I think everyone knows this feeling - you have a program installed, you even use it sometimes, but no-one told you that there’s something very powerful under the hood, something that can save you hours (or even days) of painful work. Sometimes you don’t even know that you have such tool installed. And then someone comes and enlightens you with just two clicks (that would normally take you two days). I had that as well, one of those programs was InfoPath.

Most likely your reaction was: “What’s InfoPath? Never heard of that.” InfoPath is bundled in our favourite vendor’s Office package (since 2003). It’s a tool that makes you able to access persistent data (XML, SQL, REST, etc.) and present / modify them in a way convenient for typical computer user (not necessary the programmer). In other words, you can quickly (WYSIWYG, without programming skills) create forms that contain some basic logic (validation, master detail, etc.) and these forms can manipulate data in a source you own (or at least have access to write to).

What could we use InfoPath for? I’ve heard about BPM implementations where user-facing steps are handled by filling InfoPath forms (real-life story from polish bank), but I’d start with something less ambitious: sometimes you need to aid your project management (status / progress reporting, task tracking, test condition / “anything else” management) and you do it in Excel to save your time. Excel is absolutely magnificent, but it’s structuring abilities (or rather the way you can structure your data in Excel) is far from being rigid enough to keep decent data quality (so, when you need to share your Excel workbook with other people, you’re pretty much doomed).

What then? Try InfoPath. It works perfectly if you’re only for “rapid development for internal project purposes”. If you need to shape something for sophisticated user needs, InfoPath is most likely too simple and limited (however I know at least one project completed successfully in Accenture’s Warsaw Office, where user input data was collected with InfoPath forms).

You can find additional info about InfoPath (and the ways of using it) here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-US/infopath/

Btw. Merry X-mas and holiday season!

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