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Cracking the Conundrum: Automation in Pandemic Times

From the CEO

“I don’t want to survive, I want to live!” from the movie Wall-E resonates well now with most entrepreneurs around the world. You don’t just want your business to exist, you want it to thrive. How do you go about it during this virus-crisis, especially when the light at the end of the tunnel is right now invisible? Automation is one way to light up the dark tunnel we’re all stuck in now.

Automation is No Longer a Technological Curiosity

Automation anywhere has been underway for years now (in a way it remained an underdog), but now it is simply unstoppable due to the pandemic. A McKinsey report indicates that nearly 45% of current activities performed by individuals in an organization can be automated. Indeed, we've moved from saying 'we're automating a lot' to 'what more can we automate now in these unprecedented times.' All thanks to the powerful advantages of automation technology.

We’ve always been automated for a company our size, so there was nothing to panic about when the economy tanked in 2008 and now when the COVID-19 pandemic hit our county and country in 2020. We know it’s not the case with a lot of businesses out there. Most of them are on the brink of losing it all as they are forced to shut down and employees restricted to home-quarantine. As an eager beaver entrepreneur, you need to step up your strategy during this uncertain phase. Help your employees (working-from-home) do more valuable stuff, and automation applied in the right way can help you do just that.

How to Go About Automation Implementation?

Straight from the horse’s mouth, Bill Gates once indicated automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify its efficiency and when exercised on an inefficient operation it will magnify its inefficiency. Indeed automation and RPA has answers to the current situation and can enhance the efficiency of your process. There’s no shortage of tools and high-tech automation solutions on the market today to deal with rote tasks and increase productivity. You can automate every inch of your operations from customer support, payroll, marketing, to document generation and everything in between.

There are scores of articles on the internet talking about automation tools for every process in your business. Indeed you can find various types and examples of automation. But just because you can automate a certain aspect of your business doesn’t mean you must. Now, how to know ‘what to automate’ and ‘what not to automate’ in these unprecedented times. You need to get smart here by getting your process ‘right’ and choosing the right process for automation.

Know (Well) About the Process You Wish to Automate

If you’re in a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ kind of state when getting into the specifics of a process you wish to automate, then it’s time to step back. Any attempts to automate it will be futile. You must first understand the process well and if it can’t be documented in simple English, chances are it’s too complex and abstruse.

In his book, Enterprise Applications Administration, author Jeremy Faircloth imparts some of his wisdom by outlining the factors that help with this decision process. He confirms the fact that not all processes can be automated as some need too much manual intervention and others due to administrative or technical limitations.

Now, even if you aren’t a tech-savvy entrepreneur, it’s possible to spot the right processes that you can automate in your company. Here’s what an ideal process that’s worth automating should look like:

Evaluating the process this way can help you streamline it with the help of the best automation tools and in the process get rid of any bottlenecks.  Anything that’s repetitive and involves teamwork is worth automating in the present lock-down conditions as even individual employees working from home or remotely can execute the process in just a couple of clicks. In fact, it never hurts to ask your employees what needs to be automated in this present situation.

It’s Not ‘Set it and Forget it’ — Control the Automation Tools You Implement

Now that you’re cognizant of how to identify the ideal processes to automate, the next thing is to spot befitting automation tools. You’ll come across an extensive range of them all promising to speed up your process without sacrificing quality. In fact, they can be right within your budget and ready-made (easy to test and implement). Albeit, the past decade saw a lot of automation failures that even included big company names like Google (2014 Gmail bug problem) and Amazon (2015 involving Dynamo DBDatabase).

Security matters when automating any process as anything that‘s programmed can be bugged and hacked. After the process gets automated, you need to ensure it can be supervised at will and managed effectively before any issue gets out of hand. The support system of the automation software company must also respond promptly if there are any bugs or other issues to deal with.

We and Our Institutions Will Decide the Future

During these uncertain times, automation industry can give the confidence and control your company needs — we can’t let this crisis decide our future. Economist David Autor spoke in his TED speech that we’ve already faced momentous economic transformations in the last century and we’ve come through successfully.

Of course, every time is different and we’ll get out of this tunnel as well. In essence, it isn’t all about headcount reduction that automation aims at. It helps propel your business towards progress by freeing up your employees’ time from mundane tasks. This ensures they can focus on things that matter and need innovative thinking to do something remarkable.

If you've just discovered us, we're excited. Know more about Windward and get your 14-day free trial and start creating documents in quick time with our low/no code solutions.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

David Thielen

President/CEO at Windward Studios

From his early years as a Senior Developer at Microsoft, to legendary designer of the popular Enemy Nations strategy game, to reporting and document generation guru, Dave has never lost his passion for building superb software and teams.

Written by:_
David Thielen
President/CEO at Windward Studios
Windward © 2021 All Rights Reserved.


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