A client recently asked me if I could script a method to automate the integration of a particular iPad app’s data. The challenge was obvious – the app had no iTunes sync capability and no XML API – key requirements for enterprise integration. However, armed with the foundation of Mac OS X’s Automator and DropBox, I was able to help.
But this triggered other ideas for me too – I quickly crafted a similar use case for the Balanced Scorecard app which [currently] only supports PDF reporting via email. As my friends in Australia always say – “No Warries!”.
DropBox Email Gateway
With DropBox, it is possible to establish a special email gateway using the DropBox API and there are a number of third party services that will help streamline the capture of documents via email. I chose SendToDropBox.com. Register your DropBox account with this service and they’ll give you a special email address that will deposit any messages directly to the “Attachments” folder.
Automator Folder Action
Using Mac OS Automator, create a folder action script that processes any documents that arrive in the Attachments folder in DropBox. This, of course, requires that you install the Mac DropBox synching client, but if you’re a DropBox user, you’ve likely done this already.
The folder action can perform many tasks and workflows on arriving documents, but for simplicity I’ll stick to a simple requirement – to acquire and transform BsC reports (which are PDFs) into something more useful such as a rich text document and then publishing this document right back to a DropBox folder so that it can be used in other iPad applications.
The folder action has just a few simple steps but it could be as complex as you require.
In basic terms, the action reads the incoming PDF file, extracts the text of the PDF and then writes out a rich text version of the document to an adjacent folder in DropBox.
By simply emailing the report from BsC to the special DropBox email gateway, the process is completely automated and before you can say “Balanced Scorecard now has report integration capabilites!”, the report is synched back to your iPad and ready to be opened in QuickOffice, Pages, or your favorite Markdown editor.
The same idea is possible and nothing changes in the use of BsC or DropBox in this solution. However, there is no equivalent for Mac OS Automator, so we have to turn to third party solutions and utilities such as WinAutomation.
It’s my experience that there are no ceilings for using desktop automation to create highly integrated workflow solutions for iPad – you just have to think a bit outside the box. This workflow could easily be enhanced to create separate images of the charts in a BSC report and re-embed them into a rich text document output. You could slide the document up and push it into a knowledge management system or a completely different database or enterprise reporting environment.
The most importat step is to start with a simple objective, get it working to save you effort, and let your creativity flow from there.
I’m an automation nut and I know a bazzillion ways to create high performing information workflows. Give me a shout if I can help (bfrench.info). Leave a comment if you’d like a copy of this folder automation workflow.