The Case of Locating National's Treasures

The Case of Locating National's Treasures

Creating meaningful names to track reports

My attic was a disaster, piled high with junk that should have been tossed out years ago, perhaps even generationsago.As I steeled myself for some house cleaning, my cell phone rang.

"This is Abigail Pursuit," said the caller. "I'm the CEO of National Manufacturing. I have a mysterious email message that I'd like you to investigate."

"Mysterious, eh? What does it say?"

"It says,'The secret lies with Charlotte'," replied Ms. Pursuit. "That's all?" I asked."That's mysterious.Who sent it?"

"That's part of the mystery. It was sent from a system account, so we don't know."

"How about Charlotte? What's her story?"

"That's just it," replied Ms. Pursuit. "We don't have an employee named Charlotte."

That was all I needed. I told Ms. Pursuit I was on my way. As I raced to National Manufacturing in my '37 Packard, I thought about the mystery. If Charlotte wasn't an employee, who was she? By the time I pulled into a visitor's parking spot, I had a hunch where I'd find her.

Ms. Pursuit met me at the door. After an exchange of pleasantries, I asked to browse the corporate network. In moments, my hunch was confirmed. "I see that your network administrator named your printers after dames: Annabel, Betsy, and Charlotte. If we go to the printer called Charlotte, I think we'll find an explanation for this mysterious message."

Unfortunately, instead of finding the answer, we found another mystery. When we reached the printer, we discovered that it was buried under a drift of printouts. I grabbed a page from the top of the pile and gave it the once-over. On one side of the page was National Manufacturing's annual report. On the other side was a series of letters, characters, and symbols that looked like some type of code.

"Any idea what this might be?" I asked, pointing to the code.

"It looks like folder paths and filenames," observed Ms. Pursuit."But I don't know what the names mean."

"Yes, it does look like folder paths and filenames, but the names don't have drive letters or file extensions," I noted."Who's responsible for the annual report?"

"Benjamin Doors is in charge of all our reporting," Ms. Pursuit responded."Lately, he's been fanatical about organizing our business information."

"Business intelligence can yield a wealth of information for a company. It can be a treasure—in your case, a National treasure—but your users shouldn't have to go on a treasure hunt to find what they need."

Soon, we were at Mr. Doors's office asking him about the mysterious code. "Yes, I put the codes on the back of the annual report. It's a list of folder paths and filenames for all the reports we've deployed on our Reporting Services report server. I thought putting this information on the back of the annual report would help our employees find the business reports they need."

"And the email message,'The secret lies with Charlotte?'" I prompted.

"I sent that message," Doors admitted sheepishly. "I started to compose it to all our users to tell them about the annual report and the key to all our reporting secrets on the Charlotte printer, but I accidentally clicked Send while I was editing the message. It came out kind of cryptic."

"Your desire to make sure everyone has access to business intelligence is a good idea, pal," I said,"but I think I know a better way."

Using Meaningful Names

I explained to Mr. Doors that SQL Server Reporting Services provides several tools to help users locate a report stored on the report server. First, Reporting Services organizes reports into a folder structure. It's important to give each folder a name that has meaning to your users; it doesn't help to use codes and cryptic abbreviations in folder names. Folder names can have as many as 260 characters and can contain spaces, characters, and symbols, with some exceptions (;?:@&=+$,\*<>|"/).

You specify the folder path in which you want the software to save reports that you deploy to the report server from Visual Studio 2005. If one or more of the folders in the path doesn't exist,Visual Studio creates the folder for you. Of course, you can also use Reporting Service's browser-based Report Manager UI to create new folders.

Report names follow the same rules as folder names. Unfortunately, you can't specify a report name when you deploy the report from Visual Studio. Instead, Visual Studio 2005 uses the name of the Report Definition Language (RDL) file as the report name. After you deploy the report, you can use the Report Manager UI to modify the report's name on the report server. If you use the Report Manager UI to upload reports, you can specify a report name as part of the upload process.

Specifying Descriptions

In addition to using meaningful names for reports and folders, you can use another tool—the description—to help your users. You can provide descriptions for both folders and reports; descriptions can have as many as 512 characters and can contain any symbols and characters.

You use descriptions to give users details about the contents of a folder or the purpose of a report. The description can even give users information about required report parameters or the way the report has been sorted and grouped. Meaningful names and descriptions help users avoid having to navigate through a number of folders or test-run reports to find the report they're looking for. The names and descriptions can also make users aware of reports and report features they didn't know existed.

You can attach a description to a report by filling in the report's description property prior to deploying that report from Visual Studio 2005. You can use the Report Manager UI to attach a description to a folder when you create it. You can also use the Report Manager UI to modify the description of an existing folder or report, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1: Modifying a report's properties

Performing Searches

Search, another feature in the Report Manager UI, uses these meaningful names and descriptions to help you locate reports on the report server. As Figure 2 shows, the Search for prompt appears in the upper-right corner of the Report Manager window. This feature lets you do a simple text-match search of the name and description of items on the report server. Note that this isn't a Boolean search, in which a space is the same as "OR". This search feature looks for entries that match the entire string you entered.The Report Manager UI enforces security during a search, so you see only those folders and reports to which you have the appropriate rights.

Figure 2: Searching for a report name or description

Figure 3 shows sample search results.You can click one of the result items to navigate to folders or execute reports directly from the search result list.

Figure 3: Search results

Running Right

In no time, Mr. Doors had revised all the report item names and descriptions, and had trained users how to use the search feature. Now, the reports on the report server are a treasure for all people, or at least all the people at National Manufacturing.

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