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Navigating the Microsoft Forms Roadmap #SPC14

Tuesday morning at the SharePoint conference people packed the room for the news on the updated Forms Strategy from Microsoft. Since the announcement that InfoPath 2013 would be the last release, the community has been waiting to see what would come next.

When the news broke about the end of InfoPath not many people were surprised, but many were left wondering what would come next and concerned about how to navigate forward without a clear direction. The session today by Sonya Koptyev, senior product marketing manager, Microsoft and Greg Lindhorst, principal program manager lead, Microsoft provided some answers and information on what's to come, what to do in the meantime and how to ensure that your needs are heard.

Change is Hard

Koptyev and Lindhorst opened with, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress,” a quote from Charles Kettering which set the tone for the session.  Change is hard, but when it comes to our familiarity with forms and development of forms in SharePoint, change is necessary. InfoPath is a great tool for creating and developing forms, but it's a tool of the past and not necessarily one that can transition to meet the expectations of today’s users.

Users expect the world to be ready on demand and on any device at any time. These expectations drive businesses to look for quick and easy ways to deliver solutions to users and Microsoft needs to be able to deliver tools and techniques that can help meet this need. Microsoft recognizes this and is starting to look at things differently. Instead of grouping all types of forms in one tool, they are trying to understand what we need and how we are using them. We are moving from a “one size fits all” forms solution to one that branches out into various elements and approaches. This is change and for many organizations it will be a different way of doing things.

Microsoft is Listening

Microsoft is basing its new approach to forms on user feedback. Instead of working to enhance the “one size fits all” technology, it is allowing for the addition of a new set of tools and techniques. As of right now, most of these capabilities are still in development and it is expected that this will continue to expand into new areas based on industry trends and customer needs. For today, the three primary form types are:

Excel Surveys

These are currently available within Office 365 and provide a way to easily create a quick form to pull data from users. An example of this form can be found here on my personal blog. For my example I didn’t need special formatting or rules — just something simple, quick and to the point. This feature isn’t currently available for on-premises instances of SharePoint but it is expected that it arrives with the new server release in 2015.

Customized List Forms

Customized list forms came next, specifically simple SharePoint lists to collect data from users. The goal of these form customizations is to provide a very easy, low entry point for customization. The new features displayed allowed for customization directly within the browser.

The idea is that any information worker would be able to easily make cosmetic changes to the form without having to leave the current context. The customization features simply exist within the browser. They are similar to the types of customizations you can make today within Access Apps, but they are applied to SharePoint lists and have no requirements of backend components.

Structured Data Forms

Structured data forms take things to the next level and pull together forms for display or for print. Think along the lines of a form that you want users to be able to print out and/or complete online. This was presented as an idea for the future and not a solution that currently exists. They are working with some other Office teams, specifically the Word team to help develop the best way to capture, present and build these structured forms. There needs to be a focus on the user experience as well as a plan to work with the data set from the completed forms. Microsoft made a commitment to provide a clear roadmap within the next year.

Apps

The final concept in the forms roadmap was the idea of building self-contained apps. Think of this as a collection if lists, libraries and items that are linked together through relationships. The solution for this scenario is provided through Access Services 2013. Moving forward there will be continued developments in this area to continue to enhance the features that are already available.

 

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