The iPad and Android tablets are natural platforms for corporate workflow, especially in healthcare and the service industries. However, some traditional workflow solutions require coding and an extensive setup to get operational, putting them out of reach for some SMBs and even some larger organizations with overtaxed IT departments, thus relegating extending corporate workflow to tablets a perpetually future requirement. Enter Formotus Forms Central, a free mobile application platform for Android and iOS that allows the rapid development and deployment of XML forms. Its core technology infrastructure includes a Software as a Service (SaaS) application platform (the Formotus Cloud Console), Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft InfoPath.If you haven't used Microsoft InfoPath, it's a sometimes forgotten member of the Microsoft Office family. In conjunction with the Formotus platform, it enables the code-free creation of forms. While Formotus does have a growing partner network to create forms, give yourself a bit of time with InfoPath and its tutorials (Figure A), and you'll be sure to get the forms you require developed in house. Figure A
Microsoft InfoPath offers code-free XML forms creation, using a familiar Microsoft Office interface.
About Formotus Forms Central
Formotus Forms Central as a solution really gets past some of the development and infrastructure hurdles (and costs) that your organization may ring up while developing and deploying forms to a mobile workforce.
It includes the following features for mobilizing corporate workflow:
- Native app performance on the iPad
- Customizable controls, including GPS, camera, annotations, written signature, tables, sections, and other popular form elements
- REST and SOAP XML web services
- XML standards
It also has some standout benefits, such as:
- Scalability to open up forms to more users
- No server license or other startup costs beyond the device license
- No coding to build or modify forms
- Create once and deploy anywhere, meaning the solution you create for your company's iPads can also work on iPhones and other mobile devices -- it also means the solutions you create today are future proof and work under future platform OSes
- Over the Air (OTA) deployment of files and automatic updates
- Offline support for drafts and an outbox
Formotus forms and mobile workflow
Formotus takes a very flexible approach to their forms and workflow implementation that doesn't lock it down to just one industry's use cases. This approach lends it to be a great entry-level solution into mobile forms and workflow.
Formotus Mobile Workflow includes two forms types:
- Formotus Forms: Traditional forms (think of the paper forms you fill out) -- these are optimized for tablets
- Formotus Workflow Forms: A Formotus Workflow form is a partially filled out form that comes with a routing envelope
Mobile workers can sometimes add new dimensions to age-old workflow processes. Formotus supports two workflow types:
- Social workflow: Mobile workers don't always follow predictable patterns, especially in services industries. Formotus includes support for a social workflow, which is more decision-based than the traditional rules-based workflow. It's also more human driven and collaborative. This workflow is a fit for a mobile workforce that requires more collaboration, like service industry workers out on a customer call who may need to call in higher-level subject matter expertise in order to accomplish a job.
- Structured workflow: This is a more familiar workflow, like the dispatcher who sends a work order to a technician (Start), the technician receives the work order, the customer signs off on the work order, and the work order is sent to the billing department for generation of an invoice (Stop).
Creating and deploying a Formotus Mobile Workflow
Creating and deploying a mobile workflow with Formotus Forms Central doesn't require a lot of special training. It's a job made for power users or IT generalists if your organization is small. Larger organizations often have in-house forms creation teams.
Creating a Formotus Mobile Workflow requires:
- Microsoft InfoPath
- Subscription to Formotus Forms Central
This is the basic process for creating and deploying a Formotus Mobile Workflow:
- Create a form in Microsoft InfoPath and publish it to SharePoint -- optionally, you can choose one of the default forms available in the Formotus Cloud Console for deployment
- Upload the InfoPath form from SharePoint to the Formotus Cloud Console
- Deploy the form from Formotus to up to five mobile devices (out of the box support for more devices is available) in your organization
- Mobile users interact with forms using the Formotus Forms Central App between their tablet or smartphone and SharePoint
Using Formotus Mobile Workflow
While Formotus uses Microsoft SharePoint as its backend infrastructure, SharePoint is invisible to the mobile user. It's a definite change from interacting with SharePoint from one of the usual mobile apps and testifies to the flexibility Microsoft SharePoint can have in the hands of the right developers.
The Formotus mobile workflow revolves around Jobs (forms in a SharePoint forms library). Here are the basics of the workflow:
- Mobile users take turns checking out a form in a SharePoint forms library using the Formotus Forms Central app (available for iOS and Android). They can add content to the form, and then resubmit the form to SharePoint.
- Each forms user sees a filtered view of the forms library, showing only the forms assigned to them. The forms filtering rules are configured in the Formotus Cloud Console with no SharePoint server side rules coming into play. Formotus mobile workflow rules are separate but complementary to SharePoint workflows.
Using the Formotus Forms Central App
A well-designed app should require just a minimum of end-user training during its initial deployment. The app includes a dashboard where users can see all of their forms at their various stages in the workflow process.The tablet's rendering of forms sent to the Formotus Central app is clear and easy to follow (Figure B). Figure B
The Formotus Forms Central app running on an iPad renders easy-to-use forms that beat traditional paper for features and usability.
Take your forms to the tablet
Formotus Forms Central offers forms and workflow options that are easy to create and deploy to your mobile workforce, enabling them to better serve your customers and respond to issues in the field. Best of all, the solution can be managed on the team level without having to involve your already taxed IT resources.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.