Zoho Reports is a low cost, cloud business intelligence solution that can be up and running in minutes. It is simple for non-technical personas yet deep enough for true technical pros to deliver enterprise-wide solutions. In this solution review article, we will explore Zoho Reports “hands-on”. Let’s get started.
Who is Zoho?
Zoho is a “tech darling of India”. Although this vendor does not have global brand recognition yet outside of the small business market, they are rapidly growing in the cloud SaaS CRM, productivity suite, and reporting markets with Zoho One. Today Zoho apps are localized for Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, and Spanish languages.
Zoho One is a low-cost suite of over 40 cloud CRM, marketing, business operations and productivity apps. Since Zoho One was introduced last year, they have more than 30 million users. To put that adoption metric in perspective, Tableau touts 65,000 accounts globally and Qlik shares stats of 45,000 customer accounts worldwide in press releases.
Grew to win over 30 million users
Zoho Reports is one of the featured apps for creating interactive reports and dashboards. It can be used stand-alone or with other Zoho One apps. It is tightly integrated into the Zoho One suite much like Power BI is integrated into Microsoft Office and Google Data Studio is tied into Google’s offerings. It is a viable alternative to those big tech services. In fact, Zoho Reports is far more feature complete than Google’s Data Studio solution that has been neglected now for a long time.
Getting Started with Zoho Reports
To deliver rapid value, Zoho Reports offers a wide range of prebuilt templates and reporting solutions for most of the major SaaS services including but not limited to Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, HubSpot, Insightly, Pipedrive, Zoho Finance apps, QuickBooks Online, Xero, Stripe, Google Analytics, Google AdWords, ManageEngine Service Desk, Zendesk, SurveyMonkey, Mailchimp, Google Apps, Zapier and many more.
Alternatively, report authors can build custom solutions. To get started creating a report, you’ll want to connect to a data source.
Zoho Reports provides connectivity options to import the data that you have in local files, Web URLs, Cloud drives (Google Spreadsheets, Google Docs etc), Local/Cloud databases, and popular business applications. Although there are 100MB and 1 million row limits for file uploads, data connectivity with Upload Tool and the APIs does not limit data sizes. Today Zoho’s largest customers report on hundreds of millions of rows of data. Reporting data source connections can be optionally synchronized and refreshed on a schedule. Hybrid live connectivity is currently available for Amazon Redshift and will be expanding to other data sources.
After data is loaded in Zoho Reports, you can immediately generate automated reports or continue preparing and modeling your data. Auto Analysis applies an advanced rules engine to scan your data. It creates a series of reports and dashboards automatically that can be optionally customized.
Here is an example auto-generated analysis of figure skating data copied from Wikipedia. The dashboard, detailed reports, and even a drop-down filter was created for me.
Data Modeling and Preparation
If you want to further refine your data, model it and manually build reports, Zoho Reports includes basic data prep capabilities and a visual data model designer. Popular relational and dimensional data modeling design techniques are supported. When you load multiple tables of data, relationships with existing data will be automatically detected. The suggested joins are presented with options allowing you to change them.
A data model diagram view is also available for exploring the relationships across numerous tables.
For preparing data, you can query tables to create views of data, add calculated columns, cleanse data and more. Zoho Reports provides you with a variety of in-built point-and-click functions. Built-in functions can be used in combination with table columns and basic arithmetic operators like +, -, / and * to create your own custom formula or aggregate column.
For lightweight data cleansing and preparation, you can use Find and Replace and other menu level options in a table view display. For more advanced data pros, Query Tables functionality can be used. Query Tables essentially defines a “view” of data within Zoho Reports using the SQL language. Currently SQL written in Oracle, SQL Server, IBM DB2, MySQL, Sybase, Informix, PostgreSQL, and ANSI SQL dialects are supported. For deeper data cleansing, transformation, and ETL-like capabilities, a third-party data prep solution would likely still be needed. There are no complex visual ETL or data pipeline workflows today in Zoho Reports. Notably, a related app called Zoho Flow provides some data flow automation.
In my hands-on testing activities, I found designing Zoho custom reports to be fun and intuitive. There are options to select themes, customize colors, pick a chart type and drag-and-drop report columns into a guided chart designer that includes options to add filters. I liked the basic canvas design that allowed me to place one or more reporting objects where I wanted them.
For visualizing data, Zoho Reports provides over 25 chart types along with pivot, summary and tabular views including but not limited to the following:
- Pie Chart
- Ring Chart
- Bar Chart
- Stacked Chart
- Scatter Chart
- Line Chart
- Bubble Chart
- Combination Chart
- Area Chart
- Funnel Chart
- Web Chart (aka Radar Chart)
- Geospatial Chart (Private Beta)
Zoho Reports Charts have nice interactive options such as Expand, Collapse, add On Mouse Over Effects, Tooltips, Filtering, custom Drill Down Paths, View Detail Data, Export and other options. You can also view data relationships within charts – a fairly unique, nice feature that I have not seen implemented in a chart before.
Most of the report properties can be controlled within the chart settings – formatting of Title and Description, Axis Settings, Borders and Colors, Tooltip, Legend Settings, Thresholds, Trends, and Chart Drill Down Paths and Colors.
As I was testing, I noted that Zoho Reports does not contextually filter by clicking on charts like other visual analytics solutions in the market. However, it does have highlighting, drill options and other types of rich filtering options for interactivity. Filtering options include chart level targeting and an array of display options for drop-downs, range sliders, calendar controls, etc. to design attractive filters on the canvas. Filters can be numeric ranges, date ranges, individual values, top10, bottom 10 etc.
I also noted strong “out-of-the-box” date/time functions with relative date/time filtering for common scenarios such as This and Last Quarter, Month, Week, etc. that were easy button-click selections.
For KPIs, Zoho Reports offers a widget-based model for single numbers and chart type KPIs. KPI Widgets can be accompanied with associated comparison indicator or plotted against a target to show current state and progression over time.
In addition to charts and KPIs, Zoho Reports has strong pivot table options with Excel-like conditional formatting capabilities. Zoho Report pivot tables allow you to dynamically rearrange, group and summarize data for easy analysis of large sets of data.
Collaborate, Publish and Share
If you want to discuss reports with other users, you can add comments, send email or links to content. Zoho Reports provides role-based collaboration and access control. Each role has a set of permissions that allows you to perform only specific tasks. For publishing, sharing and external distribution, Zoho Reports offers a wide range of possibilities. You can publish, export or email reports and dashboards in various file formats such as CSV, Excel, PDF, HTML and image. For recurring reports, you can optionally schedule publication, email and export options.
For public sharing, Zoho Reports content can be embedded live within websites, blogs, web pages, or applications. Public or private URLs can be sent in email or social media activities with or without the Powered by Zoho logo. Here is an example of my figure skating score analysis.
To complement the cloud solution, touch optimized native mobile apps for iOS and Android platforms are available. The native mobile apps enable users to interact with published Zoho Reports data and reports, track key performance metrics and send alerts for transforming insight into action while on the go. White label versions of the mobile apps are available for OEM customers.
APIs and White Label Options
For small businesses, agencies, independent software vendors, solution developers, and consultants, Zoho Reports offers embedded analytics and white label solutions. Zoho’s white label solutions include a ready-made BI and analytics solution and the native mobile BI apps. The solution can be used as a fully featured, stand-alone BI and analytics tool, integrated into products or services, or embedded into apps with custom branding and logos.
For more sophisticated developers, Zoho Reports provides API libraries to manage and extend capabilities. Zoho Reports programming language wrappers are available in familiar programming languages such as Java, C#, Python, PHP, GO and even Google Apps.
Related Zoho One Business Apps
Quite possibly one the most impressive aspects of Zoho is the related Zoho One suite of over 40 business apps that are available at $30 a month.
While I was testing Zoho Reports, I also wanted to get a sense for the wider Zoho One offerings and how they compared to Microsoft, Google and Salesforce – the most common alternatives in that space today. Although I only played with the comparable apps to Word and PowerPoint, I was shocked by Zoho One’s depth and breadth. From what I saw, it could become a viable alternative to Office 365 and G Suite. I did not have a chance to test the CRM or other apps yet.
I was pleasantly surprised that Zoho One was much better than I was expecting
Cloud does change the game. Cloud enables players like Zoho with the scale and technical potential to rise up or leap-frog the mammoth vendors. I was pleasantly surprised that Zoho One was much better than I was expecting. I’m not sure if my readers know this but I do turn away many groups that want public reviews. I only accept sponsored public reviews for solutions that I’d be willing to use myself.
One last fun fact before we wrap up, I noticed that Zoho seems to be using a “fast-follower” strategy…Recently, Flow for workflow automation was added to supplement Zoho Reports. Sound familiar?
For More Information
All in all, the depth and breadth of Zoho Reports and the related Zoho One offerings totally impressed me. Zoho Reports far surpasses several other comparable low fee cloud BI options, specifically AWS QuickSight and Google Data Studio, that were previously reviewed. Although I did not see any advanced statistical, augmented analytics, or artificial intelligence capabilities, I did like the practical automated reports and immediate value solution templates.
To be completely transparent, I might try Zoho One myself for my own tiny business. I have already started a transition from Windows to Mac since I am not a Windows 10 monitoring fan. I’ll let you know if and when I make a move. Initially, I was looking into an Office 365 to Google GSuite migration since most of my current clients use Mac and Google GSuite.
If you’d like to explore Zoho Reports or Zoho One yourself, please check out the following recommended resources. If you do review Zoho Reports or Zoho One or make the move before me, please let me know. I’d love to get your feedback and hear about your lessons learned.
- Zoho Reports website https://www.zoho.com/reports
- Video Demonstrations https://www.zoho.com/reports/video-demo.html
- Online Help https://www.zoho.com/reports/help/overview.html
- FAQs https://www.zoho.com/one/applications/faq.html
- OEM/Embedded BI https://www.zoho.com/reports/embedded-analytics.html
- APIs https://www.zoho.com/reports/api/?python#data-api
- Get Started in 3 Days https://www.zoho.com/reports/zoho-reports-assist-program.html
- Partner Program https://www.zoho.com/reports/partners.html