The primary use case is for report automation.
The primary use case is for report automation.
It has streamlined a lot of our reporting processes. Windward gives you the ability to have a centralized reporting platform. There are many applications out there that have their own reports. Windward provides a centralized enterprise solution. For example, I had a program that I had written, which needed print capabilities. With the Windward interface, I was able create a different report platform inside of this new application leveraging Windward. Then, within a day or two, I had reports coming out of the new system, using the existing Windward platform.
As a systems integrator, Windward has been key to our getting acceptance for proposed projects. In fact, I often find myself pitching Windward to clients who are looking for some sort of automation, regardless of whether that requirement means a non-technical user or a technical user is involved. At this point, Windward is our go-to solution for any sort of document automation or reporting that is required by a prospect or a client of ours.
There are a couple of scenarios that we typically encounter. One is somebody that the client or prospect has already looked at Windward and has some familiarity with it, but they don't really understand how they can incorporate it into their environment or how they can leverage it for their business needs. The other one would be somebody who has never heard of Windward. They are looking for a solution and we can leverage Windward as an opportunity to earn their business.
For example, a client I was working with was working on a platform, and that platform had a very rudimentary reporting mechanism. When you went to that platform and wanted to request a report, there were a lot of parameters that you were forced to put in. The report wasn't in any sort of format. Customizing a report to the client's needs was very cumbersome. We were able not only to meet the requirements that the client wanted, but we were able to circumvent the existing reporting platform, bypass it, and leverage Windward to output the reports. That's a clear example of how we were able to integrate Windward into an existing software application.
We use it internally for outputting various types of reports. I have demonstrated that to existing clients and prospects. Anytime they're looking for this type of solution, I simply let them know that we're "eating our own dog food" here and show them how we're using it. That has really gone well for us because it demonstrates that we have knowledge of doing the integration of the product and that we have knowledge of the product — we've got resources on staff who understand the technology and how to put something together from a reporting perspective.
It really showcases the fact that it is something that's relatively easy to use. Creating a report using some reusable components is what helps us drive our business from a reporting perspective. It has helped us tremendously when we are prospecting, and when we need to show some demos we've got something readily available that we can show.
Working with Windward as a company has helped to increase our business. As part of the partnership that we have, what Windward does is sell its product and what we do is integrate that product with existing platforms. Nine out of 10 times, Windward will get a request from a prospect in which they ask for a certain type of scenario. Windward will refer that prospect to us and we will work with Windward team, in almost a presale or sales-enablement mode, to help address any type of business concerns that the prospect may have. Whether it has been an integration or it's a technical issue, we have worked together with Windward to help solve problems for prospects.
In fact, we had one just recently where there were certain requirements that were not native to the Windward platform, but Windward was quick to say this is something that we could integrate with our product, should the need arise. From a support perspective, Windward is great because they're willing to adapt and change, based on customer requests that are coming in. As we work together as a team, it's a handshake. We'll help them out on certain requests that come in that are unique for them and, in turn, we'll do the same when we've got a reporting platform or a technical issue that we need to deal with where Windward can get involved.
Before working with Windward, we were doing a lot of custom software development. That is a lot harder to sell than trying to leverage an off-the-shelf product. Working with Windward has probably increased our revenue by at least 200 to 300 percent.
We're working very extensively with them. It's now at the point that I have a cadence call with one of their salespeople every two weeks, just to ensure that we talk about anything that's coming into my pipeline or their pipeline and to see where we can help each other out.
You can use Microsoft Office as your designer interface. This is the best feature that I've come across. There is very little programming. You can have nontechnical people create reports. It makes it more accessible to almost anyone who knows how to use Microsoft Office. If you know how to use Office, then you know how to maintain, format, and edit a report. This has helped free up our developers for other tasks. We don't have to rely on IT anymore to make modifications to reports. We can have business users go in there and make the modifications themselves. If they need to change a certain paragraph, highlight, bold, or move something onto a different page, all that can be done by the business user just knowing how to use Word. They don't have to have any sort of programming or technical expertise.
Its speed is where we receive key performance. The performance is fantastic. I have customers and clients who are pumping out 7,000 to 10,000 documents per week, and it's doing it flawlessly. I don't think I've had a single issue with a report not being generated as a result of the Windward Engine.
Windward's interface is quite user-friendly. I have helped more than a dozen of my clients get up to speed on how to use the Windward Designer. In all cases, two to three days is all you need to have somebody be proficient enough to start creating templates. There is very little training required, and the more technical you are, the quicker you'll pick it up. Even nontechnical individuals have had no issues getting up to speed on the product, its use, and to be able to start creating templates.
The layout and design are extremely, well laid out. They have a lot of tutorials which are available within the designer interface. So, if at any point you have any questions, you can simply search the tutorials. They provide sample templates for you, even generating code on the fly. If you need to integrate it into an existing application, you can do it in more than one language. whether it's VB, C#, Python, or Ruby. The amount of flexibility that it provides is fantastic.
Portable Object Doclets (PODs), from a usability perspective, are great. If I have a header that is needed in multiple documents, I can just create a POD for that header portion of it, then drag and drop that POD in any template that I want. I don't have to worry about recreating it in multiple places. It's simply create it once and reuse it multiple times. I don't have to worry about creating database connections, as all of that is embedded inside the POD, which makes it extremely flexible. The drag and drop capabilities are extremely easy to use.
Their PDF needs improvement. We've run into some issues when we tried to generate a Word document. If we try to generate the same document in PDF, sometimes it doesn't look exactly the same.
We have gone back to Windward support a couple of times on a few issues, e.g., we had some issues with reports that had barcodes on them. The barcode wasn't displaying properly. It was displaying as a skewed image as opposed to an actual barcode. Therefore, we worked with Windward support, having some daily calls with them. Then, within the next release, they were able to resolve the issue. They even gave us a pre-release, so we could implement it into our code before the actual official release on the website.
It would be nice to have some sort of workflow capability within the product. Anytime you generate a document, nine out of ten times there is something which precedes that document, whether it's entering parameters in, e.g., if I'm requesting the status report for a project. The first thing that I usually want from a status perspective is which project is the status report for and which week is it for, as those are some of the things that I have to supply before I can generate a document. From a workflow perspective, it would be nice to say, "This project belongs to this person, and this person is okay with me pulling information out of this document for whatever need I have."
From a workflow perspective, I would like a wizard interface that goes step-by-step, like a questionnaire, where there are a bunch of things that you have to answer, "Yes or no," before it knows what to do or how to produce the document. Right now, we write our own custom UI for this.
So far, so good. We've had our server here running for more than a couple of years. Other than maintenance updates on the server, I don't think we've ever had an issue with the Windward Engine stopping, forcing us to go and restart it. It's sort of like we set it and forget about it. It does what it needs to do. We have never had any issues with it.
We have had bugs from a report perspective. As far as the execution of reports and running them through the engine themselves, we have not had bugs. As long as a report runs successfully out of their designer, we've had no issues with the Windward Engine.
The scalability is good. We started off with a few documents here and there. Now, we are all the way up to pumping out 7,000 to 10,000 documents a week.
The way that they've got it licensed is pretty good as well, as you can buy it by the core. So, if I buy a two-core license, and I feel that I need to scale up, I can always purchase another two cores to make it a total of four.
In my organization, there are probably over a dozen people using it, who are mostly developers. However, I've had folks on the business side across many of my clients use it. For example, I have a client who has over 40 people using it with about 90 percent of those 40 people from the business side.
Windward support is top-notch. I don't think I've ever had an issue waiting on them for anything. They're responsive, and if there's an issue that needs to be solved, they're fairly quick to solve it. If you need something answered, they are pretty responsive and attentive to anything that comes up that is product related.
We were previously using a combination of things. We were using SSRS, which is Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, and reports out of Microsoft Access. So, we were able to consolidate both of these applications and leverage Windward to do all of our reporting. We switched to Windward because it is easier to use, easier to maintain, and more cost-effective.
I came across Windward by a Google search. I was actually looking for a document-generation or a document-automation system for an existing client of ours. There were a few options that we were considering. We could have done custom development, but because of the requirements that were dictated by the client, it had to be something that was relatively easy for a nontechnical person not only to create but to maintain. That put us in a separate bucket. Custom development was really out of the picture, as it would require some sort of IT resource to make those changes and therefore wouldn't meet the requirements of the client.
That led to my investigating existing tools that were out there. There was a handful of tools that we looked at, three or four, and I downloaded trial versions of each of those products back then. Windward happened to be the easiest to use, the easiest to get up to speed on as far as required knowledge, and I was able, believe it or not, to get something presentable to the client — a type of proof of concept — within a couple of days. And that was me not knowing anything about Windward at the time.
The initial setup was straightforward. A few clicks and you're ready to go. It took us less than five minutes to install.
For maintenance, as far as the actual Windward product goes, it really doesn't need anybody. Unless something happens to the hardware, the server is just constantly running. The only time you would need somebody (from a support perspective) is if you wanted to make a change or add a report to the system. So, it is very low maintenance.
I did the implementation. I was given some requirements as far as what the organization was sort of looking for:
The proof of concept along with our whole Windward experience has proven all three of these. It is also cost-effective, along with easy to use and its performance is right up there with the best of them.
It has helped to reduce costs. One of the departments that we are working with came back, and said they saw an increase of 70 percent efficiency as a result of using or leveraging Windward reports versus the old platform.
IT can now focus on strictly IT initiatives. They are not bogged down by business personnel asking them to change minor things and reports. We can now leverage the business to make changes on their own. This frees up IT resources for some more important things.
The pricing is fair. The way that they have it priced is the Windward Designer has a price that's associated with it. Then, depending on the number of cores that you're looking for, that is the price that you pay. The more cores that you want, the more expensive it is. Regardless of what the price is, it's still more cost-effective than some of the other reporting tools out there.
We also looked at HotDocs.
We chose Windward because it was the quickest to respond. They had a seven-day trial that was available, which was easy for me to download, and start using their application and to build out a proof of concept within a couple of hours. It was also more cost-effective than the competition, and that sweetened the deal.
I would recommend downloading a trial to see how easy it is to use. The price, technology, and performance are a natural fit for anybody who is looking to build a centralized enterprise reporting solution within their environment.
Before implementing, I downloaded a trial version, updated some trial keys, played around with the product for a couple of days, and had something up and running fairly quickly. Within a couple of hours, I had my first report. Then, I spent the next couple of days refining it, adding more sources, and getting it to a point where I could show it to the business and say, "Is this what you were looking for?" I was able to use that as a proof of concept and generate additional revenue as a result.
A lot of the tools out there today require in-depth knowledge of the tool, whereas Windward is a tool that can be self-taught very quickly. The knowledge that it takes to maintain the reporting piece on the Windward side makes it very appealing to folks who are looking to get onto a new platform. It's not something that they have to take any classes for. And one of the advantages of utilizing Windward is that it has a plethora of help tools out there, whether it be online tutorials, self-help guides, or their support site. That's where they excel and that's where their focus is as far as ensuring customers are happy with the product.
As for advice for other systems integrators, they can definitely get up to speed fairly quickly because it's not a very hard tool to learn. A lot of the work that's involved has to do with experience. A lot of the prospects that are looking at leveraging Windward for document automation purposes typically have unique scenarios and, unless a systems integrator is familiar with working with Windward as a tool, it might be challenging. The challenge is going to come in terms of how to leverage Windward or what the different levels of Windward are that should be used to ensure that you are maximizing the customer's investment in the tool. Having worked with Windward for almost five years now, we've got a very good understanding of how it can be leveraged for a client or a prospect.
One of the first things we have to do is understand what a prospect's existing reporting platform looks like, if they have one. We take a look at our options for doing the integration, whether it's something that we want to integrate with their existing product or we want to create a separate reporting platform that connects to their existing product. There are a number of ways that we can architect a solution for them. There are a number of ways that we can bring disparate sources of data together for them and really make it a solution that is suitable for them. I have clients who have used this for departments, and I have clients who have used this for specific industries, and I have clients who have used this at the enterprise and global levels as well. And I have not come across a situation yet that Windward was not a good fit for.
Windward relies on us for a lot of those unique requests that come in. If there's a client that understands how to use the Windward tool and they're simply looking at expanding their current footprint, that's not where we would come in. In that scenario, it would simply be Windward interacting with the client in terms of upgrading the licensing or moving them to the next version of the product. But if it's a completely unique situation, that is our bread and butter, where we can come in and help the prospect understand how to leverage it in their environment. We've got experience in many different technologies and having that experience in-house really goes a long way. We understand the native environment as well as the Windward environment and have the capability to connect the two together.
I've been in IT for how almost 25 years and in that time I've not come across a tool that has the flexibility of scalability that Windward has. It's provided me the opportunity to earn business in areas that I would typically struggle in. That hasn't gone really a long way, not only for me but for Windward as well. The partnership that we have is something that I think it's very important to both of us.
Based on my experience, most people who buy products that have reporting platforms built in tend to use those platforms because they feel that they are the only option they have. But that's really not the case. If they're not happy with their reporting platform, regardless of what they're using today, Windward is always an option for them to integrate within their existing environment. If you're not happy with the existing reporting platform, it doesn't hurt to take a look at Windward to see if it would be a better solution.
The biggest lesson I've learned is that no two implementations are alike. They may be very similar in nature, but almost every system that we deal with has its proprietary data source and environment, and the way it exposes that data is very different. You have to have a really good understanding of data structures. You have to have an understanding of how the business intends to use that data and of how to surface that data to an end-user.
Internally, we probably won't be increasing our business usage. Across our clients, as the amount of information coming in starts to grow and the need for reporting starts to grow, I can see there will be an uptick in terms of either the number of licenses that we're going to need or the number of people who we are going to need to get trained on creating initial reports.