Docufy: Document Generation for APEX made easy!

APEX is well known for his RAD solution and the no-extra cost factor: APEX makes it possible to build on time and within budget your database application for the web. But an application is more then building pages for CRUD operations. Very often you also need to generate well looking documents. And this is standard not possible with APEX. A pity!  Within the Oracle world, Bi Publisher is by far the best solution. But from the pricing point of view, it does not really fit in the ‘cheap’ philosophy of APEX. Further, you can also look for Open Source solutions like Jasper Reports and Birt. Both have a community version that you may use for free.

Nevertheless, we decided to build our own tool. During the presentation at APEX World of last week, organized by OgH, we explained how we came to this decision. On different projects at the Flemish Government we always had the business requirement to generate output for MS-Word (.docx). We first tried to solve this requirement with Jasper Reports. This was fine for simple letters. But the end-user also wanted to change some of those documents after generation … and that was not so easy to do with the output created by Jasper.

So the idea for an own “document generator for Oracle” was born. The main objective was trying to bring some of the better features of other tools together in one solution:

  • Separation of data retrieval and document layout.  The layout is template driven: your template is a MS Word document (.docx). This leaves the possibility open to involve business users in the design and build of the desired output.
  • Simple, easy and light: we want the solution to be as much as possible in the database, in PL/SQL, with no extra software on a middle-tier
  • Metadata driven and nice user interface to manage those data
  • Integration in your application via a PL/SQL API. This application may be developed in the technology of your choice. We use it initially in APEX projects, but it can be integrated in any tool that can do a PL/SQL call (Oracle Forms, any java solution, Formspider, …)

Our custom solution evolved well: we already used it successfully in different projects. Therefor, we decided to make it available for the world and packaged the solution in a tool with the name Docufy. You can find more information on the Docufy-site or you may always send a mail to info@docufy.be.

With Docufy,
we proceed on the APEX philosophy,
there where APEX it self stops:
easy and quick generation of operational documents.

Oracle DB 12c, APEX 5.0 and APEX tech sessions at OGH APEX World

April 9th 2013, APEX World took place, one of the biggest APEX only events in the world, organized by the Dutch Oracle user group (OGH). iAdvise was gold partner of this year’s edition. Below is a view on this event from our perspective.

iAdvise stand

iAdvise booth

The event took flight with the keynote by David Peake, product manager from Oracle. He spoke about Oracle DB 12c, what it is and what’s in there for APEX developers, and some words about what to expect from APEX 5.0. Again, we had to conclude that great things are coming our way in the months to come:

  • pluggable databases,
  • new column types,
  • data redaction,
  • new IDE-like view for the page builder,
  • multiple interactive reports on 1 page,
  • multi-row edit region type,
  • enhanced builder security
  • and some more great stuff…

But as we are used to with Oracle, it’s all subject to change and might not make it into next release :-)
More in-depth details and another view on this presentation can be found on Christian Rokitta’s blog.

The only two things David was clear about were:

  • APEX 5.0 will focus on improved usability and quality rather than on new features;
  • there will be an APEX 4.2.2 release before 5.0 will become available.

Below are our highlights from the presentations we followed.

Transfer Solutions presented their “portal” solution to combine both Forms and APEX applications with one custom single sign-on. We saw some interesting approaches for common issues and found confirmation for our approach in comparable situations.

Rob van Wijk from Ciber presented his white paper “Professional software development using APEX”. Together with his colleagues, he worked out a way to version database schemes and APEX applications in Subversion when all developers are working in their own isolated environment. On top of this, he used Hudson to automate the versioning update-commit process. A must read paper if you consider versioning within your APEX environment!

Regarding responsive web design (RWD), there were two presentations of interest:

Dimitri Gielis introduced how RWD can be accomplished in APEX by using the new built-in grid system and spoke about APEX theme 25 (fully responsive and new in APEX 4.2) but also Twitter bootstrap, which can perfectly be integrated in APEX.

Later on, it was up to CB Logistics, together with iAdvise colleague Stijn Van Raes, to present how they used RWD in a recent project.

Peter Raganitsch and Matt Nolan from FOEX came all the way to Zeist to state that APEX truly is the best successor of Oracle Forms…but not out-of-the-box. In a few demos, in which they combined declarative APEX functionality together with their plug-in framework, they showed how APEX can become a perfect fit for everyone who wants to migrate good old Forms without losing much functionality, usability and maintainability. A bold statement but definitely something our APEX developers will look into.

Roel Hartman showed us what mobile web development with APEX theme 50 and jQuery mobile is all about. He walked through the new item types, lists and buttons and demonstrated how you can easily make your application look better with standard APEX functionality.

Our iAdvise colleague, Karen Van Hellemont, presented with Natasha Van Hoof from the Flemish Government how documents can be generated from the database. Throughout several years, iAdvise gained experience in generating documents with PL/SQL and developed a metadata driven solution with a simple API to re-use it in other projects. The Flemish Government is our first customer to use the complete version of this solution and therefore gave a customer testimonial on their experience with the tool.

The price for most-entertaining presentation definitely goes to John Scott (APEX Evangelists) when talking about HTML5 websockets! The concept of websockets took about 10 minutes. The remaining time was used for demos about what you can do with this. We never heard so many sounds of astonishment in 30 minutes!

For a Belgian-Dutch Oracle consultancy company, this is one of the most valuable events next to Oracle Open World and this year’s edition really showed us that APEX is far from ever going away! It has great potential for a very wide range of businesses and allows both developers and end-users to maximize their needs in every way.

OBUG CONNECT 2013: impressions from an APEX Developer

On 26 march I attended OBUG CONNECT 2013 at Kinepolis Antwerp. With around 40 sessions to pick from, picking out sessions was not an easy decision.

One session that caught the eye was the presentation about Formspider given by Yalim Gerger. While the presentation name and description did not reveal that the presentation was about Formspider, it was not hard to guess since it was given by its creator.

Yalim explained that since 2008 the landscape in the IT world changed. In 2008 developers developed for one platform, now there are many more platforms, all which require different programming skills. Yalim suggested using Formspider, a PL/SQL framework as an alternative. Formspider uses one javascript library maintained by “one” developer. This way only one developer needs to worry about security, browser compatibility and browser performance. On top of that developers only need to learn only one programming language: PL/SQL.

It must be said, Yalim made a strong case. Unfortunately we did not get the chance to see his framework in action, but it has to be said, if even a part of what he said is true, Formspider could become a strong player on the market.

Another interesting session was given by Patrick Hendrickx from Telenet. Telenet used APEX to Design some internal project management applications. He decided to go with APEX rather than buy a product or expand existing products.

He had some good arguments to do so:

-          APEX is Browser only technology

-          APEX is RAD

-          It has good and easy graph support

-          Wizard driven, so less programming skills required

-          Lastly because they already invested in Oracle, it was easy to integrate with the technology stack from Telenet

Not only did APEX fulfill the requirements, it also was a good decision from a financial perspective.

The demo Patrick showed of the different tools was also quite sexy. It is nice to see that architects are starting to see the Advantages from APEX as a development tool.

In conclusion I would have to say that, even though I could not attend all APEX sessions, it was pretty clear that APEX was strongly represented on OBUG, it shows that it is an important player on the Oracle market.