I've taken on the task of automating some lengthy report generation processes here. The reports were to be e-mailed to the requestee in a spreadsheet format, and the heavy number-crunching was done from data retrieved from an mssql database. Along the way, the ubiquity of LDAP came in to play as well.
Since my position here is largely Drupal/Web based, I decided it was time to tackle some utility functions in a PHP setting that would minimize the effort needed to perform some of these higher-level tasks such as 'read/write to spreadsheet', 'query database', 'send email', or 'request LDAP auth'.
If I could bring these functions into PHP, it would open up a whole new avenue of scripted automation as well as have the added benefit of being adapted into any drupal work I do in the future. Scripts could be compiled and turned into drupal pages/plugins. Then, with the proper permission settings, I could release/remove access to various individuals and groups through the drupal administration interface. As you can see, this provides a pretty good set of tools to create a robust and secured intranet toolkit for an organization.
Anyway, I've managed to get most of these functions working. A large part of the process involved learning which PHP import libraries are well-supported, and which fall short of performing the tasks.
For example, there is no unified reader/writer for spreadsheet files, instead I had to install and configure two separate plugins.
On the database querying topic, I wanted to avoid being tied to one type of database. The adodb plugin helped with this, as now I can query a MySQL database just as easily as a postgres or msSQL database.
As I finish up these utilities, clean them up, test them, and deploy them, I would certainly be willing to assist others in the process of getting their own similar utility functions set up. I may possibly get into the line-by-line details of the code and the install procedure in another article.
Message me if you have questions, and happy hacking!