Just say yes to InfoPath! (with caveats)

It feels like every week I see a thread with someone relatively new to SharePoint asking about the viability of InfoPath for business forms development. The responses to these questions commonly fall into these buckets:

  1. InfoPath is the devil
  2. InfoPath is currently deprecated, end of life in 2026
  3. PowerApps is the future
  4. Just buy a 3rd party product like K2, Nintex, etc. etc. etc.

While there is merit to all of these responses, I feel for the folks engaging in these conversations because many times the answers that they are provided do not really help to address the core issue of what to do now.

I want to break down each of these common responses and provide some of my commentary.

1. InfoPath is the devil
This is perhaps my favorite response as it provides little advisement other than that the person providing feedback is not enamored with the technology. When you look at an organization’s investment in both Microsoft Office and SharePoint technologies, business forms have been a part of the equation. One of the major selling points for SharePoint 2007 and beyond has been the ability to help automate and standardize business processes using the built-in workflow engine. While compared to today’s technical standards, InfoPath is certainly not in alignment – I’m not sure this is a proper response to a user requesting help. At it’s core InfoPath helps to develop user friendly forms which it has been doing quite nicely for a long time now.

2. InfoPath is currently deprecated
I absolutely agree with this statement that the product team has confirmed that there is an end of life date for the technology. InfoPath is no different than most products in that there is a date where it will eventually be replaced by newer technology (in this case most likely PowerApps as I will get to next). So at the core this statement is cautionary towards the individual considering investing in creating forms that in ~9 years the technology will no longer be supported.

3. PowerApps is the future
When I first saw PowerApps, I knew Microsoft was positioning it to be the InfoPath form replacement. However, I would say that as of today (2/18/2017) there is not complete feature parity nor is PowerApps as user-friendly as InfoPath. I am in no way saying do not consider PowerApps – if the features & functionality made available are in alignment with your business need then go for it. However, if you are on-premises without an O365 Hybrid implementation, then PowerApps will not work for you.

4. Just buy a 3rd Party Product
Having come from a large organization, I feel the pain of trying to advise senior management to purchase software especially after making a large investment like SharePoint. If your organization is flush with cash then maybe this isn’t such a big deal, but I would imagine that this isn’t always the case. It is not always as simple as “Jane recommends buying K2, let’s just do that.”

What should you do now?
Having provided some commentary on the typical options here are my recommendations for addressing the need for business forms technology & using InfoPath assuming that the four options from above are not helpful.

  1. Build your form using InfoPath – I’ll wait a second for the tomatoes to hit me in the face. But honestly, waiting for the perfect alignment of technology capabilities & what you have available is foolish. As an employee of your company you have an obligation to help drive business forward. Streamlining processes and removing error-prone tasks is how you help demonstrate real value to your organization. If you are trying to decide between doing nothing/waiting or building your business form in InfoPath – you should absolutely build that form!
  2. Document your solution – Addressing the issue that InfoPath is not going to be around forever, you need to be mindful and document any of the business rules in your form. At some point your form will be migrate to a different platform/technology and having your business rules documented will be essential for ensuring the success of that migration. In addition, should you move on from your current role it helps to enable the person will inherit your solution to be able to make updates/changes as appropriate.
  3. Inventory your InfoPath forms – Speaking to the future road map of the product at some point your organization will move those forms to a different technology. Inventorying your forms is a great idea for a couple of reasons:
    • You’re starting to get your arms around the value your business is realizing from process automation. Senior leadership tends to understand technology in terms of business impact & return on investment so having this information is valuable.
    • You will be able to report on the quantity of forms in your environment which combined with the previous bullet will help either support an investment in a 3rd Party product or some other replacement technology.
  4. Schedule quarterly reviews with appropriate stakeholders – Once you have built that inventory of forms/business solutions it is a really great idea to review them with a body of stakeholders. I suggest quarterly but it could vary based on your organization. The point is to spread awareness of the technology adoption in addition to helping build the business case to support the ongoing maintenance & support of these solutions. This doesn’t include just helping to build a justification to purchase a 3rd party but it might also mean allocating the appropriate amount of headcount to help manage these business solutions. More often than not I have encountered small SharePoint teams inundated with support requests but no way of providing any sort of metrics around the environment beyond site collection counts & data storage. Understanding the business applications within your environment is essential to communicating the business value and justifying additional investment.

So essentially if you boil down everything I have written my TLDR is go forward and build InfoPath forms, but be mindful of the Product road map as you build your own internal business process automation road map.

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