If you were talking to someone whose organization is considering Windward Studios, what would you say?
How would you rate it and why? Any other tips or advice?
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.
Documents are my life, that's how I make my living. If you're looking for a document solution that is of high quality, that does what it's supposed to do 100 percent of the time, with a company that is a quality company, Windward is the company that you're looking for. There are a lot of others out there that attempt to do what Windward has perfected. I love the company and I can't say enough good things about them. They're good guys, a very well-run company with a quality software application which is suitable for our use. Has it made a difference in terms of us and our clients, our ability to market and sell our software and do what we do? Absolutely. It has made a significant impact. The plan is to increase its usage. We're working on projects now where we're selling it to clients every day. To the extent that we are pushing and selling our product, every time we do a product demonstration, every time we show our product, Windward shows. On a scale on one to ten, one being the worst and ten being the best, Windward is a 12. They're off the scale. I come from the software industry. I've worked for three software companies in my life, so I'm not a fan-girl of software. I'm more critical of software than the average person. When I tell you this is a good software application, take it to the bank. This is a great software application. Here's the way I judge a software application: Does it do what it's supposed to do? Is it consistent? And are there a lot of issues with it? With Windward, does it do what it's supposed to do? Absolutely. Does it do it consistently and repeatedly? Yes it does. Are there a lot of problems with Windward which require a call to support every five minutes for something, or are my clients blowing my phone up because Windward broke down? Never. That's how I judge software. Take Microsoft Office for example. I got an update from Microsoft. You know how it goes. It says your computer needs to be updated, please stand by. It updated my system, but now Outlook freezes. I called Microsoft and they said, "Oh, I know what that is. We have to do this that and the other." That's classic junky software, where software doesn't do what it's supposed to do 100 percent of the time. Every other release I have some drama with Microsoft, never with Windward. When you look at Windward as a vendor, what I would like the world to know about them is that they're a great company to work with. Everybody from the CEO, down to folks in finance, to their technical support people, are A-number-one, top-notch professionals. They are extremely supportive of their product. They stand by their product and their product is excellent. That's what everybody needs to know. This is a great solution. If you work with documents, you need to be working with Windward.
Do a proof of concept to make sure that it meets your needs. Check the PDF generation between the Office PDF and the native PDF. That caught us out a little bit. Make sure, if you're hoping to use the native PDF, that it is generating the documents as you want them. If your company is a massive enterprise business, Windward is probably not entirely suited for that, although we are a pretty big enterprise and we are able to leverage it. But very big enterprises can probably spend a bit more money and do bigger programs and have programmers to do this in a more powerful manner. But any small-medium or medium-sized businesses, the 100-employee businesses, it's perfectly suited for them. Those particular segments should try Windward out, do a proof of concept. It's pretty straightforward. You can do a proof of concept easily in a week, to see if it meets your needs. We've been using it now in production for over six months. We started proving concept with it about a year ago. The solution's layout and design capabilities are good. But I think there are better ones on the market. What Windward has is completely sufficient for what we wanted to do and what we required. They're basically the same as what Word offers. Anything you can do in Microsoft Word, you can do in Windward. So you can do quite a lot, but there are definitely products out there with which can do more. However, they're also a lot more expensive, and a little more difficult to use. The quality of the layouts and designs is very good. It's better than average, an eight out of ten. Again, there are better products out there which are a lot more expensive and a lot more focused on the desktop publishing market, more so than what people use Word for. It's a slightly different requirement, but it fit our requirements. The ability to design templates within the Microsoft Office Suite is very good. It's a seven to eight out of 10. It's exactly what we were looking for in terms of capabilities. There are other ones on the market, which have more power but, again, those are focused on a slightly different market, and a slightly different requirement. The POD (Portable Object Doclets) feature is good but you can actually do a lot without it. It is something that makes things a little bit easier. It isn't the greatest feature in the world, but it is useful. We managed to do a lot of work without using that particular feature. The only people using the it are the report builders. They change the templates and create new ones. We have three people who are trained up to do report building. Sometimes, we let other people try and build them. It is pretty self-explanatory, and you can do some of those changes without any training. It really is pretty straightforward, but we have three people, particularly trained up to be report-builders. The rest of the product is used by API calls, meaning it's used by applications. We've got a Loan Originations application. A lot of different users use that application, and when it gets to the point in the process where they require documents to be generated, they just click a button, and via API we are able to produce those documents for those types of users. I wouldn't say those users are using the product per se. They're using an API that sits in front of the product. We have one staff member who is looking after the product, not even full-time. There are three or four people trained up to look after the infrastructure component of it, but it's pretty straightforward. For them, it overlaps with a lot of the other roles that they do in terms of looking after infrastructure, servers, etc. Overall, I rated as I did because, for its price point, it's very good at delivering what it's designed to deliver: keeping your templates in Word. Anyone who can use Word can build these templates very quickly and easily. It also allows people who have a lot of these documents already in Word, to take those documents and very easily turn them into dynamic documents that can be generated on the fly via an API. That is exactly what we needed. For what we required, the product met those needs.
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.
You need to do training with Windward, and to test it to make sure that it is meeting your expectations in terms of document generation. In our company, we have about 20 people working on document design. When we deliver our solution containing the Windward component, there is a big number of users. We have around ten clients generating 500 reports per day. We need one person per project who does both design and deployment. As long as we have new projects and clients, our use of Windward will increase. I would rate Windward at eight out of ten. It's not a ten because it doesn't manage, at least through our version, 15.1.69, HTML 5. Also, if you raise an issue with support, if they can't confirm it they won't help you. They just say, "If you want, we can route you to our Professional Services team," and if we need more information they charge for it.
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.
I was contacted by a Dutch guy recently who was considering using Windward for one of his projects. So I told him more or less what I said above: that we have had a good experience, that it's a solid tool and stable tool, which is not too difficult to use for a Microsoft Office user. Also, the support is pretty good. We use other third-party software as well but in my opinion, the Windward support has been the best support I have experienced so far. We don't use PODs (Portable Object Doclets) because we prefer to use Import Tags and sub-templates. Once you insert the PODs into a template, they're physically there in the template and they will not update as you update the POD. However, with the Import Tag, when you update the sub-templates, the change will automatically be committed to all the main templates that call the sub-templates. It's easier, for maintenance of your template repository, to use the Import Tags with the sub-templates rather than the PODs, where they physically insert the code or a piece of functionality into your template. We're not using Windward as a reporting tool to report, like people who have management reports based on database information. Rather, we're using Windward as a document creation tool which generates thousands of almost identical documents, that are specific for each taxpayer. Staff requirements for day-to-day maintenance depends. Once a document is finished, our customers have agreed on the template, there's not much maintenance left to do. It's only when the customer requires changes or sees bugs that we need to do changes. We don't spend a lot of time with maintenance at this point. We have two projects that are using Windward at the moment. With these two projects, there are about ten people who touch the Windward solution. They include the AutoTag designer and the more technical RESTful engine and deployment area. For me so far the Windward document generation software is the preferred solution for creating documents. That means that we will always advise our customers who need documents created or who need to update their document generation process, to use Windward. We will implement Windward with them. We have one big project going on now that has Windward implemented, and one smaller project. Our company runs three or four big projects at the moment, and about ten or 15 smaller ones. There's still a lot of room for change and there's a lot of room for Windward implementation. We've recently started to use Windward not only for document generation but also for actually creating management reports. I believe that that is how most Windward customers use the tool, to generate management reports based on data in a data warehouse in an SQL database or any database. Whereas our initial use case was document generation, which has a slightly different philosophy, because in the document generation you don't want to necessarily always display the most recent data, you want to display data from the moment that the document was initially created. We have more static data saved in XML files. Our data source is not a SQL server, but rather they are XML files.
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.