If you were talking to someone whose organization is considering Windward Core, what would you say?
How would you rate it and why? Any other tips or advice?
My advice to anybody considering this solution is to allocate enough time. Don't over-commit on deployment because just like data analytics, a big part of the challenge is to make sure your data schema is good and the data is cleansed and doesn't have issues inside the data itself. Start with some simple Windward templates, build your understanding of what the logic is required to deliver a certain result. There's some hard work involved to get exactly what you want, but the reward is fantastic. I would rate Windward Core a ten out of ten.
Windward is very simple if the letters or documents you have to generate are very simple. If they're very complicated, Windward is also more complicated. I'm sure, for example, that the company in the Netherlands, the one I mentioned near the top, will need some after-sales support in a year to make small modifications here or there, because if you don't use Windward for five or six months, you won't know how to do these kinds of things. The niche that I fill is that working with Windward requires programming, but it's not "real" programming. A real programmer would not want to put time into such simple things. It's like there are books for children and books for adults. A real programmer only wants to work with the books for adults. He doesn't want to work on a book for children. Windward is that "book for children." But on the other hand, if you cannot read and you don't know the letters, then the books for children are also difficult. That's where I come in. Windward has been able to produce a solution to every question or need that any customer has asked it to do. We have never encountered a situation where it was not possible to do the kind of things we need to do with it.
This was purchased by those higher up the food chain than myself. However, the Windward process works very well and is very reliable. There is a learning curve, but it's not too bad, especially considering all that it does. There are plenty of tutorials, but nothing teaches better than actually creating documents and getting feedback from the users. Nearly all of the problems I have encountered were solved quickly and were the result of me doing something wrong, rather than a problem with Windward.
The biggest lessons we've learned through using Windward are on the business side of things. When you're building software and you're looking for partners to integrate, you've got to have someone who is truly a business partner. We got that with Windward. I have some business partners who are not on my side as much, but I need to have their software. I don't have very many of them because there are choices in the market. But sometimes there aren't a whole lot of choices. With Windward, it's the full package. It's a piece of software that solves immediate business needs and it's a business partner I can trust. They're accessible. You can't make a bad decision with Windward. They will absolutely support you in any of your business needs. If you're an end-user, they're going to be there. They will probably push the solution further than some of the end-users may be able to take advantage of. But the fact that they will support you is a huge benefit for end-users. From the perspective of an integration partner, someone who is trying to build a solution together with Windward, you can't beat it. You can't beat the service, you can't beat the support, you can't beat the solution itself, and the cost is reasonable. I would have zero hesitation recommending them to some other software integrator. We have system administrators for our solution, and part of the simplicity and the elegance of Windward is that our system admins, with a little bit of training, can also be the same people who address all of the needs from a Windward design and layout perspective. We do need people to maintain it and that's mostly because our clients are constantly changing their documents. A new regulation will come out and our clients are addressing that. That's part of what we're seeing. It's just a cost of being in business. In our organization, we don't have any end-users of Windward, because our clients use it. We have about 20,000 bankers who utilize our system on a day-to-day basis. So we can say that there are 20,000 people out there who, at any given time, could be benefiting from something within Windward. We don't have the metrics to say how many reports have been made. Frankly, the way it's set up with Windward - and again, part of it is that he's a great business partner to have - we don't care how many docs they render. We sell it on an enterprise basis, so we just don't track the number of documents that have been rendered. It's millions of documents. It's just one of those things where, when you turn your light on you expect the light to shine. That's what we get from Windward. I would rate Windward at nine out of ten. They're putting a lot of investment into it, but they're not a gigantic company, so they just don't have all the capital to do whatever they would want to do. That's the only reason I would hold back even that one point. I know that if I do ask for something, I'll get it. I just know that it will take some time. They're a smaller company and I totally get that. I would not expect anything else from them. They've been very good to us.
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.
We have developed somewhere around 600 - 700 base product reports that we ship, and then custom reports for our clients. They're all over the ballpark, for printing off W2s in the US, T4s in Canada, clients' check stubs, general ledger reports, time sheets; any types of payroll and personnel-type reports. The main data source we use for most of our reports is a custom one. They have the ability to hook in your own data source, written in Java. We have a custom data source that runs through our apps, or our app serves up the data for the reports. We also do some that are XML format, some that go directly to the Oracle Database to query up the data. What we were looking for was, a report has got to come out pretty fast, but it all depends on the amount of data, the amount of pages it is. You can't have a report take 10 minutes to produce one page of data. A 1,000-page report might take 10 minutes to formulate all the data and produce the report. In this day and age, there are so many different tools out there. It really doesn't make sense to create your own package, when you can easily plug in a third-party. Our strength is not in producing software that's going to produce reports. Our strength is in creating a product that does human resources or payroll functionality. It made more sense to add on a third-party tool for doing the reports, and then we just create the reports, and not try to have to deal with the software level underneath. I would advise others not to go the route we did, with the custom data source. It makes it a challenge, when you do have a problem, because you're trying to isolate where the problem is. Is it in our software? Is it in the handover of the data to their software, or is it in the report template? Using their base, standard type of deployment and usage is the better way to go. It's great. It's a good product. For a relatively technical person, it's relatively easy to use. It works in Word and it works in Excel. There may be easier to use products out there, but typically, something that's easier to use isn't as powerful. There is always that trade-off.
We recently have moved into production with our service and platform. So far I would give it a solid nine out of 10. It has met every aspect we needed it to meet, flawlessly. We design and produce risk insight reports on consumers' financial accounts. We have developed an internal "modular" architecture of our data and reports where one master report template can output any number of permutations and combinations, based on dynamic, modular inputs. We connect to JSON objects and currently output HTML and PDF. We are multi-tenant based, so we need to be able to sustain high volume without sacrificing page rate. We are still in the process of optimizing this aspect, but our current benchmark tests should be enough for the short- and mid-term. We choose to purchase a packaged solution because we needed to have design tools that require minimum skill level, for scalability and quicker turnaround times, for newly designed reports. Look past Windward's marketing/sales process (those areas needs improvement). The product itself is amazing.
What do you like most about Windward Core?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the community!