Thursday, September 27, 2012

SSRS Report prototypes using Google Charts

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Contemplating and conceptualizing design of any application starts with almost no tools at hand. MS Office - Powerpoint and Excel, or similar products are the tools that remain available with the design and development teams for developing application screen design prototypes. MS Visio is generally used to develop wireframes. In an application / report centric design, users preference remains viewing reports blended with the web application itself. As the need for a mature prototype develops, html - css - javascript based prototype starts getting developed.

Report prototypes are generally developed as excel spreadsheets or raw reports exported to excel, which are evidently totally isolated and hard to visualize how they would gel with the hosting environment. Google charts provides excellent variety of visualizations. The best part about this visualizations are:
  • Visualizations are interactive, but they don't use Silverlight. Interactive term is used very loosely but its a very valuable term. SSRS reports are rendered as an image file which is not interactive. But these visualizations have one or other form of user interaction feature available along with tooltips.
  • These visualizations are generated using HTML5 so they are cross-browser as well as mobile device compatible. Also visualizations are drawn using SVG or VML.
  • Embedding these visualization and populating it with data is mere couple of html and javascript tags. Visualizations are exposed as google javascript libraries. Include those libraries in your page, create objects from the exposed object model and add data in the form of a very simple array. And your report visual is ready.
  • Visualization such as treemap / intensity map, motion charts etc are also available which missing in SSRS.
  • These visualizations are exposed in the form of classes, and they also have event listeners. This means you can bind user interaction on this visualizations with your server side code too.

One might also think why not use these visualizations in production environments ? The main reason I would have resistance against using these in production, is that firstly these are provisioned for free on google infrastructure. So you can't commit any SLA with confidence to end-clients regarding performance. Next google publishes a deprecation policy that supports backward compatibility for 3 years. This means that once any visualization is classified as deprecated, after 3 years that would disappear from google charts. This is not acceptable in any serious production environments. If I compare this with Microsoft policies, any deprecated or even discontinued products like Proclarity / PPS 2007 have a support policy for 10 years. But of course these products are not free.

So I suggest that its one of the best tools to use to create great report prototypes that are almost closest to the actual reports. Below is a sample code to create a pie-chart.

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