Life After Infopath

Written by Ben Stori
on January 08, 2018

It comes as no surprise that Microsoft is sunsetting InfoPath. It was made with very good intentions which made people aware that you could move on from paper forms to create digital forms online as well as automate your business processes (workflows). It did, however, fall short as the technology landscape and businesses changed. The move to mobile, the need for cross browser compatibility, the emergence of HTML5 and CSS3.0, and the simple fact that organizations wanted to create more dynamic and complex forms than InfoPath could handle.

Microsoft officially signed InfoPath’s death warrant at the 2014 SharePoint conference in Las Vegas in a special, last-minute session they threw together. The message was basically: Were getting rid of it, there will be no new version in future releases of Office, InfoPath Forms Services will be supported on the next server version of SharePoint and in support until 2023, and WE HAVE NOTHING GOOD TO REPLACE IT WITH! Although, they did have an underwhelming preview of Excel Survey (which never gained any traction and has turned into Office 365 Forms now, but is still pretty weak sauce), a quick look at Access Services (officially retired now) and a glimpse of this new thing called “PowerApps”. Recently at MS Ignite 2017, they announced that InfoPath Forms Services was going to be supported in SharePoint 2019 on-prem. In the cloud, the message is “Office 365 will be maintained and will function until further notice”. 2014 seems like only yesterday. It is 3 years later and we are 3 years closer to the official end of support. 2023 will be here before you know it, and “until further notice” may come even sooner. So, if you were waiting for the right time to seriously think about a change direction from InfoPath to another forms option, that time has arrived.

Many organizations have made a big investment in InfoPath, creating a wide array of forms from simple to extremely complex, that support critical business processes. Due to the time and work invested in InfoPath by many organizations, moving to another forms solution can seem very daunting and will require a well thought out plan to make the transition. There is currently not a migration tool to convert InfoPath to another solution, which makes your transition plan is extremely important. You want to maximize your dollars to development time and I think by the end of this post you will be able to pick a platform to do that.

Within this blog post, I would like to highlight new forms technologies to give you a better understanding of what is available and give some high-level concepts to consider for transitioning away from InfoPath. This is meant as a high-level overview, but we (sdg) would be happy to help you do a deeper dive and evaluate any of these forms products to best suit your needs.

What’s Available

As of the publication of this post, there are some newer form tools available for your consideration. I would like to give you some background on each one to help you and your organization make the best decision to help start the transition from InfoPath.

PowerApps

PowerApps is a mobile/online forms tool which is available in the Office 365 App or can be purchased for use outside of Office 365 for an additional cost. Microsoft has a couple different pricing plans available for organizations not using Office 365.

You can use PowerApps desktop application or online studio to build custom business applications without knowing a coding language such as C# or JavaScript. It has an online presence but is mostly meant to be a mobile form. The app has a “no code forms designer” that you use to create your PowerApp Form. You can insert a variety of different types of media from the ribbon controls because of this, you are no longer stuck to a table for your layout. This allows you to create some robust mobile forms.

With the latest release of PowerApps, you can now start the creation of a form right from a modern SharePoint List, no support is available for libraries as of this post. It is tightly integrated into SharePoint but is meant to work with several different data sources like external databases, other cloud storage systems, and applications. Because InfoPath is primarily used to interact with SharePoint, we will be looking at how PowerApps works with SharePoint in this post.

PowerApps does not replace your current interface into a SharePoint list, instead, it gives you a different means to enter data into the list. This means if a user goes to your SharePoint list and adds a new item to it, they will get the out of the box SharePoint list entry form and not the PowerApps form you created. If an organization would currently like to have a better user interface into SharePoint and use PowerApps they will be creating two forms and doubling the development cost.

When creating your app as a developer, you need to share it with your organization for them to access it and requires the use of the PowerApps mobile application or the online app via O365. If you interact with a lot of external users, you will need to purchase a separate license for them. Everyone in your organization might not need a license, therefore you can distribute the PowerApps licenses as an admin how you would like. Just remember, employees don’t get access just from a simple publish.

Overall, PowerApps is currently something you could use to help your organization on the mobile front but could be costly as the learning curve isn’t as short as one might hope. The cost of licenses is also something to keep in mind. While PowerApps can do some of what InfoPath did, and a lot it could not do, I would not call it a clear “replacement”.

If you would like to learn more about PowerApps, please visit the PowerApps site for more details.

Microsoft Forms

This will be a fairly simple introduction to Microsoft Forms… Are you familiar with Excel Survey? Microsoft Forms available in Office 365 is a replacement for Excel Survey and is a new app added to your app launcher. You can create surveys, quizzes, and polls without the need for a 3rd party tool like Survey Monkey. They can be filled out online or using a mobile device and as the results are submitted you can get real-time analytics to evaluate the responses from your employees. If needed, you can export the results to Microsoft Excel for additional analysis or grading.

If you are on Office 365 and would like a more elegant tool to SharePoint surveys our recommendation would be to look at how Microsoft Forms can help. Microsoft Forms is not a replacement for InfoPath, but we wanted to bring it up as on the surface it looks like it could have been.

Enterprise Level Nintex Forms

Nintex provides a comprehensive and integrated platform that enables you to easily create enterprise level forms with a drag-and-drop designer. The forms are tightly integrated into SharePoint, Office 365 as well as other platforms such as Salesforce, for example, using Nintex Cloud Forms which sit outside of SharePoint. Nintex also has a best in class workflow engine that uses native Microsoft technologies to bring your organization full circle on an InfoPath migration. With the Nintex product suite, you can build a complete business process application, giving your organization the competitive advantage it needs to get more work done in less time.

Nintex Forms is a browser-based forms designer that lets you quickly and easily create a single form within SharePoint/Office 365 that can be displayed on any device. This gives you the option to take your forms offline giving your organization freedom to get work done anywhere. The designer allows you to create a simple form with very little effort or extend your forms by creating complex and logic-driven forms with JavaScript, jQuery, and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Forms also integrates seamlessly with Nintex Workflow to automate business processes and deliver rich SharePoint applications.

You are not stuck on a table based layout, as controls on your form can be effortlessly moved around and reorganized within the form using the drag-and-drop functionally. Designers can create a form and publish it with just a few clicks.

With Nintex Mobile, you are just a few clicks away from putting all your work in your pocket; getting your work done wherever work may take you.

  • Capture Data
  • Submit requests
  • Start processes
  • Complete Tasks
  • Review Content
  • Approve Documents
  • Create and Brand an Enterprise Custom Mobile App

As an organization starts to move to a data-centric and process-centric approach, forms and workflow naturally become joined at the hip. To realize the full benefits of forms in any organization, workflow solutions are essential. The goal of the form is to give your end users an easy way to enter data and the goal of the workflow is to automate the processes between people and content.

Looking back on how organizations built their InfoPath forms and where to go with Nintex, we need to look at how we can break up the form into more logical chunks, automate the processes and create a more elegant form. Nintex incorporates innovative features and concepts that make it an excellent forms development tool. Former InfoPath users will find significant value in the following:

  • Mobility
  • Portability
  • Reusability
  • Customization
  • Form Variables
  • Cross-Browser Support
  • Built-in Functions
  • Create SharePoint Columns
  • Device Functionality
  • Fully Responsive
  • Robust Controls
  • Workflow Variables (on premise only)

 

 

Conversion of Forms

Identifying what forms to convert is not always obvious. We need to carefully evaluate each form to make sure we are selecting the right forms to convert. By doing this, it will help save time and money. Use these topics as some of the factors to consider when prioritizing and picking forms to transition to your new platform.

  • Business Need
  • Complexity
  • Customizations
  • Individualizations
  • Mobility
  • Data Access
  • Repeatable
  • Workflow Based

Once you have your targeted forms, coordination of the transition needs to be thought out and well planned with a clear strategy. There are many aspects that need to be considered before migrating existing forms over to Nintex Forms. The combination of an easy-to-use designer, mobility options, and advanced functionality makes Nintex Forms the ideal replacement for the retiring InfoPath application.

There are a lot of little things to consider such as does your form have multiple views, rules, validation and access data within SharePoint just to name a few. Another consideration when using a platform like Nintex is can we pull the form out of SharePoint and into the cloud to interact with data more securely without the added layer of SharePoint. That is where an experienced sdg SharePoint consultant can help you. Please email us at sales@solutiondesign.com or call 952-278-2500 for a free 90-minute demonstration of the Nintex Platform. If you would like to try it before you buy it there is a free 30-Day Trial.

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash.