Transforming the user experience

We were asked recently whether the rating reports from  mortalityrating.com could be extracted into a Microsoft Office format to use in an automated document production process. As the actual reports are in Adobe PDF format, tackling this question head-on wouldn't necessarily be easy. However, all the underlying rating results are available too, as XML (eXtensible Markup Language), and that makes meeting this objective pretty straightforward.

When we decided back in 2006 to represent all our calculation output in XML, it was principally a mechanism to deliver:

  1. Decoupling / reduced dependency between software layers
  2. A generic text output format for integration with other systems

So far, so good. But it is hard for anyone at a business level to get excited about such things. After all when you've seen one set of forward slashes and angle brackets (and believe me, with XML output you'll see more than one set) you've pretty much seen them all. It is understandable then that XML is seen a niche sport, strictly for die-hard technicians.

But the other great benefit of well-formed XML comes with the companion technology XSL (eXtensible Stylesheet Language), a language for building transformations from XML output into other formats such as text, HTML or other XML dialects. By bringing XSL into the picture the business productivity benefits of XML become much clearer.

The facility exists to upload into either of our systems a custom transform for any of the XML output formats. This transform will specify two features to control both the transformation result and how it will be downloaded:

  • The xsl:output method (text, html, xml)
  • The transformed file type or extension (.txt, .csv, .html etc)

We provide a sample to convert rating results into CSV format, launching directly into Microsoft Excel. With this enabled, XML downloads are automatically changed into something most non-techies will find much easier to work with - a humble spreadsheet!

Rating XML Transform

 

 

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Gavin Ritchie
Gavin Ritchie is the IT Director of Longevitas
Transforms in mortalityrating.com and Longevitas

Users can record a customised XSL transform for calculation XML output in the General files area.

This transform can be enabled from user configuration making it easy to toggle between downloading the XML original and the customised transformed results.