to write reports in such a way that they would sometimes render on small screens, but this “solution” really wasn’t. Last year Microsoft acquired mobile BI company DataZen, and very quickly integrated the elements of this mature application into SSRS. Along with KPIs and traditional paginated reports, SQL Server Reporting Services is the trifecta for solving most any reporting need. I’ll be sharing more about mobile reports in an upcoming post.

What’s Next

In the title of this post, I wrote that SSRS 2016 is great – and it is. I also wrote that it’s getting better, and the next frontier for moving forward is the integration of Power BI. Since Power BI came out a few years ago, my clients have been consistently asking how Power BI fits in with Reporting Services and the rest of the stack. In October, we got a hint from Microsoft about this in a public preview that shows Power BI and SSRS starting to play together. More recently, Microsoft publicly shared some of their timeline for this next frontier in SSRS, which has a new downloadable technical preview arriving in January 2017, and a production-ready version sometime later that same year. Lots of folks are excited about Power BI; if it can be used effortlessly in on-prem SSRS solutions, Microsoft will have an unstoppable reporting platform.

Conclusion

The last six months have been very exciting for those of us who have been longing for a major update to SQL Server Reporting Services. With some of the recent public announcement from Microsoft, the future of SSRS looks very bright as well.

About the Author

Tim Mitchell
Tim Mitchell is a business intelligence and SSIS consultant who specializes in getting rid of data pain points. Need help with data warehousing, ETL, reporting, or SSIS training? Contact Tim here: TimMitchell.net/contact

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