Data and Form Management with Microsoft InfoPath
Microsoft InfoPath is a relatively new addition to the MS Office suite that was first seen in Office 2003. The application can be used to both create and fill out XML-based electronic forms such as time sheets, status requests, and expense reports. This allows users a more efficient way to manage data. The most recent version of the software, InfoPath 2007, can be purchased separately or as part of the Office 2007 Ultimate package.
The intuitive user interface of InfoPath 2007 makes it fairly easy to design forms of all types, especially if you start out with one of the sample templates that come with the software. In addition to the templates that come packaged with InfoPath, several more can be downloaded free from Microsoft Office Online. Those more comfortable with the application can also design their own templates and build new forms from scratch using the program’s drag and drop capabilities.
Like most Microsoft products, InfoPath 2007 works well with other applications in the MS Office suite, but it integrates particularly well with Outlook 2007. Forms designed with InfoPath can be sent as email messages through Outlook so that users can complete and return the forms as they would any other email. Once a form has been filled out, information from it can be exported to other applications such as Excel where the data can be organized and analyzed.
A new feature introduced in InfoPath 2007 makes the application even more powerful. In the prior version of the software, it was necessary to have InfoPath installed on your PC in order to fill out a form that was designed with the application. Now, InfoPath 2007 can be used in conjunction with InfoPath Forms Services to create browser-compatible forms that can be filled out by anyone. This feature can also be used to create forms for mobile devices.
InfoPath also has a feature that lets you convert existing Word and Excel documents to InfoPath forms. Not only is this nice for those who want to move pre-existing forms to InfoPath in order take advantage of all the software’s benefits, but it’s also great for designers who like to do mock-ups in these applications. For instance, you could create sample form designs in Excel, distribute those designs to others for suggestions and/or approval, and then import the final mock-ups into InfoPath where you can make any necessary modifications and prepare for distribution.
While InfoPath is primarily a business application, it’s one that can benefit companies of all sizes. If you use forms to gather any type of information, whether internally or externally, you might want to check the software out and see if you think it could help streamline the process. Microsoft offers a free 60-day trial of the software that you can download here.