Thursday, July 2, 2009

Will InfoPath help me?

You've heard about SharePoint or WSS and that it can revolutionize your paperwork with electronic forms through InfoPath. You're probably wondering whether or not this InfoPath is the way to revolutionize your office. Here are some things to consider when it comes to using InfoPath:

1. Do you have WSS or do you have MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server)? MOSS Enterprise 2007 (or Forms Server 2007 and prior) includes Forms Services, which handles server-side rendering of InfoPath forms (what does that mean? It means that the form can be filled out online using Internet Explorer or Firefox instead of needing InfoPath)

2. If you decide to go the non-browser route, everyone who fills out the form needs to have InfoPath and access to both the form itself and wherever you want the form to send the data. If you go the browser-form route, you'll have to learn how to place it in SharePoint or see how that process works in your work environment

3. If you want the form filled out by the browser, know that there are several limitations:
  • You can connect browser forms to databases and SharePoint but cannot, without programming, filter what you get from them. For instance, you can pull an entire column of information but not a certain portion of it (so, if you have 100,000 items in the column then it pulls them all)
  • You can't use several controls that are normally available in InfoPath
  • You can't have error message windows appear on the screen
  • Using a lot of special conditions and special formatting in browser forms can slow performance
  • If you do end up having to use programming, you have to get the uppity ups of SharePoint involved at your work
4. There is a learning curve to figuring out InfoPath, though not as in-depth as Microsoft Access or Adobe Designer forms. In our line of work, we get most people developing great, advanced, codeless forms with appx 6-10 hours of training (though advanced forms may take several weeks to develop well)

5. InfoPath does allow for using signature pads to capture the signature and place it as a JPG on the form. Unfortunately, this will work only as long as you aren't using browser forms (because it's usually an Active X control that accomplishes this). You might be able to accomplish this otherwise but not that I could find. Digital Signatures are difficult to apply as well in browser forms but are supported in regular forms.

6. Apart from these considerations, are you using a lot of paper? Do you have a secure place to store electronic forms? Dear Lord, InfoPath can help you (so could Word forms, Adobe forms, or even Access, but they all have different pros/cons). InfoPath was made to help transform the business processes of many current situations. If you combine InfoPath with SharePoint and possibly SharePoint Workflows, you can have a truly powerful business process system to handle most forms of paperwork like vacation/absence forms, applications, quizzes, and more.