Take advantage of MS Word's powerful layout tools to build complex reports Report writing creates an expensive bottleneck for many companies because it demands ongoing, iterative involvement from in-house developers. This white paper describes a novel approach to report writing which allows business users to layout elegant reports using Microsoft Word as the layout tool. Introduction Report writing is costly and time consuming. The people who need the reports -- business users -- generally can't create them without the help of a programmer or developer. Creating reports becomes an iterative process. The business user enlists the developer's help. The developer creates a report and shows it to the business user. With feedback from the user, the developer then refines the report. This process happens for reports across the organization. IT and business resources get tied up in this time-consuming process. Plus, report writing is often the lowest priority for developers because they are under pressure to deliver revenue-generating products. This endless report design process is very slow, expensive and frustrating for all departments involved. Worse still, the final report created is inadequate -- getting it right becomes too expensive and takes too much time. What if report design were easy enough that program managers, product managers, accounting managers or any business user could do it alone, without help? What if there were no ad hoc query tools or complex report writers that require programming knowledge? What if there was no learning curve? Windward Reports - for simplified report writing Microsoft Word (or any other word processor) is the key to a new and innovative approach to report writing called Windward Reports. Microsoft Word is a powerful layout tool that almost everyone knows how to use. Setting up tables and formatting text in Word is almost second nature to most business people. Leveraging the familiar Word environment, business users have an easy-to-use tool to create the sophisticated reports they really want. Business users can take full advantage of Word's formatting and What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get environment. There's little or no learning curve. Figure 1 Purchase Order Template Created and Formatted in Word By the way, if you are looking for some report tool specific item in figure 1, there isn't anything. Figure 1 is a plain old Word document report. Everything you would do to create a similar report template you already know how to do. Windward Reports is an enterprise-level reporting engine that uses Microsoft Word, or any other word processor such as Open Office, to design a report template. Windward Reports takes the template you design and any number of data sources (such as xml or sql databases) and merges them together to create your final report. Using Windward Reports Windward Reports design platform can be called by java or .NET programs, either directly or in a client server configuration. Windward Reports includes AutoTag®, an add-in for Microsoft Word which greatly simplifies data layout and data source mapping, eliminating the expense and frustration of the iterative report development process. Because the report is designed in Word, business users can design it correctly and quickly. Figure 2 shows a Purchase Order Template that was created in Word using AutoTag: Figure 2 Sample Purchase Order with AutoTag Tags are added to the template to indicate where data will be merged into the template to create the final report. The simplest tag is the out tag, whose format is . In this case, the tag will be replaced with the name of the customer from the xml data merged with the template. While the entire tag can appear in the template, AutoTag displays just the tag name. Placing the cursor over the tag name pops up a tooltip that displays the entire tag. In addition, when using AutoTag, there is no mistyping of tags in the template. A user selects "Insert Tag" from the drop-down menu and a pop-up box displays the available tags. A business user can't get the tag format wrong. The Tag Editor makes it easy for a non developer to:
  • See the data nodes and select the one you want, easily setting the tag to point to the correct data. There is no need to understand how to access a database.
  • Displays the data that the tag will return. This uses a sample dataset and delivers immediate visual feedback of the data that will be inserted.
Figure 3 Tag Editor While there are 9 tags, most work is performed with two tags: the out tag (described above), and the forEach tag. The forEach tag will loop through a set of data, once for each row of data. In the screenshot above, the forEach will loop through 4 times, once for each item in the invoice. In the template displayed in Figure 3, it will create one row in the table for each of the 4 items purchased. Once the template is complete and the desired report output format is chosen (PDF, RTF, HTML, WordML, XLS, SpreadsheetML, TXT, or multi-part MIME email), Windward Reports merges the template with the corresponding report data. The result is a finished report with all the formatting and positioning specified by the business user - available in minutes. Proven Efficiency Windward Reports' customers attest to this ease of use and time savings: Mr. S.S. Mohanty of Nucleus Software Exports, says his favorite feature of Windward Reports is the Word based template because it made his life easier. Prior to using Windward Reports, he said "I [previously] spent half my time designing and scripting reports to meet the Bank's requirements. With Windward, we can layout a report in Word and get immediate approval from the client." Mr. Bjerregaard Pedersen of Backbone Digital Systems said "compared to systems where both layout and data must be coded, as we did before, the process of creating a new report is at least 5 times faster." More Information This white paper is brought to you by Windward Reports, a robust J2EE/.NET reporting engine that uses Microsoft Word as a layout tool, putting report-design and generation power in the hands of the business user, technical or non-technical. Windward Reports can run as a standalone application or as an enterprise-wide service running on a corporate server. To see if Windward Reports is right for your organization, download a free demo at www.windwardreports.com.