Let's face it - The forms and reports in Dynamics Ax are pretty bland. They're very good at presenting information grouped in logical ways, but the information presented is invariably in the form of numbers and strings. The further you get up into the decision hierarchy the less the decision makers are concerned about details: Instead they are concerned about trends and ratios and key performance indicators that are easily consumed, even on the golf course.

 

So, if the old saying about a picture saying a thousand words is true, maybe it’s about time we put some pizzazz into forms and reports. The following is some work that I did for the recent Convergence 2008 conference in Orlando.

 

Basically the effort was about showing yet another area where managed code can be leveraged from X++. I chose to present rich information in charts both in forms and reports. In the forms case I chose a web service to provide the data to be shown in the form because it was consistent with the message that Steve Ballmer was presenting in his keynote at Convergence. The report graphics however were shown in a modified existing legacy report. Note, that the new reporting feature that we have added in Ax 2009 can do much more than what we are doing here, completely without any of the messy custom code needed in this approach. The approach does have merit though, because it allows an ISV to create some value for customers running on older versions of the product. If the target installation is really old (and does not support managed code from X++), then COM controls must be used instead. I’ll not go into detail about this in this blog about that approach though.

 

The examples here are implemented using a managed graphics library called Xceed (http://xceed.com/Chart_WinForms_Intro.html). This was the library at hand at the time: Its use does not imply an endorsement of this particular (or any other product). There are other high quality graphics rendering libraries in existence, some of them free, some of them not.

 

I will start by presenting the approach chosen for reports. The gist of it is: Collect the information to present in a pie chart while the report is being built. Then, use the graphics API to create a bitmap file. Bind the bitmap file to a bitmap control on the form. That’s all it takes.

 

On my machine, the Customer turnover report now looks like this:

The main changes are in the fetch method. You will find that two additional data structures are maintained: One (called Names) is simply a list of the account numbers to include in the pie chart; the other (called revenues) is a list of their revenues. That is all the information needed to actually generate the bitmaps (which is done in the calculateBitmap method on the report). Please refer to the xpo file below for further details.

 

I wanted to add some graphics to forms as well, but I did know of any place where it would make sense in the current application. I’m afraid that that is a testament of how little I know the application more than anything else. To drive home the point made by Steve Ballmer (about computing as services etc) I decided to use a web service to fetch information and display that in the form. The web service I chose is a demographics service from www.cdyne.com. Basically the service allows you to enter an address and get lots of interesting information about the neighborhood: The mean income and house value, the racial mix, mean age of inhabitants etc. I added the pie charts etc to the customer form to show all this information. You can see a screenshot below:

 

 

Note: The data shown in here is for the purpose of technology demonstration only. It may be illegal to use information about gender or race to target potential customers. Also, the data in the Dynamics Ax demo data was designed to look like real addresses, but for legal reasons they are not quite accurate. I put in some sample known addresses for the demo. The web service only covers the US.

 

You will find the code that draws the bitmaps in the file below:

The Xceed library is a commercial product that requires a license key. It can be obtained by buying their product, or by getting a 45 day demo license. Go to the xceed site (http://xceed.com/US_Suite_Intro.html) for details. The demographics service is also a pay service, but they have a demo license that can be used for this sort of thing.

You will need to add references to the xceed libraries in the references node in Dynamics Ax for the compiler to know about them. The libraries to add are:

xceed.chart
xceed.chart.core
xceed.chart.Datamanipulation
xceed.chart.Graphics2D
xceed.chart.GraphicsCore
xceed.chart.Standard
xceed.chart.UIControls
xceed.chart.Utilities

Please find the source code for the updated customer turnover report here:

The Custtable form with the demographics tab is found here: