Last month, a group of us from the Washington CTO council visited Nova Labs in Reston.

Nova Labs is part of the maker movement that has mushroomed around the country. This movement is a confluence of things coming together including 1) open source hardware that promotes advancement in hardware design though common standards and crowds sourcing, much like the open source software, 2) the availability of some highly-advanced machines such as 3-D printing, high-precision laser cutters at a price point within the reach of hobbyists, and 3) the do-it-yourself (DIY) mindset that encourages participants to make stuff (hence the term “makers”). There are over 1,000 such makerspaces in the country.

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At AIS, we are often asked by our customers to put together a quick prototype very early in the envisioning phase of a project. The main objective is to determine if the proposed set of technologies will address the key requirements. Having a “working” piece of software this early (despite all the scaffolding needed to make the prototype work) helps the stakeholders make a decision whether to go with a certain technology set or not.  This is especially true if a number of competing solutions are being considered.

In the following video, we talk about one such prototype that we put together quickly for a customer of ours. The requirements are typical of a large-scale document (correspondence) generation system: large-scale generation of documents, ability to author dozens of templates, ability to generate documents by binding the templates to data from business systems, ability to support multiple document formats and ability to create workflows to support the business processes.

Here we describe a solution for automated document generation using the Microsoft Office system. Combining out-of-the-box functionality like Content Controls and Open Office XML SDK with a little customization to your business rules, you can automate template creation, document generation, document conversion and (using SharePoint) allow for Web-based document management.

Read on for more about this solution…

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In the past, I have written about the benefits of Platform as a Service (PaaS) style of applications. While I continue to believe that PaaS offers the best ROI for hosting custom applications in the cloud, there are a number of scenarios where inserting elements of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to a PaaS solution can help alleviate some of the limitations that have prevented the adoption of PaaS. In this blog post we will look at a few compelling scenarios that are enabled by combining PaaS with the recently announced IaaS features within a Windows Azure Cloud Service. Read More…