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LAST MINUTE UPDATE: Interactive Forms based on Adobe software info page now on SDN.

Its that time of the year again when I hardly see my office. It is not due to the fact that spring in Heidelberg has provided the first sunny days. It is conference season and I barely recovered from CeBIT just to be on the road again last week to talk with customers and partners in London and Duesseldorf. And now I am about to get ready to fly to Atlanta for the ASUG Conference and then onto San Jose for the Adobe Tech Summit … one week at home … and then back to the US – New Orleans – for SAPPHIRE (the last stop on the SAP spring Odyssey).

While I like to enjoy traveling to meet new people and discussing ideas and our new solutions, I enjoy it even more when someone else – normally my employer – pays for it! And thus, travel comes with the pain of filling out forms. I am not sure if it is only me but traveling could be so much better with out all the forms which need to be completed. Travel Requests, Expense Forms, Status Reports, Custom Forms, Visa Forms, Travel Booking Forms,… At the last TechEd Klaus Hartig from SAP and I presented the Interactive Forms Solution and he had a funny story to tell about the application process for an international drivers license in Germany (Here is the Webcast from that presentation)… To make a long story short any technology which could help me completing these forms based processes more efficiently is good.

Which leads me right to the point of the technology Adobe and SAP have teamed up to deliver: How to improve forms based processes in the SAP environment. Our first objective is to move paper based forms to electronic forms (filling out forms by hand is by far the most annoying task for me and the person who needs to read my bad handwriting and type it back into a computer ๐Ÿ˜‰

So we are introducing the notion of interactive PDF forms. These are your good old PDF documents as you know them, but with interactive fields (incl. radio buttons, list boxes, etc.) so that you can fill them out on the computer instead of printing. The second step was to integrate these interactive PDF forms with SAP applications and NetWeaver so that they can get generated dynamically and on demand in an SAP application. And finally when the PDF form is filled out and I submit it back to the application the data can get extracted (using your favorite XML schema) and processed in the application.

Now you say I can do all of this by using HTML, but there are some clear advantages for PDF when it comes to typical forms based processes:
1) You can save the PDF locally, fill it out when you are on the plane, in the train etc. (I really want to start completing my expense reports when I am on the plane flying back home)
2) The PDF provides you high quality layout and natural look and feel (you might think who cares but thousands of lawyers will disagree, also think about the usability and the casual user who for the first time needs to use a computer to complete a form he had completed on paper hundreds of times before)
3) What you see on the screen is what you print (your printed form will always look like the one on the screen)
4) Adobe provides a really nice and easy to use design tool to create the form and the only thing required to handle these forms is the free and ubiquitous Adobe Reader.

Again I am drifting away because actually I wanted to talk about the ASUG conference. So if you are interested to discuss some of these ideas with me in person or you think you have a creative use case for interactive forms leave me a note or see me in person. I will be most of the time at the Adobe booth and have also a number of interesting presentations: This includes a two part presentation with Marc Chan from SAP Labs about the new Interactive Forms Solution in NetWeaver 04 (if you want to see how you can plug PDF forms into Web Dynpro using the NetWeaver Developer Studio you need to come to this session); A presentation with fellow weblogger [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] (Mark is a guru on anything SAP forms). We will talk about the evolution of SAP forms technology from …And then there was SAPscript to Smart Forms to the new Interactive Forms Solution (if you are tasked in doing any print form development you want to see this presentation and learn about the enhancements IFS offers); Finally I present together with Gloria Swanson from Adobe. Gloria presents how Adobe has enhanced our SAP HR system to include interactive forms and I will give some sneak previews about what is coming out of the box with HR in ERP 04.
To see the listing of all Adobe related presentations at the ASUG conference go to the session search page select “Search by Abstract” and use the keyword “Adobe”.

So I guess I will be busy next week. If you cannot make it to the ASUG conference you will not meet me in person (there is hope ๐Ÿ™‚ I will be at SAPPHIRE and TechEd as well), but we will bring all these presentations to SDN!

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