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A common conversation with SAP customers: “So SAP has a new forms technology in SAP NetWeaver, right?” [Answer of SAP employee: Yes, it’s a partnership with Adobe in the PDF area called SAP Interactive Forms.] “We can now generate interactive PDF forms from the system, enter information in them, and update the database, correct?” [Answer of SAP employee: Yes, that’s correct.] “So can I use this PDF stuff to replace all my SAP screens, no matter whether they are SAP GUI, BSP or Web Dynpro?” [Answer of SAP employee: No, not really.]“So when does it make sense to use a PDF?” Good question!  This blog tries to provide some general answers to the question when a PDF form can be suitable in a business process. Some of the arguments or uses cases made below are very clear-cut, others are liable to cause debate. A couple of introductory comments: 1. Leaving the topic of print forms aside for the purposes of this blog, you could argue that an interactive PDF form is just another UI, which really means an alternative way to interact with data stored in the SAP system. This is no contradiction to SAP’s general UI strategy (Web Dynpro), because no matter where you use a PDF form, the technology is always embedded in an SAP environment. (Note: The creation of the form itself makes up about 20% – at the most – of the overall effort involved in creating a forms-based process. The rest, in particular the backend business logic, is ‘standard’ SAP development.)  2. Using SAP Interactive Forms, you still develop in SAP. This does not mean, however, that a PDF form can accommodate the complex business logic that is so often part of the SAP UI. In other words: Do not try to replace a ‘heavy’ application with complex screen flow with a PDF form. You won’t be happy with the results.  Business processes that have the following requirements are good candidates for adopting SAP Interactive Forms: 1. Communicating and collaborating with external partiesYou interact with people outside your company who need to provide data that needs to somehow get back into your business systems. You want to transfer this data into the system in an automated way. (See also Transforming paper-based processes into electronic processes below.)SAP examples: – mySAP ERP 2005: Exception handling in Invoice Management System (Duplicate invoice) – mySAP CRM 2005: Lead management with channel partners 2. Interacting with other employees through offline formsAs part of your company-internal processes, some employees may prefer – or be forced to – temporarily work offline, i.e. without a backend connection. As in 1. above, only a PDF form allows you to take some data out of your SAP system, add to it outside the system, and then update the database as automatically as your application allows.  (Naturally, you can include check steps in your process before finally submitting the data entered by the user in the form – but that has nothing to do with the form itself.)SAP examples: – mySAP ERP 2005: Exception handling in Invoice Management System (Confirmation of goods receipt) – mySAP ERP 2005: HCM Performance Management offline form 3. Matching exact print layout in the interactive form You have “well-known forms”, for example tax forms that you can download from a public website. You want to use such forms as an interface so that users will not get lost because the same information is presented in different ways at different stages of the process.SAP example (in development): – mySAP ERP: Tax form in Tax and Revenue Management 4. Providing a simple, intuitive UI for interaction with occasional SAP usersOccasional users of SAP systems are generally not very fond of SAP user interfaces, which are often judged to be too full and cumbersome to handle. (As a developer, you may argue that it’s actually OK to convey the complex business logic of an SAP application to all users, but let’s not get into philosophical discussions…) Finding a way to make interacting with the SAP system more attractive to occasional users, who often only have to fill in a few fields to start or continue a process, has been a key objective for SAP for a while. An interactive PDF form offers a nice alternative also for online scenarios – where the first question is usually “Why a form and not just standard Web Dynpro?” – especially for those users who are asked to work with an SAP system for the first time. The nice side effect of such an implementation: You can print the form from the screen after filling it in. (For some strange reason, there are still people out there resisting the paperless office…).SAP examples: – mySAP ERP 2005: HCM Processes and Forms – mySAP ERP 2004: Manager Self-Services (MSS) for HR (Personnel Change Requests) and Financials 5. Handling approval processes before storing data in the backendYou have a multi-step approval process where you want to store the data in the backend only after final approval. While it makes more sense from an SAP control/monitoring point of view to develop such a process using one of Workflow in SAP NetWeaver, in a simple offline process you could handle this with a PDF form. You can designate specific sections of the form – which is passed around by, for example, e-mail – for different roles in the process (requestor, expert, approver), and handle locking each section after editing through digital signatures on the form. 6. Transforming paper-based processes into electronic processesThis argument for using the technology is less driven by a concrete business process, but more from a change management point of view. When you try to automate your processes by transferring them into the electronic world, you often encounter resistance from end users. As lazy human beings, they don’t like change – who does? If a process traditionally ‘executed’ on a paper form all of a sudden runs in a system, users tend to get lost – and thus waste time and money – trying to enter the information in different places from before. Use a PDF to bring the look and feel of the paper form onto the screen, and ensure that your users still know what to do with the UI.SAP customer example:Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council using SAP Interactive Forms in combination with mySAP CRM and SAP Records Management 7. Easily customizing a forms-based UIHere is an IT/maintenance look at using a PDF form. Even though SAP may deliver a suitable form template for your process, chances are that you need to adapt it to your corporate identity and business requirements (i.e. the information you want to capture). Using Adobe LiveCycle Designer, you can have someone from the functional department quickly take care of the layout part of the form, while your developer can focus on the fancy stuff, i.e. data retrieval and other programming aspects. This should reduce the cost associated with such changes.SAP example: This was one argument in favour of PDF forms in mySAP ERP’s HCM Processes and Forms and MSS applications.  If you check your PDF forms ideas against the points above, and remember to  – Keep the form simple (for example, avoid drop-down lists with 397 entries) – Focus on the capture of data without major business logic in the form – Do not try to create a full-blown application  you will be able to create forms-based processes that benefit your end users and your business.  Merry Christmas, Markus
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4 Comments

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  1. Sam Martin
    I like the information in the blog and found it useful when trying to evaluate Adobe Forms, however most of the examples seem one sided and there aren’t any real life examples.  When trying to evaluate most things in SAP it’s typically a gamble since in reality there are no ‘real-life’ examples.
    When I tried to access the link to what appeared to be an example, the link completes in an error.

    Regards,
    Sam Martin

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  2. Subramanya Srinivas Mullapudi
    I have a doubt regarding the two points you mentioned

    Keep the form simple
    Do not try to create a full blown application.

    Does that mean Adobe doesnt support complex forms or will the performance not be good or Complex forms with Adobe are prone to errors. If so, will this be taken care in future releases?

    I have been developing some forms with drop downs using Adobe and I do observe inconsistent behaviour at times.

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  3. Eric Brokk

    It was great to stumble upon this post. I also can be helpful here 🙂 I just filled out form with an online software. It looked much better typed than hand-written. I used this app and it’s very easy to use.

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