Complex reporting question

By ddbergen ·
What I am trying to do is produce a report writer that can be used by public accountants to produce good format annual financial statements. The idea is to produce a tool that can be used to do year-end accounting for many clients, outputting the good financial statements. The report writer would need to be very flexible, to handle a variety of situations, and allow the accountant to modify the formats at will.

Here is a good example of the type of statement that I am trying to produce, except that it should have some type of accountants report attached to it.:

The standard financial reports (balance sheet, income statement, retained earnings and cash flows) will basically have two main types of formats, a header and a detail with text and two numeric columns. There will be sub variants of each type: Some may be bold, the text on some financial report items will be indented a few spaces, the first lines in each section will have a $ sign, and there will be single and double underlines before and after totals and subtotals.

The notes to the financial statements are a little more complicated. As you see from my example, each note has a different format, with minor formatting differences in each note, such as underlines, dollar signs, a full width text paragraph, etc.

One way I am trying to do this is by using a traditional report writer. My report will have a variety of formats. I need a report writer that will allow changing the format of the detail band. I think I can do this in Alpha Five using one conditional object for each format required. The conditional objects contain the fields set up for each format. As I go through my line items, each contains a style, which defines which conditional object will be used to print that particular object. I can programmatically change the positioning and formatting of each field on the conditional objects at the startup of the report.

I could avoid the use of conditional objects if each line item allowed me to redefine the fields in an on record clause. Alpha five doesn?t appear to allow this, it only lets me change them at the beginning of the report.

There are some things I don?t like about the Alpha Five approach:
1. High per unit cost of the runtime.
2. The objects aren?t specifically linked to the conditional object. They ?belong to? the object solely by their position. It may be easy to lose their attachment to the conditional field through my programming. It happens in the report designer.
3. With A5, each field has its own name/reference unrelated to the conditional object. Of course I can name each field with a scheme like cond1field1, cond2field5, but would prefer a system like conditionalobject1.field1, etc.
4. I would prefer the ability to edit a group of fields at once, and to create a new conditional object complete with fields, having the fields in the new conditional object inherit the formatting properties from a previous object.

I do like the combination of easy database functionality of Alpha Five with the power to program in XBasic and define complex field rules easily.

A note on currency formatting, which isn?t ideal in Alpha five, like some other report writers. I need to be able to show negative numbers in parenthesis, commas separating the thousands, with the commas lined up, and the closing parenthesis lined up after any negative numbers. I also need to have zeros represented by a ??? in the middle of the field. Refer to the statement of cash flows in the example.
I can do this in Alpha five by using various text manipulation functions and adding a conditional field for a trailing parenthesis, but it seems a little troublesome given the number of fields I need with my conditional formatting.

I suspect I could also do what I need by either programmatically generating the html and css, xml / xslt, or using a program called LaTex.

Any thoughts from those of you with experience with various report writers or any of the other methods mentioned?

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That's a big tin or worms you got there fella

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Complex reporting questio ...

My experience with report writers, is try not to use them. You put one in your application and before you know where you are you've just re-invented query builder, crystal reports and Excel.

It is n't worth it.

I'd go for some basic template reports of some basic template queries with some basic styles.
Then I'd sell snap in packs, of each while always making the data available via some interface, so it didn't look like I was holding it hostage.

Trust me they'l be asking you for cross-tabulated joins output with their own suite of fonts in PCL, before you've managed to line up the columns on select * from Table onto NotePad.

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