Workflow is More Than Forms Management

By October 22, 2014Uncategorized

Earlier this year Microsoft announced a plan to discontinue InfoPath as part of its business software portfolio, sending organizations all over the globe scrambling to look for a replacement for their forms management system. To ensure both the proper creation and distribution of electronic forms, many companies began talking with us about Process Director – its smart forms capability and more.

During those conversations we heard these companies describe that InfoPath, while successful at serving their very basic forms needs, lacked the process automation and workflow that they needed. What they wanted was not just a better way to manage forms, but also a more efficient way to conduct their business.

We have long been supporters of Microsoft. All of our products are, in fact, built on Microsoft technology. While Process Director and InfoPath share some common functionality, prior to the announcement we did not engage in a lot of conversations with companies seeking to implement forms via InfoPath. We recognized that InfoPath was efficient at managing forms, especially when forms moved in a linear fashion across the organization (requestor initiates a form, form is routed to approver, approver routes to next actor, and so on). And we understood that it was adept at storing and managing documents and versions of documents. As a component of Microsoft’s suite of tools, we also understood that InfoPath was introduced to many enterprises as a complementary product and gradually became entrenched into various organizational processes.

InfoPath carried both the benefits, but also the burdens, of a legacy product. With Microsoft’s announcement, enterprises are recognizing that it does not make sense to keep forms isolated to enterprise document management. With the proliferation of apps and the ubiquity of their use (in the cloud, on mobile, through Internet of Things devices), organizations need their forms to be flexible – and to be an integral element of both their process and workflow solution.

As companies look for alternatives, we are eager to hear their stories. Our default button does not necessarily go directly to Process Director as a solution. There will continue to be organizations that want a rudimentary forms tool – and little more. While they can get that with Process Director, they may want to continue with their InfoPath implementation. For those who have an eye towards the future and business improvement, however, we think it is important to consider those things that InfoPath is capable of, yet where Process Director excels:

Effective workflow management: Forms hold value in two ways: 1) The data they contain, and 2) The ability to act on that data. InfoPath pulls data from SQL databases in a very specific way and, once pulled, requires manual effort to route forms accordingly. For years we have heard that no one wants or has time to “babysit” authorizations or data requests being communicated in forms. With Process Director, we apply workflows enabling forms to get to their intended recipients, with alerts being sent when action is not taken within the proper timeframes. Simply having forms is irrelevant–it is the actions derived from acting on the forms that drives the business. Knowing when something has arrived, understanding who needs to act on it, then routing the form to the appropriate ‘next’ person is precisely what an integrated workflow/forms solution provides.

Intelligent application of forms: We use the term “smart forms” to describe the operations involved in designing, deploying, routing, managing and analyzing forms and the data they communicate. There is the front-end, which includes advanced HTML and form creation abilities, and the back-end, which provides integration with apps, legacy apps and databases. Process Director offers a sophisticated way to create rich, interactive forms that does not require programming.

Business flexibility: Business priorities change rapidly – and the tools we rely on must keep up. A delay in implementing new processes due to updating cumbersome tools is not acceptable. When that task falls to IT, as it usually does, and when there is already a backlog of requests, processes cease to be used, or are used inefficiently while waiting to be updated. Process Director was built, from inception, to facilitate updating and modifying processes by non-programmers. That means that almost anyone in the organization can identify where a form is needed, create and manage that form – then adapt it. Basically, anybody who can use Word can learn to build effective forms with Process Director.

Ultimately, forms are about delivery – delivery of value from technology to enhance users behavior. When this happens, you can focus on your business- and maximizing its value.

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