Monday, April 13, 2009

Collecting SharePoint-based Data with Forms

So you have been tasked with finding the best solution for collecting data from end users and storing it on SharePoint. Sounds like a simple task at first, but there are so many options…and how do you know which one is right for your organization? Last week, at April’s Evansville SharePoint Users Group meeting I delivered a presentation titled “Go Green with SharePoint: Gather Data Electronically.” I demonstrated several approaches for collecting data for a SharePoint site using various types of forms. I was somewhat surprised by which approach seemed to be the most intriguing to the audience – forms in Microsoft Word 2007. Let me walk you through the approaches.

First, I must say that the ideal approach for gathering forms data for SharePoint is InfoPath 2007. If you have it, make it your first choice. This is what it was created for. There is much debate over whether InfoPath is a power-user tool, developer tool or information worker tool. I think it is simply a tool for people with an aptitude for developing InfoPath forms and who have been empowered to do so. I am not going to get into licensing or how to create InfoPath forms, but suffice it to say that an organization can accomplish much in the way of data collection and workflows with InfoPath and SharePoint Designer. Learn more about it at

So what if you do not have InfoPath and it is definitely not an option for your organization? Here is a list of some approaches ranging from out-of-the-box SharePoint to custom-written forms integrated with SharePoint:

  • Built-in list forms When you create a new list in SharePoint, forms are created for you for adding, editing, viewing and listing items in the list. These forms are customizable using SharePoint Designer.

  • Surveys - SharePoint contains a simple wizard for creating surveys. One of the great features is that you can include/exclude questions based on the response to previous questions. Another benefit is that if the survey is not anonymous, then you can limit the responses to one per person. Just as with other SharePoint lists, the results may be downloaded to Excel and the forms may be customized using SharePoint Designer. A common customization is to show a “Thank you” message once the survey is completed rather than showing the overall survey results.

  • DataForms – I have done a series of posts on Data Forms in SharePoint Designer, so I will be brief. This approach is where we start to move more from the out-of-the-box options to the custom options. A couple of benefits are that you do not have to be a programmer per se and you can save the results to various data stores in addition to SharePoint lists.

  • Word 2007 - Many people know that you can create a form in Microsoft Word, but what you may not have known is that you can save that data directly to a SharePoint list. Here is an older blog post by the Office team to get you started. If you want more details, please leave a comment asking for more details and I will dedicate an entire post to this topic.

  • Access 2007 – If you have used linked tables in Access, then this one will seem familiar to you. SharePoint lists can be linked to Access as linked tables so they work seamlessly with Access forms, queries, reports and even email forms (new in Access 2007). Again, if you would like to see an entire post dedicated to this topic, please leave a comment.

  • Excel 2007 – Just as SharePoint lists can be exported to Excel spreadsheets, SharePoint list data can be imported from Excel spreadsheets.

  • Outlook 2007 - Outlook can display email-enabled InfoPath forms.

  • Custom .NET Webforms – Custom ASP.NET Webforms can be written using Visual Studio to read from and write to SharePoint lists. At Keller Schroeder, we have written custom SharePoint forms in ASP.NET using AJAX and Silverlight to enhance the user experience. While this provides the ultimate flexibility and user experience, it is completely custom and requires .NET web programming skills.

Each of these approaches has a place and no two organizations are the same. I would enjoy hearing about alternative approaches you may have used to collect SharePoint data.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Rob!

I can give another approach of collecting SharePoint data. It is innovative product, based on SharePoint and it is free forms engine solution called iTechnologyForms Accelerator. It works by creating SharePoint list which you integrate with itfa engine. The form builder engine itself has variety of tools so forms can be created different ways. It has different controls, formulas, rules, ability to collaborate your form with other an so on. Templates and videos are also provided. For me, as functionality this works. Here is available free online demo:

Anonymous said...

Hello Rob!
I would like to learn more about access and sharepoint. Thank for all the info so far.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob,
I would also like to learn more about creating a form on sharepoint that saves data to an access database.