InfoPath is retiring – Here is the business case for PDF Forms in SharePoint
As had been speculated for a while, Microsoft is discontinuing its InfoPath electronic forms product.
Microsoft’s blog post made it clear that there will be no future releases of InfoPath. InfoPath is retiring and 2013 will be the final release of the forms application.
With deep respect for InfoPath’s accomplishments, we would like to make a business case for PDF forms in SharePoint.
1. Standard vs Proprietary
Software retirement has many potential issues to consider. One of these issues is handling proprietary data formats. While InfoPath stores data as XML data files, InfoPath form layouts are defined in proprietary file formats. As a result, it is easy to extract data but form layouts are very obscure without Forms Services running.
PDF forms are part of the PDF specification defined in the ISO 32000-1:2008 standard. It means that PDF forms are supported globally, for as long as we can foresee. In addition, many government agencies around the world require long-term storage requirements to be in a PDF format (PDF/A-1a and PDF/A-1b).
If you decide to choose a forms solution for SharePoint, consider standardization as a way to minimize future risks and to maximum your investments in fillable forms. Don’t choose solutions that are based on proprietary formats.
2. Focus on reusing existing forms
Today, most organizations strive to have a uniform approach to their forms. It simplifies management, allows for re-allocation of resources of forms designers, and keeps familiarity of interfaces for end users. However, it is impossible today to live in a closed business environment. We work with other organizations and government entities, which provide their forms in PDF forms (i.e. IRS, FDA, FCC, etc. within the United States; and many local and federal agencies throughout the European States). As your organization interacts with these agencies, you have to enable PDF forms operability or duplicate forms creation and maintenance. Alternatively, as a smarter approach, you can also embrace PDF forms technology and adopt it within your enterprise.
3. Focus on quick implementation
PDF forms emphasize two important aspects when it comes to implementing forms fast and efficiently.
Primarily, you can design forms in the tool of your choice. Should it be Microsoft Word, Excel, or professional Adobe InDesign software – you can easily make your form a fillable PDF form and integrate with SharePoint in minutes.
Secondary, rather than focusing on separate form layouts for different devices and printing needs, you design your form only once. Your PDF forms are always displayed exactly the same way on all devices, as well as when they are printed.
4. Data Integration / Field Mapping
PDF form fields are easily integrated with SharePoint columns. This synchronization is bi-directional, which means data is always up to date in your SharePoint list items and document library. In addition, you can pre-populate PDF forms with data from other sources like SQL Server, other CRM/ERP systems, or context specific information. PDF forms workflow actions allow data to also be extracted from the form and used throughout your business processes.
5. End to End Forms Solution
PDF Share Forms integrates PDF forms with SharePoint infrastructure. As a result, you get a cohesive solution that spotlights all benefits of SharePoint and PDF forms technologies:
- Easy to locate forms. A centralized interface where end user can access all forms that he has access to. The form list is tailored by permissions and context. For example, the same user can have access to a “Change Request” form in Project Site A, but not in Project Site B.
- Offline capabilities. You can use free Adobe Reader Mobile or ShareSync iOS application to manage your offline capabilities. Forms can be submitted outside your SharePoint network and integrated into your business processes.
- Compliance and long term archival. While different fields are editable during your collaboration and business processes, we offer a locking down of the PDF form once your workflow is completed. It ensures that form is not editable and it can be preserved for archival purposes.
- Digital Signatures. PDF forms natively support Electronic and Digital Signatures. Signed PDF forms address numerous security standards within select industries.
- Your choice of workflow provider. PDF forms are vendor independent when it comes to your SharePoint workflow provider. Whether you use out-of-the-box SharePoint workflow, K2 workflow, or Nintex workflow – PDF forms are integrated with all of them.
We believe the above, makes a strong business case that PDF forms are a natural fit for SharePoint implementations. If interested, you can request a free demo here:
Frequently asked questions
What is PDF Share Forms and how it is related to PDF forms?
PDF Share Forms is an independent software vendor (ISV). It is not affiliated with Adobe Corporation. PDF Share Forms provides a complete forms solution that offers a tight integration between PDF forms and a SharePoint environment, enabling bi-directional synchronization between form fields and SharePoint columns.
We have InfoPath forms. Shouldn’t we just wait for new version of Forms that Microsoft will come up with?
As we wait to see what is coming next, you will need to embrace the cloud first approach and understand that Microsoft is likely to see the changes first implemented within Office365 and then made available in a future release of SharePoint for on premises environments. This follows the same process that was outlined earlier this year with the announced release of SP1 for SharePoint 2013. Migration guidance is expected only in Q4 2014.