Monday, March 16, 2009

Before You Start RTF Template Development

Anybody can start developing RTF Template with MS-Word right away. You download Template Builder, which is a MS-Word Add-in, and install it, then load a sample XML data file or connect to BI Publisher Enterprise Server, now you can use Template Builder’s UI wizard to construct tables, charts, or even crosstabs just a matter of 10 seconds or so. (I mean, just to start with!) From there you can start modifying the layout and formatting by just using MS-Word’s native functionalities that most of us are already familiar with. You can add page header/footer, change font size, color, or change table column size, etc. And by using Template Builder you can add even calculations pretty easily. So until this point everything looks just a piece of cake.

But the real challenge starts from here when you have some ‘complicated’ requirements that you didn’t think they would be that complicated. For example you might want to do a conditional formatting based on values inside the group that you’re working on or even outside the group. Or you might want to use some functions to process some data values in the way you need to use for another processing. Or you might need to customize the charts to meet your specific requirements. The Template Builder has been evolving for the last 2 years or so and adding many extra features that have reduced significant amount of manual customization work we needed before. However, we still need to perform some type of manual customization to meet real world requirements especially for pixel perfect type of reports and forms.

For such customization, you can double click a text form field, which opens a Template Builder dialog box, click on the ‘Advanced’ tab, type any code includes BI Publisher code (xdo) and XSL/XPATH/FO codes. Or for Chart customization, you can double click the chart image, which again opens MS-Word dialog box, and click on the ‘Web’ tab, now you can customize the chart definition XML with mix of XDO/XSL/FO codes.

This is where many developers stop and scratch their heads, and wonder what the hell is this ? And you take a look at BI Publisher’s User’s Guide, Tim’s Blog, google some useful tips, and try & error, in order to achieve what it used to look simple to do once. And next time you realize it’s already a couple of weeks past and your project manager or customers keep asking you when they can be done or even if they can be really doable.

Welcome to the world of XML. All of the customization requires an understanding of XML technologies. Without a decent understanding of the technology you are going to just spend more time for nothing. However, with a correct and good amount of understanding of the technology the manual customization with XML codes doesn’t look that difficult anymore. In fact you can see the consistent logic behind it and can grasp easier. You can even find more functionalities with the XML technology, which enables you to enjoy much more flexible development of RTF Template.

Well, you don’t need to become a XML developer or anything. You just need to get a ‘decent’ amount of understanding. Or I would say just ‘Basic’ level of understanding first. And this basic understanding of XML technology makes a whole world of difference. I can tell you because that is what happened to me when I started working with this technology. This also happened to many of my colleagues from BI & Reporting background.

So from the next blog I’ll cover some of the basic XML technologies. If you can’t wait for the next blog, I’d recommend you to go ahead and check this W3School’s web site where you can find not only the overview of the technology also quick tutorials for you to learn.

The topics I’ll cover would be,


So stay tuned and see you at the next blog !

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