This is the first of an ongoing series showing how InfoPath has been used in real-life situations. No matter how good the sales pitch is, there’s nothing like knowing that a product has actually helped organisations out.

This first example is one that is pretty close to me. Microsoft have a lot of different processes and procedures. One of them is around organising web seminars. The organisation of these sessions is handled by the local events team, who, among other things, make sure the relevant information is prepared beforehand, manage the broadcast of the seminar and then see to it that materials and recordings are put online in the right place afterwards. So if you want to organise a web seminar on a subject close to your heart, you have to tell the events team about it and make sure they have all the appropriate information.

I was planning a web seminar for Microsoft partners on some of the features of SharePoint including InfoPath Forms Services. So I was annoyed when the events team sent me a form to fill out and it was a Word document. My irritation grew as I tried to fill out the form. Some parts were no problem. There were appropriate spaces to enter information for name, date, description and so on. Where it got irritating was the target audiences section.

This had been laid up with the various audience headings and each had a little check box. Only, they weren’t check boxes. They were text boxes. Fine. I just have to type an X in the box and that’s no problem. It only takes a couple of seconds more than ticking a box.

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The next section on the form was to do with the questions in the feedback form. There was a list of potential questions and the instruction to highlight whichever ones applied. Sure, I could do that. After all, Word has a highlighting feature. But, again, it took a few seconds longer than I felt was necessary.

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At the end of the form, I then have to send it to the appropriate person. But first I have to save it. I don’t know what the standard naming conventions are. I name it as seems appropriate to me, but I have no way to know whether the person receiving the form will name their forms in the same way and so be able to find mine amid the countless Word documents she no doubt has on her computer. So I save it, create an email and add the file as an attachment, which takes considerably longer than just clicking a “submit” button in an InfoPath form.

In the email sending this form, I added a note asking if the events team wanted to learn more about InfoPath. We set up a half-hour meeting and I showed them some of what InfoPath could do. Within ten minutes, they were sold. They went away and, with no training, created a new InfoPath form to collect the information. The form includes a submit button which, when clicked, emails the form to the appropriate person with an automatically generated name which makes it much easier for the events team to organise the received forms.

Within a couple of days, the events team sent round an announcement saying that the web seminars would now be booked using the InfoPath form. A couple of days after that, I received a thank you from someone in the events team. Apparently she’d had very positive feedback from the end users saying that the form was no much easier to fill out. The events team were also happy because the forms automatically went to the right people with a suitable name.

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In terms of time saved, it’s probably only about a minute per form for those wanting to present, which doesn’t sound like much until you think about the number of web seminars organised in each by Microsoft employees. It’s harder to estimate how much time is saved by the events team, but I expect there’s quite a lot of frustration avoided as they no longer have to hunt around for forms that people have named strangely.

And, if the events team want to set up a workflow to help automate some of the tasks involved in organising a web seminar, it will be a lot easier to do from an InfoPath form than a Word document.