Windward Studios Review

Integrates easily and enables us, and our clients, to create document templates using MS Word


What is our primary use case?

It's a good product, it's efficient. We have integrated it in our wealth management product for the last eight years. All our PDF generation, client-advice, client invoices, and letter generation - any document that goes to a client - is generated through Windward in our wealth management solution. The integration works quite well.

How has it helped my organization?

Our product is a very complex wealth management product. It manages the whole lifecycle of a typical investor. In our product, we maintain four or five different types of UK tax wrappers. That's our feature. We have to communicate with all these investors. That means we have to send letters with updates and statements. If there is any trading then we have to send contract notes. There are also cancellation notices, welcome letters - tons of letters typically generated through a wealth management product.

The way the Windward product helps us is that it gives us flexibility, because we don't know, in advance, what kinds of letters and how many a client will need. Windward gives us extensible functionality where we train our clients: "Oh, you want to add a letter? Okay, here is the Windward template to start with, and you can extend it according to your requirements. Then you just drop the template and you're done. The product will pull out the data and create a letter for you through that existing in functionality."

That's a great feature which is dynamic in nature, where we don't have to lock it in with an existing screen, an existing function. We can change the data source dynamically, depending on our requirements and, using a template, fix up the data, create a report, and it does the job. Most of our clients use Windward to generate all the letters for their clients.

Having this dynamic feature is quite a good use case for our product, because we don't want to have something which is not dynamic in nature, something where we can't change features. Windward provides that functionality and that's why it's suitable for a product like our wealth management product.

It's user-friendly. As an IT and software product company, some of our guys know it, but we have trained our clients as well and they can create reports templates themselves, comfortably.

What is most valuable?

It integrates easily.

In addition, it's easy to create templates and reports using Microsoft Word, so we don't have to learn something new to create a template. That makes it very user-friendly. Anybody who uses a computer uses Microsoft Word, and they have integrated the product with Microsoft Word. People can easily start working on it without too much training. Some training is needed, but not a great amount. When we offload template creation responsibility to our clients, they learn it quickly. In a day's session, they start writing their templates.

It does require some basic abilities with "If-Else" statements and when you create a table you have to create some "While" loops to repeat different data items in the different lines in the table. Some technical knowledge is needed, at least in the context of our product, because we create a lot of complex tables and a lot of conditional statements, so when it comes to looping and logical constructs, some programming knowledge is needed. But a business analyst with minimum technical or programming knowledge can write the templates in our world. That's proof in itself that it's not that technical and it's user-friendly but some information about logical constructs, to make decisions within the template, is required.

If you leave that apart, everything else is like creating a table in Microsoft Word. So it's like creating a table, creating a graph and using the constructs which are available by default within Microsoft Word. On a scale of one to five, where five is very complex to create template, I would rate it at medium difficulty, like three out of five.

One of the things they added in the last two or three years is PODs, Portable Object Doclets. One of our clients said they wanted to use PODs. They're a good way to make some constructs modular and keep things in one place. We are using PODs and we find it very useful.

We don't use each and every feature, but what we usually use are repetition loops, table creation, dynamic graph creation based on data, importing of pictures, and multiple reports within one report using the "If-Else" construct, based on some conditions. They have hundreds of features and we are not using all of them. But we find what we use to be very easy to use, and very effective.

Finally, it's very feature-rich. You can create tables, you can create graphs, you can import pictures, and those features are also easy to use.

What needs improvement?

A few years back, we suggested they make it work for JSON because we were using XML format. They've already done that JSON formatting. From our perspective, it's meeting our requirements so we had not asked for any improvements in recent times.

I don't see any major change which could benefit us. One thing I could say, as is always the case, is that they could make the document creation performance faster. I'm not saying it's slow but it takes time to create the PDFs. If they could make it faster, that would be one area for improvement. It's not a negative at this point, but the world is moving to ultra-fast performance, so that area is something they can look at. I'd like to see improvement from microsecond to nanosecond performance because that's the kind of demand in the market, to be faster and faster.

For how long have I used the solution?

More than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I don't have metrics, but I can say that some of our largest clients have on the order of 1,000,000 accounts and they are generating hundreds and hundreds of letters every day using Windward. I have never seen any problems on the performance side. It's not crashing or not performing on high volume. I can't recall any scenario where a client complained that Windward was crashing.

From time to time, we get an issue here and there, but nothing major in nature. The product is quite stable and robust.

In our largest installation, our back-office users number about 250. They are using Windward indirectly because they are generating letters and, internally, they are being generated through Windward.

When it comes to concurrency, on a server with eight threads, eight concurrent connections are being used. On the design side - the people who are designing reports - at the client I was referring to, there are four people who have been trained to design documents for the product.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have deployed on a maximum four-node cluster. We are using a Java server engine and we have deployed in multiple low-clusters. Four is the maximum at the moment that our clients are using, and it scales quite well.

There are some limitations to what the product can do on the deployed infrastructure, but it's not just the product, it's the infrastructure limitation as well. I haven't observed any scalability problems. We are using it on AWS and we can just scale up as per our requirements. I can't recall any problem caused by Windward.

How is customer service and technical support?

Our relationship with Windward is really good. They fix problems very quickly if we break something.

Two years back we ran into a problem, not in the product but they had provided a different type of license to one of our clients, with which we have not tested our product. We raised an issue about the problem. The support team was quite aggressive and tried to help us as soon as possible. There was commitment to help us as their clients. They were meeting all the SLAs. We haven't created thousands of issues for them, but this is one I can recall and they were quite proactive in helping us on that.

What was our ROI?

If you compare manual letter generation and automatic letter generation, with the number of letters generated by a typical client, if they were to do it manually they would need at least ten FTEs to do the work.

When it comes to the cost of integrating an automated solution, as I said, integration is quite straightforward, so we didn't have to spend too much time on this.

There's good return on investment, looking at the cost of product and the value it adds to the process. The cost of the product can be recovered easily within one year and not much more than that.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Pricing is something I complain about. Production pricing is okay, but for a testing environment the pricing looks a bit high to me. I have discussed this with them a couple of times, that for testing and development environments it shouldn't be priced that high. That's an area of improvement I would suggest.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

From time to time, some of our clients will ask why we are using Windward, why not the product they are using. We have done comparisons and it's comparable to any other product in the market. It does everything that the client's product does and it's already integrated, so why re-invent the wheel and integrate their product with our product?

Existing products in the market are quite comparable in features and performance.

What other advice do I have?

I don't have too much experience with other products. Some of our clients have done a comparative analysis but I don't see why I wouldn't recommend this product. It has most of the features, it is easy to integrate, it does the job, and its performance is good. Those are the things I look for. Design is easy and does not have a steep learning curve. Based on these features I would recommend it.

We use the Java API to integrate with our product. Once we integrated, we made it dynamic, as I was saying earlier, so clients can add more and more reports, more and more letters to the implementation. We have integration through API and use the API to make it dynamic, particularly from a data-source point of view, so we can chain the data set at run-time in the deployed environment. That gives us a lot of flexibility.

Different people use it in different ways, but this is the way we use it: Run-time and design time.

Some of our guys join their training, but our techies, our IT team does all the integration. We get minimal help. We just get their release and get it working in our environment.

For deployment and maintenance, we have a team of two to three people in managed services who manage the whole installation; not just Windward but the whole product. The Windward part has hardly any share of their time in terms of deployment.

This is the only product we use at the moment for document or letter generation so it has reached its maximum. There are no plans to extend it further. If, in the future, we have additional requirements, it could be extended. We have the two modes in which we are using it. One is online in our digital platform which uses this product for all the document generation. The other is the back-office side, where bulk letter-generation also uses Windward. I don't see any additional use cases coming; we are using it in all possible scenarios.

Overall, we don't have any problems with Windward, and that's why we've had it for eight years; otherwise, we would have changed it. It's a good product, it's being enhanced over time, they are not stagnant. They keep changing, adding new and useful features - useful to us and to our clients.

I would give Windward a nine out of ten looking at the support and the ease of use of the product.

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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