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XML data transfer

This page gives an overview of XML and Decision Explorer®. Technical details for developers are available on the technical page (see below).

Why XML?

For many years, Decision Explorer® has been a powerful tool for modelling qualitative information. Users have built many models and they have proved very useful as-is. Once the model is complete, people often want to move parts of it to other applications for display purposes, or to do further analysis. People also often have existing data that they want to be able to create a model from. Banxia has provided a variety of methods to do this, such as copying to clipboard and direct import/export to other applications. Some developers have also used the internal data transfer format to import models, perhaps allowing download from web sites or other applications. Each time the solution is proprietary, and the developers have to work to custom formats.

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a data transfer format. It is not a miracle cure, but it is a standardised way of structuring data. This means that if you can get suitable data out of one application in XML format, you can usually use a translator tool (such as XSLT) to transform it into a form suitable for the destination application. This means that transfer of information becomes a lot easier when all applications support XML. Of course, there is no point in taking an XML file with the company accounts and trying to transform them into a cognitive map – the data has to be appropriate – but if you have data that is essentially a map with ideas and links between them then you should be able to use XML as the medium for transfer into Decision Explorer®.

The benefit to you therefore is that Decision Explorer® is no longer an isolated island of data, but now has bridges to fit into a wider process of planning, analysis and implementation.

Current support

To use XML you must have Decision Explorer® 3.2 or later installed, which can be obtained by downloading from our demo pages, or via the free 3.2 upgrade for registered users. Note that the DEMO version does not support XML, even though the dialog suggests it is supported.

XML supported in Decision Explorer® 3.2.2 build 265:

  • Export of complete model to XML
  • Export of selected concepts to XML
  • Import of the Link styles (hold shift in link style editor to get load/save buttons).
  • Import of the complete model information
  • COM interface to allow applications to readily gain access to a model’s XML, and to send XML to Decision Explorer® (contact us for details).

The complete model includes all views, styles, link styles, concepts, links.

How to use it

The XML output is available using the standard Decision Explorer® Export Wizard. Simply select the File menu Export item, and then select the XML option on the first page. Click Next, and you will get the following wizard page:

Leaving all the check boxes ticked, selecting All views, and All concepts will give you a complete XML representation of the model. If there are parts that you do not wish to have, then you can of course turn them off, but XML is designed to be flexible, and your target application should be able to ignore unwanted data.

The data in the XML file is very specific to Decision Explorer®, and you will probably need to use a transform application (perhaps using XSLT) as an intermediate stage before importing. We plan to release a tool that will make this part easier in future.

Future support

We intend to add:

  • Import and storage of arbitrary (unknown) attributes against concepts and links.
  • Export of the arbitrary attributes for re-use by the originating application.
  • XSLT converter to aid transfer to and from other applications.

The arbitrary attributes are intended to allow two-way data management between applications. For example an identifier may be output by an application so that it knows which concept relates to its own internal data structures. When re-exported, the identifier will allow a proper merge to occur. Note that the file format in Decision Explorer® may be changed, losing compatibility with prior versions of Decision Explorer®.

Technical Information

Details of the schema used by Decision Explorer® 3.2 are available on request. Details of the COM interface are available on request.

Note that versions of Decision Explorer® with XML support CAN now be used on Windows 95. The minimum requirement is Windows 95, 98, 2000, NT, XP or later.