A node.js chart service powered by Excel

Updated 17:15 EEST: added a diagram of the flow and updated chartServer.js

In a previous article I have shown how to use Excel to generate image charts with Microsoft Excel. In this article I will take this one step further and add a HTTP interface to that script so you can invoke it from a browser.

The ingredients are node.js and Microsoft Excel.  node.js offers an extremely lightweight ( 5.5 MB) framework to run a JavaScript server that receives HTTP requests, dispatches the requests to excelPieChart.vbs which in turn produces image charts via Excel. These images are served back as the response for the HTTP requests.

node_js

Installing and starting this server should take less than 2 minutes, with the biggest part of it being the download of node.js. The solution does not require any node.js modules other than the standard ones.

Using the service is even simpler:

Request

http://giediprime:8000/chart?labels="High|Medium|Low"&data="2|25|8"&title="node.js chart example"

Response
rpeactual_nodeJsCharts

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Charts in RPE Documents – the Excel OLE way

Expanding the solution described in Charts in RPE Documents – the Excel way it is possible to generate Excel chart and embed them in the RPE output Word document as an OLE object. For PDF a snapshot image of the OLE will be automatically generated by RPE.

rpeactual_ExcelOLEChart

This solution has several distinct advantages over the initial image based approach:

  1. the image scales better with the page size
  2. the chart can be further processed
  3. simpler to code and maintain in RPE
  4. greatly improved progress tracking and error information in the RPE console view

The example template and VB Script are available on the RPE devWorks examples wiki page: https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/community/wikis/home?lang=en#!/wiki/Rational Publishing Engine/page/Examples

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Charts in RPE Documents – the Excel way

Updated on 2014.08.20, 20:00 EEST

RPE does not have native support for drawing charts so you need an external tool to generate the chart. Google Chart Tools: Image Charts have been used successfully in the past but it has been deprecated by Google in  2012 and it is unknown how it will work past 2015.

There are other online providers or applications that can be installed in LAN to provide a REST API for generating image charts. But these solutions may present security/confidentiality risks or additional effort in installing and maintaining them.

An alternative to this is using Microsoft Excel to create charts as Excel can be fully automated through Visual Basic Script which in turn can be invoked from RPE.

rpeactual_chart

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SaaC – Software as a Chef?

One thing that stuck in my head after Getting Started With Rational Publishing Engine was Alex Feseto‘s analogy between RPE an a chef: it uses recipes (templates) to turn raw materials (data) into exquisite dishes (documents).

This might become a trend as Watson is doing it too: http://www.bonappetit.com/tag/chef-watson

rpeactual_chefrpe

Image courtesy of GEBS Reporting and GEBS Unison

The slides for this webinar are  here http://gebsreporting.com/webinar-downloads/Webinar-02-Getting-Started-with-Rational-Publishing-Engine-U2.pdf

The recordings of the webinars can be accessed here: http://gebsreporting.com/education/webinars/ and on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/103786116

RPE Configuration Layer or docgen configuration made simple

One of RPE’s weakest points is its usability which comes as the price for RPE being a highly flexible, generic document generation tool. The user that wants to generate a document with RPE needs to know about XML schemas, REST APIs, data URLs and how they are connected.  This is not an easy feat even for the technical users of RPE and not all RPE users are necessarily technical.

The RRDG implementation in various tools hides very well this complexity but there are scenarios where the standalone RPE is still needed.  To address those scenarios RPE 1.2.1 has introduced the Configuration Layer.

The configuration layer allows template authors to embed knowledge in the templates , knowledge that is used by RPE to allow for the end user to select URLs from lists instead of typing URLs. Furthermore the end user can be shown a list of human readable properties ( like the title of the entity) as the labels for the URLs.  In the same way the configuration layer allows providing values for template variables where that makes sense.

What the configuration layer is essentially doing is moving the complexity from the end user to the template author. From RPE’s perspective this keeps RPE a generic tool while enhancing the templates with scenario specific information.

RQM and RTC also use the configuration layer to support for their docgen Web UI. See Customize RPE report to be executable from Quality Manager and Configuring metadata in Rational Publishing Engine for document-style reports

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