Reporting Tool Saves Developer Time
- By Linda L. Briggs
The IT group of Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has reduced to almost nothing the time its developers spend creating various end-user XML reports. Instead, users create their own reports in Microsoft Word, using a product from Windward Studios.
The department had migrated a client-server-based application to BEA Weblogic, using .JSP to support internal and external portals for various divisions. The challenge was to deliver reports to the thin client environment, according to project manager Gopal Kandasamy.
Virginia’s ABC department generates more than $40 million in revenue and $130 million in taxes on alcohol sold annually. For cost and administrative reasons, Kandasamy needed a tool that delivered report output without client licensing issues and without plug-ins.
He chose Windward Reports, which allows end users to use Microsoft Word as a report design tool, greatly reducing the time his developers spend on report generation. The Word-based report templates help users understand report content visually, Kandasamy says, further minimizing training. “The advantage is that users don’t see any difference. They’re using a familiar tool, so you don’t have to train them.”
Kandasamy’s group implemented a Java RMI service in a server running as a Windows service, where the report templates are stored. The service is invoked from the application server by calling the RMI service with data in an XML format as the byte stream. The generated report is rendered at the client side in .PDF, .HTML or .RTF format, depending on user needs.
“The developers can concentrate on creating the XML stream,” Kandasamy says, which determines the hierarchy of the data elements in the report. The Windward tool then merges the XML stream with the report template, and by looking at the hyperlink tags, plugs in the correct values.
He saves perhaps a day per report, Kandasamy says, in the time it used to take to design a report and obtain approval for it.
Windward Reports is a J2EE/.NET reporting engine that allows users to first format reports in Word, then create them in RTF, HTML or PDF formats using an XML file for the data, and the Word document as the report template. A new release adds support for Microsoft’s new WordML and SpreadsheetML XML formats, along with an .XLS format. Windward Reports is available as a Java library and runs as a standalone application or in an enterprise environment.
Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].