Microsoft InfoPath or Adobe Forms?
By Kristian Kalsing on March 3, 2011
Many enterprises have requirements that naturally lead to solutions that involve deploying electronic forms. These forms can be implemented utilizing a wide range of technologies currently available in the market. For companies that have significant investments in both SAP and Microsoft, the discussion is often narrowed down to Microsoft InfoPath versus Adobe Forms, which are both products for designing and deploying XML-based data entry forms.
Microsoft InfoPath is a forms designer which, being part of the Microsoft Office suite, offers a familiar design experience to existing Office users. InfoPath forms can either be deployed as standalone forms which require form users to have InfoPath installed or they can be deployed to SharePoint as web-based forms effectively reaching any user with a web browser.
Adobe Forms are authored using Adobe LiveCycle Designer and saved as PDF or XDP files. The PDF version can be opened by users with the Adobe Acrobat Reader and the XDP file is used by the Adobe LiveCycle Form Server to render the form as HTML.
To avoid having to support more technologies than necessary, most organizations will strive to invest in a single forms product. However, as it is often the case with IT, there is not one silver bullet and selecting the right option is not always easy. Asking the following questions about your use cases will help you evaluate the two forms technologies.
Are the forms required to be pixel perfect?
The respective form designers for InfoPath and Adobe Forms have different strength and weaknesses in terms what visual look and feel it is possible to create. When evaluating the two products, you need to consider how advanced the graphics are required to be.
Are the forms required to work offline?
The implementation is simpler if the users are always online. However, if you have requirements for providing offline forms to users with limited or no connectivity, the solution becomes more complex. Both InfoPath and Adobe Forms have an offline story, but you will need to carefully evaluate what will work in your environment.
Will the forms reach external users?
If the forms will only ever face users that are internal to your organization, you have full control of the end user environment. However, if you are planning to reach external users, you need to make sure the targeted users will be able to access the form. InfoPath and Adobe Forms have different ways of handling this.
How much business logic will be embedded?
If a substantial amount of data validation rules or business logic is required in the forms interface, you will need to understand how this logic is created and maintained in the different forms products. Determining whether it requires programming skills or not is important when planning the initial implementation as well as the ongoing maintenance.
Are there workflow requirements?
Once data is captured in a form, it is typically pushed into a business application for persistence. However, often the data is routed through various people before being submitted to the final destination. This sequence of connected steps, commonly referred to as workflow, facilitates contributions from various people or departments and tracks reviews and approvals. There are many workflow technologies in the marketplace and they all have a different story in terms of which forms technologies they integrate well with.
Are the workflow processes often changing?
If you do require workflow as part of your solution, it is important to evaluate how often your workflow processes may change. In order to rapidly respond to changing business processes, you will need a flexible workflow tool. Different workflow tools work very differently in this regard.
Which licenses have already been purchased?
It is often surprising to companies what licenses they already own. Licenses for InfoPath and Adobe Forms are often wrapped up in larger licensing bundles from SAP or Microsoft, so it is definitely worth investigating what is already available to use from a licensing perspective.
About the author
Based in Seattle, Kristian is part of the product management team at Winshuttle where he is responsible for solutions that help companies to perform better by improving their management and governance of master data. Kristian has 15 years of experience with enterprise solutions in a broad range of industries across Europe, Australia and North America. When not at work, Kristian spends most of his time climbing in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.
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