If you are under the impression that you do not need to keep reports or develop them on a regular basis, you are wrong! With the enormous amount of data being captured today, report generation has become an integral aspect of every business – big or small. It can not only save you time and money, it can also help unearth insights that are crucial to run your business efficiently, and meet customer needs with higher precision. Yet, many organizations struggle with generating reports, since they do not know or use tools that can provide important metrics.
Dynamics AX, when used with tools like PrecisionForms, allows you to easily generate reports and get insight into critical aspects of your business; it automates the creation, customization, delivery, and management of reports in an efficient and cost-effective manner. By reducing and simplifying document design and production, it helps reduce costs and deployment time; most importantly, it reduces the need to dedicate IT resources for report design. This gives users the ability to control the development requirement and automate the report development process, which ultimately drives greater productivity.
Report generation – An introduction
In order to generate reports in Dynamics AX, you will need to activate the PrecisionForms report from the System Administration module in Dynamics AX. Once the report is activated, a set of operations happen in the background. For example, when a user generates a sales invoice report from the invoice journal, the system creates an XML file which contains the header data, line level data, and print settings data. This XML file is then saved to a shared location. Based on the print settings (print to screen, printer, or email) selected by the user, a PDF file is generated to the respective print destination, which is later archived to a shared location.
Developing reports in Dynamics AX
Listed below are a list of tasks that you will need to perform to build to begin developing reports in Dynamics AX:
Since enabling PrecisionForms reports requires some mapping/settings that has to be configured in Dynamics AX,
The first form is the Defaults form which is present at the path System Administration -> Setup -> PrecisionForms -> Defaults
The Defaults form contains the following basic fields which must be set.
- XML Output location – This field describes the path of the print queue which gets automatically created in the Control Panel when an administrator installs the tool.
- Screen preview temp location – This indicates the temp path for the PDF file generation. When you generate a report, the PDF file will get stored in this location and the system will open the PDF file from this location.
- Default testing parameters – The generated XML of the report gets stored at this file path location.
All the values in the above fields must be shared among the users using the AX system and the path entered must be of UNC type.
Once the above parameters are set, reports need to be enabled that allow opening of custom reports using PrecisionForms by default instead of SSRS.
To enable any report, navigate to the following path:
System administration -> Setup -> PrecisionForms -> Enabled reports
The AOT object name will contain the AOT name of the SSRS report and the second column will indicate whether this report is enabled for PrecisionForms. The list of enabled reports will appear as follows:
The Setup tab will contain the document process name which specifies the name of the Director file which determines what to do with report generation.
Clicking on View details for document process will open the document processes form which describes the name of the Director.
The Destination tab in Enabled Reports form gives a list of options to select the report destination from Screen, Email, Printer, or SharePoint.
The list shown on the left indicates the several destinations assigned to the report; select any of the destinations for report generation.
To create new print destinations, navigate to the path System administration -> Setup -> PrecisionForms -> Delivery destinations.
The list will appear like this:
Once you create your desired destinations, all of them will be listed in the Enabled reports form, and you can select the destination according to the business requirement.
The last tab in Enabled reports is a Free form label where you can add extra labels which can later be used inside the report development.
Creating a Director file using PrecisionForms Director application
The PrecisionForms Director application gets installed automatically when you run the PrecisionForms setup. You can find this application under the Windows Start menu.
The PrecisionForms Director usually contains a flowchart which decides the flow of report generation; you can use built-in nodes to design the program flow. For example, when a user generates a report, the system needs to decide where the report should be printed, and that conditional logic needs to be created inside the Director application.
Search for the PrecisionForms Director application in the Windows start menu. Once you open the application, you can open an existing project as shown below:
Creating a Designer file using PrecisionForms Director application
PrecisionForms Designer allows you to design the layout of your report; you can use the built-in controls and sections for designing the report. Basic sections such as Page Header, Report Header, Body, and Footers are available by default.
Import the XML file which was created while generating a report into this designer file as a source to start the development. The vertical pane on the left displays the list of available controls. The pane in the center is the design window, and the one on the right displays the input window.
The screenshot shows the nodes present in XML which contain standard nodes of PrecisionForms - Label nodes and table nodes which are used in the report. The table nodes contain all the Header and Detail level fields of the Temp table. Based on the nodes present in the XML, sections are automatically created in the designer file, when any XML is imported.
Administration or the PrecisionForms Server contains the management of report output destinations such as screen, printer, and email. You can manage the following functions for each destination type:
- Enable/ disable queue
- View and edit queue properties
- View execution log
- Configure log file settings
All printer queues need to be installed under the Control panel -> Devices and Printers. The printer in the PrecisionForms Server will then be visible.
For Destination type email, you need to set up the SMTP configuration under the PrecisionForms email application.
Displaying additional information using X++
Instead of changing the standard behavior/logic of report, you can create display methods which can be used directly in the report.
The display methods can be written directly on the Temp tables used in the report. These display methods need to be added to the report through PrecisionForms set up in AX so that the method is included in XML node.
Benefits of PrecisionForms over SSRS reports
Instead of adopting the standard SSRS reports, reports developed using PrecisionForms have the following advantages over SSRS:
- Reduces implementation and migration time
Instead of manually deploying the reports to each AOS server, if you need to migrate reports between servers, you can copy the respective files from source to the target environment.
- Enhances Dynamics AX reports in terms of output time
In terms of viewing and output time, PrecisionForms reports have less execution time; SSRS calls its service every time a report is generated which is eliminated in case of PrecisionForms.
- Simplifies designing of branded quality output
Designing becomes much easier in the PrecisionForms Designer application as you can add or remove any section with a single click, whenever needed.
- Combines multiple reports to one
Combining multiple reports becomes a lot easier as you add the AX logic of two different reports into one report. Since this is automatically handled for creating a single XML file for both the reports, you can easily use them later in the Designer application.
- Is quick to set up
Since you have an EXE file to execute, which will install all the relevant applications, configuring PrecisionForms application takes less time.
Simplify document design and management
In a world where employees end up spending a lot of time creating and managing reports and documents for various everyday tasks, PrecisionForms is like a breath of fresh air. A simple and secure way to automate the creation and management of documents within Dynamics AX, PrecisionForms is easy to deploy and automatically captures information from interactive workflows to improve business processes and customer experiences. This efficient, customizable, low-cost, high-quality business solution is all you need to simplify document design and management.
About the Author - Angna Thakkar
Angna Thakkar is a competent Senior Project Manager, Microsoft Dynamics AX Technical at Indusa with over 10 years of experience in managing multi-disciplinary teams of varying sizes and complex programs of work. She is always committed to professionalism, highly organized, able to see the big picture while paying attention to small details.