InfoPath Basics for the Information Worker

So you have had Office 2003 installed for a while now but haven’t really gotten around to figuring out what this new application called “InfoPath” is all about. You have probably even heard it mentioned a few times but maybe not.

Well to give you the lightest definition I can think of:

InfoPath is an application that lets you (an information worker) create dynamic forms that can help you share and manage information from team members easily and without the aid of a programmer. That?s right YOU can do it!

Hmm you still aren’t smiling. OK let’s use an example or two.

Example 1: Creating Forms to Help Collect Information from Your Team

Let?s say that you have a team of 5 workers. Each is very busy but to help keep on track of each others leads and issues you request that each member send a short email to let you know what happened that week.

Well Bill likes to talk so he usually sends you an email that scrolls and scrolls for pages so you spend a lot of time just trying to pick out the information you need. Jimmy, while a great guy and hard worker, tends to be a little absent minded and sometimes leaves important information out. And well the other 3 fall somewhere in the middle. You spend a great deal of your time requesting this required information from your team, and even when you get it – it’s not always complete or easy to work with.

By creating a simple InfoPath form you can select what information you want to collect from your team and create a template that ensures that each item is covered. The fields you want to include are created by simply dragging and dropping pre-developed controls onto your page. You can even create rules on what fields are required and how the information entered should be formatted with just a few simple clicks.

You don’t need to be a coder – you just need to know what information you want to collect and drag the control that will hold that information on to your form. Some examples of controls include:

Once your form is created, your team can submit the information you require in a format that is not only consistent and the way you want it – but that can be merged and exported to allow you to get up to date faster and more efficiently. Thus giving you more time to help your team with their issues rather than just asking them about them.

Example 2: Using Your Forms on Your SharePoint Team Site

InfoPath really works great when tied together with Windows SharePoint Services. You can publish form templates to a team site for everyone to access and the information can be presented in just about any format you wish.

Using the scenario from Example 1, let?s imagine that you have published your form to a SharePoint ?Form Library? which is basically a SharePoint list containing your form information and all the custom data (metadata) related to it. Your team can just enter the site and click a button to display a new fresh copy of your form to fill out. Once the form is completed they can save it directly into a folder on your team site. You can even create special views that filter and group your information in a manner that is useful to everyone. Some examples of custom views you might use include:

  • All active leads grouped or filtered by each individual team member sorted by value or opportunity.
  • All outstanding issues for a particular time period such as the past week ranked by severity.
  • Personalized views of information for each team member (showing only their own information and not that of the others)
  • You can then display these views from within the form library or from within Web Parts that can be placed throughout your team site. Thus increasing the visibility of important information and improving the quality of collaboration available to team members.

    For a little more information on how InfoPath can work, try visiting the demo available for viewing on the Microsoft site.

    The potential an application such as InfoPath for an information worker is pretty substantial. By simply opening up a few of the almost 25 ready to use templates that are included with your installation, you can get a pretty good feel for how the forms work. Once you get the basics down, then you can start designing your own forms. For some more advanced things you may want to contract the help of a more advanced user or developer, but this is still miles ahead of most situations which would require 100% of the work to be done by such users.

    To learn a little more, try visiting the MSDN site to complete a few of the labs.

    Also if you have any questions or would like some help getting started, drop me a line. I love any opportunity I get to help people with this stuff. Even if I don?t have an exact answer to your question, I can probably help you track it down.

    Also don?t forget that if you haven?t already done so you should install the Service Pack 1 Preview. It has some great new features and offers a lot more flexibility with respect to form design for both beginners and advanced users.

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