Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
- Are development, test, and production servers available?
- What are the required skills? Are these skills available in the organization for ongoing support?
- What tools does the development team have available to them? What tools can be available if they do not have them already?
- Is this project a good fit for SharePoint in the first place?
- Will this solution scale to the degree needed?
- Is there a third party solution that would add value to this project?
- What is the budget? What is the return on investment? The most affordable solution is often not the best solution, but a solution may often be phased to offset the cost.
Monday, March 12, 2012
So you might know I’m a fan of InfoPath and think it is underused, but I also acknowledge that (as with most development tools) it has its limitations. There is only so much you can do with an InfoPath rule to make your forms more dynamic. There are third party products that provide additional rules, but even they fall short of integrating with your line of business systems. Most of the time your only option is to inject custom .NET code. This gives you good flexibility as a developer, but it could potentially require that the Web form be administrator approved and not run as a sandboxed solution. Perhaps a better approach is a service-oriented one.
We recently developed a form that required a button to lookup a customer ID and populate the customer’s address. In this case, a Web service already existed to return the address for valid customers. We added a rule to the lookup button to call the Web service and populate the address from the response. No development required, so the form can be published directly by the form designer.
Another example is for forms that have an email rule. A common requirement is to email a confirmation to the consumer who filled out the form and submitted it. InfoPath makes this easy by allowing you to add an email rule after the submit rule. However, if the mail server is down when the form is submitted, the form data will still be saved into a SharePoint library, but the consumer receives a non-descriptive error from the email rule. As a result, no confirmation email is sent and the consumer thinks the form data was lost, so they resubmit the form. A solution is to develop a Web service to check the state of the mail server, and condition the email rule based on a positive response from the Web service. If the email is not sent, then a property is set within the form to let the form owner know that a manual email needs to be sent later.
The only real caveat in all of this is that the InfoPath data connection that is associated with the Web service must be converted to a data connection file (udcx) and stored in a library on the SharePoint site. Is that a bad thing? Not really. It makes the administrator responsible for which Web services are allowed to be called from forms, and encourages portability for promoting forms from development to staging to production environments. There is a good walk through of connecting a form with a Web service in the MSDN Blogs. Consider making your forms more dynamic by taking this service-oriented approach.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Before I dive into sample electronic forms solutions with InfoPath 2010, there are some things that you should know.
InfoPath 2010 is a Microsoft Office product. InfoPath 2010 is included with Office 2010 Professional Plus, or it can be purchased as a standalone product. There are two icons included with the program: InfoPath Designer 2010 and InfoPath Filler 2010. Designer is used to create form templates (.xsn files) that can be filled out using Filler, or published to a SharePoint server and filled out online. Filler is used to fill out an InfoPath form on your desktop (similar to filling out an PDF form in Adobe Acrobat Reader). When you fill out a form using Filler or SharePoint’s forms services, the form is saved as an XML document and contains a reference to the template from which it was created.
You do not have to have SharePoint 2010, but it does work better. If you do not have SharePoint, InfoPath forms can be created using the desktop Filler, saved to a network share, emailed, and so forth. If you have SharePoint Foundation 2010 (often referred to as the “free” edition of SharePoint), you can publish your form templates to a form library and save your form data (XML) to a form library. You can also take advantage of SharePoint’s workflows to route the forms, but the forms must be filled out using the desktop Filler. If you have SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition, you get all of the same benefits as Foundation, but you may also publish your forms as Web forms – which means that each user in your organization does not need to have the desktop Filler installed to fill out a form. There is an Enterprise CAL license required for each user that will access the SharePoint 2010 Enterprise server. Of course, the license also grants you rights to the other SharePoint Enterprise features, and the cost is offset by the fact that you do not need to purchase the Filler product for every desktop. It is worth mentioning, that some of the Office 365 plans also allow for InfoPath forms to be published as Web forms.
There are two types of forms on SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition. Form Library Forms allow for one or many related forms to be served from and stored in a single document library on SharePoint. These forms are often used in conjunction with SharePoint workflows for routing and approval. List Forms, new to SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition, allow an InfoPath designer to customize the look and behavior of the data entry forms of any SharePoint list. Using InfoPath to brush up these forms allows a non-developer to do more creative and robust things that were previously only possible for developers.
That is enough background to get us started. I will provide more helpful tips as we work through some of the solutions. I will introduce the first form solution in my next post.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Thirty-three months ago I first covered SharePoint on our blog. Since then I have presented InfoPath 2007 and 2010 sessions at a few regional technical conferences. Yesterday, I presented InfoPath to around seventy local professionals at an invitation-only event. As the product has evolved, so has the interest, so has the local user base, and so has the number and variety of our projects. InfoPath is one of the driving forces behind SharePoint’s unprecedented growth.
InfoPath brings to the table:
- Rapid development of electronic forms for non-developers
- Rules based business process automation
- The ability to extend the forms using .NET programming if required
- The inherent ability to gather data to SharePoint for detailed analysis
There are definitely some caveats to keep in mind when implementing InfoPath forms. For your run-of-the-mill, rules-based forms for automating internal business processes, you will find InfoPath is a great fit and a piece of cake. For programmer-enhanced forms, you will need to manage trust levels and get an administrator’s help with publishing the form. And anonymous forms, well, they present numerous challenges that I will guide you through in upcoming posts. What if you want to create a form that gathers data to two separate SharePoint lists? InfoPath does not do that out of the box, but it is possible.
Because of the growing demand for InfoPath, and because of the new InfoPath 2010 capabilities in SharePoint 2010 Enterprise and Office365, I am going to spend some time focusing on InfoPath solutions for SharePoint. I personally believe that this is one of the more valuable, but often overlooked features of SharePoint. My goal with this upcoming series of posts is to hear you say “I wish I had known that sooner!”
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the release of SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 1. Visit the Update Center on TechNet to learn more about this update and to keep up with updates for other Microsoft products. If you have SharePoint 2010 Foundation, you will want to install SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation, then SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation Language Pack if applicable. If you have SharePoint 2010 Server (Standard or Enterprise), you will want to install SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation, the SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation Language Pack (if applicable), SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Server, and SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Server Language Pack (if applicable). After you install SP1, you should also Install the June 2011 Cumulative Updates. (Also see http://blogs.technet.com/b/office_sustained_engineering/archive/2011/06/29/sharepoint-2010-sp1-and-the-june-cumulative-update-for-sharepoint-2010.aspx)
As usual, the Office 2010 updates were released in conjunction with the SharePoint 2010 updates. It’s a great idea to update Office, too, especially if you use the SharePoint 2010 desktop products that are contained in the Office 2010 suites.
Last Friday (June 24), our Evansville SharePoint Users Group co-sponsored a Windows 7 Phone “Hackathon.” It was a great time and there were some interesting app ideas. I bring it up, because it was great to see the integration included with SharePoint, Office, Dynamics CRM, and Office 365 in the upcoming Windows Phone 7 update code-named “Mango.”
Speaking of Office 365, it was officially launched to the public this week! It is not a bad deal for individuals and companies of all sizes. It is all written on SharePoint, so you can customize it using familiar SharePoint tools. Take a look at Office 365. What a week!
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Microsoft's SharePoint Team has announced the release date of Service Pack 1 for SharePoint 2010. Look for the release in late June of 2011. A couple of my favorite features: Site Recycle Bin and the return of StorMan.aspx. With Site Recycle Bin, administrators will be able to recover sites and site collections that were accidentally deleted by authorized users much like the way documents and lists are recovered. StorMan.aspx (Storage Space Allocation) will allow you to see which large documents and document libraries are consuming your disk space. You can read more about the service pack on the SharePoint team's blog at http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/blog/Pages/BlogPost.aspx?pID=973.