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Friday, April 3, 2009

Shana - FileNet - IBM - eForms - Major Decision

When specialised electronic forms software was introduced in the mid 1980’s it was fill and print only. Company’s such as Shana, Delrina, Jetform, Adobe, Apple and BLOC Development Corporation were all developing various types of electronic forms software. It was another five years before workflow-based electronic forms software became available when Canadian company, Shana Corporation, added the functionality to its Informed software. Shana was subsequently acquired by FileNet, which in turn was acquired by IBM with the name changed from Informed to IBM FileNet eForms.

In my opinion, IBM FileNet eForms is the best electronic forms software available. It lacks some of the features of other software, but is so easy to use and has so many built-in functions that it surpasses everything else overall. Shana even created a web-based server known as Forms Manager so that forms created in Informed Designer for their desktop Filler software could be run as HTML forms in a web browser.

Major decision by IBM changes eforms landscape

We’ve recently been notified by IBM that as of January 31 2009 they have decided to discontinue the Forms Manager server and no longer make the Desktop eForms software available to end users as a stand alone product. If you want Desktop eForms you have to purchase FileNet P8 content management software and then pay extra for the eForms software as an add-on feature. The decision doesn’t directly affect existing eForms users who may still be able to obtain support under existing contracts depending on which version of the software they are using. But organisations wanting a LOW-COST and VERY powerful electronic forms solution will have to look elsewhere.

About a year before acquiring FileNet, IBM’s Lotus Team purchased PureEdge, renaming it Workplace Forms and then changing the name again to Lotus Forms.

I've had a chance to look at the latest release and I want to thank the Lotus Team in Canberra for their co-operation. Version 3.5 is a vast improvement over the earlier version. The interface is still not as slick as the FileNet or Adobe products but it is way easier to use. It also has a much stronger array of built in calculations than I'd seen previously and that brings it more into line with the function list of FileNet eForms, which had the most comprehensive set of functions available.

Given that FileNet eForms cannot be purchased without also purchasing P8 Content Management (or other P8 offerings), Lotus Forms is a much more viable solution for organisations wanting only electronic forms.

Lotus Forms also has some great functionality that is lacking in the FileNet product since it uses XML and is able to create dynamic forms. I agree with many forms professionals that "dynamic forms" is often a sales gimmick and has its downside, but I've come across numerous situations where it would have been very useful. So I'm now looking forward to what we can do with it.

Lotus Forms now has a converter for both PDF forms and FileNet ITX templates. I did try converting FileNet eForms into Lotus and it brought over the layouts reasonably well, but at this stage not the calculations and intelligence. Much depends on how much intelligence is built into the FileNet form. I understand that the converter was mainly for converting fill and print forms, not the highly intelligent forms that FileNet can produce. Hopefully that will come in the future. It also brings across boxes that aren't fields as individual lines and these need to be replaced.

As we learn more about the product, I'll update the BLOG with more information. But at this stage I'm far happier with Lotus Forms than I was previously. Lotus also have a low-cost easy-to-use Designer called Lotus Forms Turbo which is a great idea for a small business, but it isn’t suitable for the complex forms that most larger organisations use as it is primarily for simple forms built using wizards.

My hope is that the IBM Lotus Team will step into the picture and do something concrete with Lotus Forms to make it even easier for ALL form designers to use without having to resort to “wizards” and simplistic designs. Combining the functionality and ease of use of FileNet eForms Designer with the XML capabilities of Lotus Forms would make the product FAR AHEAD of anything else available—and DEFINITELY the very best electronic forms software.

As a final word at this stage, I have another comment for the Lotus Team. Since Adobe and Lotus are both built on the Eclipse platform, my hope is that Lotus can make their product just as easy to use as Adobe's.

But is the Lotus Team prepared to do this? I don’t know, but I sure hope they take up the challenge.

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