The great Office Server smorgasbord, part 3: Forms and flexibility with Office Forms Server 2007
For businesses reliant on forms processing or wanting internal business intelligence capability, the combination of InfoPath 2007 and Forms Server 2007 is unbeatableFollow @infoworld
More important, Forms Server makes it much easier to deploy forms in formats to be displayed in places other than InfoPath. InfoPath-published forms can become part of SharePoint’s browser-based views of work sites, partner sites, and workflows. There’s even a mobility extension for handhelds, all done automatically with no need for much end-user intervention. Just design your form, publish to SharePoint, and MOSS’s forms processing takes care of the rest.
All this not only enables great data gathering, it lets you build InfoPath forms that can act as business intelligence-gathering agents by displaying up-to-the-minute values from other InfoPath forms as external data sources. This takes a little work, but small and midsize companies as well as similarly sized work teams in larger companies can use this to build fairly sophisticated business performance metrics in-house without the need to hire separate business analysts or developers.
Overall, we found the combination of InfoPath 2007 and Forms Server 2007/SharePoint 2007 Enterprise to be phenomenally powerful. Sure, it can represent quite a bit of work. There’s really no help for converting paper-based forms into InfoPath-accessible electronic forms other than by rekeying, for example. But the benefits can be tremendous. Partners can add data to your work sites in an easy and organized way and that data can be viewed up to the minute via the Web, via InfoPath in other forms, or via Excel using SharePoint’s Excel Services.
All of that is doable now by folks we can categorize as power users, in other words, front-line business personnel, not programmers. That lifts a significant workload off the IT department and in many cases obviates the need for expensive business analysts or consultants. If you’ve got enough forms and the right vision, Forms Server 2007 and SharePoint Server 2007 can pay for themselves right there. That doesn’t mean IT personnel don’t have to pay attention to SharePoint and Forms Server. Both of these are potential resource hogs in a server room. Left unchecked, IT admins in big firms can quickly find their hard disks inundated with usable forms, broken forms, various versions of forms, and similar messes. Allowing end-users to define their work sites and the forms required on those sites is fine, but IT managers need to stay on top of how many team sites there are and enforce strict guidelines on server usage to keep SharePoint’s burgeoning infrastructure manageable.
Read more about applications in InfoWorld's Applications Channel.