By Anthony Baratta
Boost your SharePoint workflow data collection net with InfoPath
If you plan to use SharePoint at least in part as a collaboration suite for the different teams or departments throughout your enterprise, then you need to know how to configure workflows. In the context of SharePoint, a workflow allows you to dictate the path that a document will take between creation and final publication.
When you create a workflow in SharePoint, you can design an approval process to make sure that all the people who need to see a document get a chance to sign off on it. The workflow helps ensure quality, accuracy, and oversight of projects. It also allows the project creator or leader to monitor where the document is in the approval pipeline. If someone receives the document for approval and forgets about it, it’s easy for the document creator to find out who has the item currently and to send a reminder that approval is pending.
Designed to help simplify the equation and save time by automating the steps behind some of their standard processes, dig into SharePoint Workflows.
To expand the uses and benefits of workflows in SharePoint, you might consider utilizing the tools provided by Microsoft InfoPath. InfoPath became a part of the Microsoft Office suite more than a decade ago, with the release of 2003. However, many users remain unaware of its advantageous applications or how to use them to upgrade the SharePoint experience.
Even though Microsoft has stated that InfoPath 2013 will be the last major version of InfoPath, it will be fully supported with SharePoint 2016 through SP 2016’s end of life in 2026. Additionally, Microsoft currently does not have a clear replacement for InfoPath so it’s still your go to tool for creating dynamic forms with SharePoint on premise and online.
InfoPath is what it sounds like, an app that allows you to create electronic forms and use them to collect structured data. You can also integrate InfoPath with SharePoint’s workflow features so that respond to the status of specific workflows. Just like the creator of a document can check the status of that document in a workflow approval process, InfoPath forms can monitor that status and use it to decide which information to display.
How Responsive InfoPath Forms Work
To describe the benefits of this kind of workflow responsiveness, Microsoft used the SharePoint workflow example of an expense report form with an associated approval process:
- Before the approval workflow starts, the expense report form would just be blank and would provide space for employees to enter information about their expenses.
- Once the workflow is in progress, the form would then display information about the claimed expenses that are currently under review.
- When the workflow is complete, the form could provide a read-only view. At this stage, the form would show employees which expenses have been accepted and an estimate of when reimbursement payments should be processed.
This example shows how InfoPath can take cues from workflow statuses (like no status, in progress, cancelled, completed, and rejected) to present users with different information. By using this feature, you can prevent people from changing the information on forms that have been finalized or submitting the same information multiple times. The workflow-InfoPath process helps to make the use of forms in your enterprise simpler and more efficient.
Configuring an InfoPath Form to Respond to a Workflow Status
To reap the streamlined form benefits that a SharePoint workflow-InfoPath integration can provide, you will first have to go through one of the more complicated processes you will likely face in your SharePoint adventures. In their standard incarnation, InfoPath forms are not designed to respond to workflows or any other sources of external data. You will need to create that data connection and manually add it to your form template.
The data connection between your workflows in SharePoint and your InfoPath form template is only one step in the configuration process. You will also have to create or configure the approval workflow to which your InfoPath form is supposed to respond, as well as set up the form so that it is responding to different workflow statuses in distinct and useful ways. For the automated process to work, you must create the approval workflow as part of a specific document library, and you should publish the InfoPath form template as a site content type.
If you have been using SharePoint for a while now and have done some previous tinkering to expand the functionality of your intranet, you might already be aware of how to carry out some or most of these steps. If you haven’t done much tinkering yet, then configuring InfoPath forms to respond to workflow statuses might not be the easiest project to use as a starting point. With that said, Microsoft has provided an in-depth tutorial to walk you through the process and get a sense of how everything is working together. Click Here to read that tutorial.
If you decide that you need additional help configuring your approval workflows and your InfoPath form templates to work together, give us a call at 2Plus2. We specialize in helping enterprises like yours get the most out of their SharePoint intranets. We are happy to walk you through this process or help you create the responsive InfoPath forms that you want to use. To contact us and set up a free consultation with our SharePoint experts, give us a call at 510 652 7700. Alternatively, click the “Free Consultation” tab at the top of our page and fill out our contact form.