If you are a Reporting Services practitioner, the Microsoft mobile report story can be a little confusing with two very different choices. As I’m preparing to deliver a full day preconference session for the PASS Summit on October 31st titled “Modern Reporting with SQL Server 2016 and 2017 Reporting Services” and a general session during the main conference tiled “Clear Skies and Not a Cloud in Sight – Power BI On-Prem”, this has me pondering about what my mobile reporting message will be. Being part of the Microsoft MVP Program and participating on a number of product team advisory boards provides insight into how things often work at Microsoft and how products tend to evolve and align over time. I am forever enthusiastic about using and promoting Microsoft BI and reporting tools, but I am not bound by any covenant to adhere to a simplified marketing message from Microsoft or any other company. To that end, I share some thoughts about the current state of mobile reporting…
This is the story of two products – or rather one product that is now a service and another product that is now a component of another product. A few years ago, Microsoft began to formulate a mobile usability story among many fragmented tools. They had a really good reporting product: SSRS, and they had a pretty good self-service BI capability offered as a bunch of Excel add-ins; namely: Power Pivot, Power Query and Power View – but it didn’t do mobile. They bought Datazen which was a decent mobile reporting and dashboard tool, designed primarily for IT developers and semi-tech-savvy business pros to quickly create mobile dashboards using traditional data sources. Datazen wasn’t really a self-service BI tool and wasn’t really designed to work with BI data in the true sense. It was a good power user report tool but was young and needed to be refined and matured as a product. Datazen became “Reporting Services Mobile Reports” and was integrated into the SSRS platform as a separate reporting experience with a separate design tool, optimized exclusively for use on mobile devices using platform-specific mobile phone and tablet apps. Since initial roll-out, product development stalled and has not changed at all since it was released with SQL Server 2016 Enterprise Edition.
Meanwhile, the “Power…” Excel add-ins evolved into Power BI, a free downloadable desktop tool that requires no other Microsoft products and a cloud-based service that requires no other investment but a monthly per-user subscription. Now there are multiple deployment, scaling and licensing options. Power BI has been wildly successful and Microsoft continues to sink a ton of resources into the ongoing development, support and innovation of the Power BI platform brand. Today, Power BI has a very solid mobile story. Like the Datazen/SSRS Mobile Reports product, it runs on all modern mobile devices in platform-specific phone and tablet apps. Reports render to HTML5 so it works in all modern web browsers on desktops and mobile devices. In short, Power BI is all that – with a very bright future; and SSRS Mobile Reports is well, it is what it was when it started – and its future is a little unclear. And, to make the choice just a little more cloudy, Power BI integrates with Reporting Services in a number of different ways.
Yours truly started writing a book about SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services with Mobile Reports about two years ago when the Datazen was all the rage and Power BI was just a marketing tag line for Excel-based Power Pivot and SharePoint. In my Wrox Press book, “Professional SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services with Mobile Reports” I thoroughly covered the SSRS mobile reporting capabilities and I still believe it to be a good choice for certain scenarios. Now that I’m working with consulting clients to add mobile and self-service features on top of reporting and BI solutions, I tend to discuss the capabilities of Power BI before introducing SSRS mobile (if ever). So here’s my boiled-down analysis and advice at this point in the rapidly-changing mobile BI landscape…
If you need self-service BI that can be viewed on mobile devices, use Power BI. If it needs to run on-premises without cloud services, the new Power BI Report Server may be the right ticket but some of the mobile capabilities are still in the works. Either way, SSRS And Power BI are are good pair of tools that Microsoft plans to support for the foreseeable future.
If you need mobile reports developed by IT pros or dedicated report designers in an on-premises (non-cloud) solution for your company, SSRS Mobile Reports should be a consideration but also consider whether Power BI will meet your needs. If so, it may offer better options and capabilities in the long-term. Make sure you understand the data latency and volume limitations, and keep in mind that SSRS Mobile Report Reports requires a SQL Server Enterprise license. Like SSRS Paginated reports, there are no user restrictions for a licensed server.
Consider the licensing options for Power BI. If you need to support hundreds of users, you will either need to budget for monthly individual user Power BI Pro licenses, SQL Server Enterprise with Software Assurance and/or Power BI Premium to support any number of read-only report users (retail list price is ~5K per month). Also consider that SSRS Mobile Reports is an Enterprise license feature. If your company is a SQL Server Standard license shop with no plans to upgrade, your choice is pay monthly per user for Power BI Pro or to make do with standard paginated reports.
Following are links to my upcoming sessions at PASS Summit 2018:
…and here are the slides from last week’s session at SQL Saturday Vancouver, BC on August 26th: