AutoPrice™ Sales FAQs

AUTOPRICE™


Q. What is AutoPrice and how does it work?

A. AutoPrice is a suite of plug-in modules for Adobe InDesign that provide connectivity between InDesign documents and an external data source (text file or ODBC connection). The product works by allowing the user to establish “placeholders” or “tags” inside of an existing document. A tag is essentially tied to a specific database field, and can be assigned to any range of text, text box, or picture box, inside of a document.

Each tag contains at least two pieces of information: a Search Key Value and an Variable Link. The Search Key Value is a unique identifier for each record in the database, typically a item number or product SKU. The Variable Link is a pointer to a database field (or to a SQL fragment in ODBC mode), that tells AutoPrice which field or piece of information to “extract” from the database and use to populate the placeholder in the document.

When the user initiates a document update, for each tag in the document, AutoPrice queries the data source for a specific piece of information using the Search Key Value as the primary key. The data returned to AutoPrice then replaces the information that previously existed in the placeholder. Styling information is fully retained, and can also be controlled via the use of InDesign Tags in the incoming data stream, or by utilizing the Price Styling features of the AutoPrice product.


Q. How do AutoPrice placeholders (tags) relate to the structure of the database file?

A. Part of the initial setup process is to create a configuration called a Database Definition (DDF). The DDF describes the ordering of the fields in the database, and holds header descriptions for each field. It also contains common parameter settings including Field Delimiter, File Origin (PC/MS-DOS, Mac, or Unix), and Text Qualifier settings, all of which can change depending on how the text file is being created by the database application.

An AutoPrice placeholder (tag) is a “pointer” to a specific database field. By using a pointer system, it is possible to completely re-arrange the structure of the database file without affecting any of the links in existing documents. In fact, the links can be pointed to different database fields at any point in the process. This AutoPrice-exclusive feature provides great flexibility, especially for catalogs and retail flyers where price versioning is required.

If you are connecting using the MPS ODBC Module for AutoPrice, the links behave somewhat differently. Please see the ODBC description below.


Q. How do AutoPrice tags reference data in the database?

A. Each tag is associated with a single named Variable Link. The Variable Link “points to” a specific database field. Data will be extracted from whichever field is referenced by the Variable Link, and that data will then replace the existing data in the tagged placeholder on the document layout. In the case of ODBC Access Mode, each Variable Link has a SQL query text string associated with it (we call these SQL Fragments). The fragment contains a complete query designed to return a discreet piece of information from the data source. The data returned from the query will then replace the existing data in the tagged placeholder on the document layout.


Q. Can AutoPrice links be copied between documents?

A. Yes! Once links have been established, they can be edited, styled, copied, cut and pasted just like any other InDesign element. However, in order for this to work, you do need to be running a copy of AutoPrice software. For workstations which do not have AutoPrice installed, they must install the "AutoPrice Tag Display" module, which is available for free at www.meadowsps.com/tagdisplay. If a document containing AutoPrice (or DesignMerge) tags is edited on a workstation that is not running the software, some of the tagged data may be lost. So for all workstations that will be editing documents that contain AutoPrice or DesignMerge tags, please be sure to install a copy of the appropriate Tag Display module.


Q. Is there any way to automate the assignment of AutoPrice tags?

A. The process of assigning AutoPrice tags can be automated to some extent via short-cuts and other features which are built into the product (such as the Table-Tagger feature). Because the assignment of tags is a one-time procedure, many of our clients elect to outsource the initial tagging process, and maintain the tagged documents from that point on. Since the tagging of the documents involves the same operations as manual changes to type, it should not take you any longer to setup your documents to update than it does to do changes to the documents manually.


Q. How does AutoPrice update data via flat-file?

A. AutoPrice includes a sophisticated indexing mechanism which completely sorts the flat-file the first time it is selected for update. This permits fast random access to the flat-file data, and ensures that updates to the documents occur very quickly. For each tag, AutoPrice searches for the Search Key associated with that tag in the index, and once located, it extracts the data and places it into the placeholder tag in the layout, replacing the data that had been there previously.


Q. How does AutoPrice update data via an ODBC connection?

A. For ODBC, AutoPrice submits the SQL Fragment associated with each tag to the currently selected database. The data returned from the query is then placed into the layout. It is important to note that for ODBC, AutoPrice supports a number of special “replaceable parameters” that allow generic SQL fragments to be constructed. These parameters are replaced with Search Key and other references just before the query is submitted to the database. This means that the user can construct a single SQL fragment that can be applied to all tags of the same type.

Example: If you are constructing an SQL fragment for a price, the SQL query might look like this:

Select PRICE from PRICING_TABLE where SKU='<SEARCH_KEY>'

The parameter <SEARCH_KEY> will be replaced by AutoPrice with whatever search key had been assigned to that tag just before the query is submitted to the database. For instance, if the Search Key were 12345, the query would resolve to:

Select PRICE from PRICING_TABLE where SKU='12345'

Again, the implementation of replaceable parameters permits the same SQL fragment to be used across all tags that reference the same type of information. This keeps the number of required SQL Fragments to a minimum.

An important feature of the MPS ODBC Module is that it can be implemented at any time when using AutoPrice. So it is possible to do the initial setup on the documents using AutoPrice in Text File Access mode, and then later transition at any time into using ODBC Access Mode with no retagging of the documents, and very limited changes to the Database Definition being used by the documents. For further information on the MPS ODBC Module, please click here.


Q. Does the ODBC module work in a bi-directional fashion?

A. Currently, no. The ODBC module imports data into a document layout, but it does not “push it” back to the database. This capability may be added to the user interface in a future release.


Q. If "pick-up" catalogs are created, do the pages need to be re-tagged?

A. No way! Since the tags are a permanent part of the document (they behave almost like a special color or style has been applied to the text), if you copy elements from older documents that had been previously tagged, those tags will be fully retained inside of the new document. Note that for workstations which do not have AutoPrice installed, they must install the "AutoPrice Tag Display" module, which is available for free at www.meadowsps.com/tagdisplay. If a document containing AutoPrice (or DesignMerge) tags is edited on a workstation that is not running the software, some of the tagged data may be lost. So for all workstations that will be editing documents that contain AutoPrice or DesignMerge tags, please be sure to install a copy of the appropriate Tag Display module.


Q. Under what circumstances would pages ever need to be re-tagged?

A.
Once the placeholder tags are established in the documents they can be updated repeatedly when the information in the database changes. However, it is possible for an operator who is editing the document to delete or mangle the placeholder tags inadvertently, and changes to the Database Definition can also affect existing placeholder tags in the documents.

Because the name of the Variable Link is what is stored with each tag, if you remove the definition of the link, AutoPrice encounters what is known as a Bad Tag! condition. This happens when a) A modification has been made to the the DDF settings, b) A different DDF has been loaded with the same DDF name but different settings, or c) A completely different DDF has been used, other than the one the document was originally using. The easiest way to rectify this situation is to simply replace the missing Variable Link by creating a new one - something which takes only a few seconds to do. If, for whatever reason, you must change the name of the link permanently, then you must also modify all tags that reference the old link name (and fortunately, there is also a way to automate this process via the Search/Replace tags feature - another AutoPrice exclusive).


Q. If the layout of the database changes, how does this affect the document pages and AutoPrice tags?

A.
It does not affect the documents or tags at all. If the layout of the database changes, you need to update the DDF to reflect the new layout. This is the only change that is required, and this can be done quite quickly using the Quick Setup feature. Existing tags will automatically adopt the changes as soon as you make them.


Q. Can AutoPrice process a batch of documents?

A.
Yes. AutoPrice includes a built-in batch processing feature which allows you to build a job list of up to hundreds of documents and update them all at one time, generating a detailed report that covers all documents updated.