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IBM Connect: Engaging Users With Dynamic Forms

Forms represent a really useful tool for the business. All too often, the I see business users want to own and manage more of their site but roadblocks exist. Web based forms represent one common road block where developers do simple work that might be better suited to a trained business user.  IBM released an update to their IBM Forms Product with Forms Experience Builder (FEB).  FEB puts a lot of power in the hands of the business user and integrates with IBM’s WebSphere Portal.  In many ways, forms can become simple applications that keeps simple stuff from draining developer resources.

Marty pretty much started out using the tools themselves to show the power inside.

Demo: 

  • Easy to use drag and drop web based UI
  • Really slick connector to wire web services to the fields in your form
  • Edit page properties to set things like page size
  • You can use visual indicators like horizontal bars, collapsed sections, etc to define the look and feel
  • Can create derived fields that do calculations (hours on monday plus hours on Tuesday for example)
  • You can put widgets in a form. Marty showed a survey widget he dropped in and then edited
    • Widgets can also be html fragments
    • Or a signature field where you can sign via a tablet and capture that.
  • You can define some simple rules  like do you want this service. If the answer is yes, the additional fields on the form display
  • When defining multi-page or multi-section forms, you can define actions that occur in the process.  That includes things like Save, save as draft, submit, etc.
  • Forms server allows you to define when and where to deploy the form.  Treats the form like a piece of content and pulls it out from the typical code release process.
  • The form is available as a URL which makes it easier to integrate into a variety of sites.
  • Forms submissions are secure XML documents but the latest version allows you to see some default views in list format.
    • You can even visualize responses to surveys or forms.
    • All visualizations have a URL you can share or use to embed in some other sites.
  • You can define a number of roles and simple steps in the workflow.
    • This is a big change from previous versions which just did forms functionality with no workflow
    • When defining a role, you can define what each role can do with view, write, administrator functionality
    • Steps in a workflow are called stages. You can setup as many as you want
      • You can configure email notification, who is assigned to the stage, etc.
      • Completion of a stage can be configured to call an email service and even call another web service to push data to a larger system
  • More complex configuration
    • You can use a built in style
    • You can point the form to a CSS to define a different style.  That requires some more skills but it’s still a configuration to point to CSS
    • Includes a Services catalog you can register like address lookup, get countries by region, get current portal user information, etc.  This is great for pick fields.  Makes it easier to essentially tie applications or data sources together.
  • Can setup forms to hook to email. Mail a link to a new employee to fill out forms prior to first day on the job for example
  • You can hook forms to a checklist (also within FEB) and guide a person through a series of forms
    • Interesting that a form could be a questionnaire / wizard that looks like a test.  Shows the different ways you can think to use forms.
    • The checklist track what users have done (or not done) in the list of sub-forms
    • You create the checklist by setting up a bunch of lists that are both links to existing forms and a validation so when a “return code” comes back as complete, the step in the checklist is marked complete
      • Return codes are a little more complex. They represent a small development effort or a really savvy power users
  • Portal integration is out of the box.  It looks like an inline set of html so it’s seamless
    • IBM offers a FEB portlet
    • The portlet can be wired like other portlets
  • Scalability: scales well. It’s actually a fairly light app that’s a simple EAR file to install.

Once you define a FEB form/app, it exposes itself as a service so it becomes easy to consume. That’s also what allows you to easily map fields in FEB to fields in other services.

Bottom Line: This is an extremely powerful tool to provide a lot of functionality very quickly and which gives that power to business users.  It’s moved forms to basically mini-applications.

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