This is the second part (first part here) of the article about novel ways to create PDF files in Oracle Intelligent Advisor. In the previous article, we looked at an alternative to creating text-heavy PDF files, Anvil. We saw that importing existing PDF templates was really easy since it automatically detected form fields. Of course, we then have to create the necessary JSON to pass to Anvil and generate the document. We can say that with the interview.fetch() functionality this is eminently possible, including for explanations.
So why are we still here? Because of Easel.ly. And because of something I have often noticed in the recent past. Not all PDF output created with Oracle Intelligent Advisor is, by any means, actually suited to text-centric PDF or similar. I see growing numbers of infographics or graphics-heavy outputs that are really not well served by a document-based (as in linear and paragraph-based) template. The idea of infographics covers so many things that are key Oracle Intelligent Advisor output. You’ve only got to look at the example projects for some really obvious scenarios : recommendations for better eating in Healthy Eating, Energy Saving Tips in EnergySaver, Eligibility review in MyBenefits. Infographics are a much more effective way to get information across to users, and any of these examples would, in my opinion, be better served by a less “tell” more “show” approach.
Easel.ly does exactly what I’m looking for in that regard. Firstly, it offers a cloud-based design platform for creating my Infographics. With hundreds of templates, objects, images and symbols, with the ability to upload my own content (including fonts, which is ace), it is very easy to get started. And perhaps even more useful for someone like me coming from a traditional business perspective, the site is full of tips on how to build a good infographic (not just for businesses) , helping to avoid that “let’s just copy the PDF in here and add a few images” knee-jerk reaction. With a well-kept Blog and lots of Business-oriented design ideas, you can really learn from the experts. And they offer a design service if you are truly pressed for time or need some serious assistance.
Truth be told, I really like Easel.ly for another reason much closer to Oracle Intelligent Advisor:
In the screenshot above, notice the little “account_name” tooltip on the bottom left corner of the text. That’s right – I can tag text and images in my infographic – and these tags are my gateway to JSON-based population of the content of the finished output. Easel.ly provides a REST API to generate PDF and PNG files, and also to perform other tasks like getting a list of tags from an infographic (Intelligent Advisor people can think of that as GetMetaData), even to create or update an infographic. There is a Swagger-based API explorer for Easel.ly and also some examples in common languages. Long time readers of this site will know we experimented with Easel.ly quite some time ago, but the arrival of Interview.fetch() means we can now work without PHP and directly with PHP should our situation demand it.
Not everything is just how I would like it, of course – and I am a frequent communicator with Easel.ly to ask for more features like more control over text size, more standard fonts (for barcodes for example) and lots of other things. But Easel.ly listen to everything I ask for, and they are growing fast as a company. So I have high hopes that Easel.ly will become even better and the API will become even more powerful. They have great G2 Crowd scores so I am not the only one who likes them!
So I can make my own customizable content to my heart’s content, even borrowing Easel.ly for my pet Project the Route Planner. Head over to Easel.ly and try it out, or get a Pro Account and try out the API. If you are interested in the example shown above, get in touch and I will be happy to add more background.
And of course if you have your own alternatives, then let us know in the comments!