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If SharePoint forms is a priority to your business, then maybe Office 365 should be too

There has been a lot of talk about forms in the last year.  Your business users need it and your developers want it too.  The current version of SharePoint doesn't offer much in this space right now.  At SharePoint Conference 2014, Microsoft announced the forms roadmap for SharePoint.  Since at least last year, Microsoft has been telling you that SharePoint is now a "service-first" offering.  That means if you want the newest features, you need to be in Office 365.  Excel Surveys was one of the first examples of this.  If you don't mind waiting three years to get something new, by all means stay on-premises. 

That being said, we're going to start seeing iterative releases for forms technology based on Access showing up as soon as this summer in Office 365.  This is the Forms on SharePoint Lists "FoSL" technology mentioned in the session.  Microsoft is focusing on an iterative process for continuous improvement here.  That means, we'll get a simplified version of the forms technology soon that includes some of the following features (mentioned in SPC348):

  • Auto form layout based on list schema
  • Lookup between lists
  • Cascading combo boxes
  • SharePoint list workflows

This tool is designed around the information worker so that they can easily build their forms around SharePoint lists.  What is particularly exciting is that it supports workflows.  This was a key reason that information workers couldn't build business solutions using Access Services 2013.  Cascading combo boxes have always been particularly troublesome in the past as well.  All of these features are subject to change, but these are some great features targeted for launch.  Will it have everything you need?  Probably not, but they have more features targeted such as hiding / showing sections, profile information, and business logic coming in the next year.  Want to have a say what is going into the product?  Vote for it on User Voice.  Here you can suggest ideas and vote for the features that matter most to you.

I've had this forms discussion with a lot of clients in the last year.  It's been a hard conversation, because there really was no good answer.  For clients that just needed a handful of forms built, many of them found it was cheaper and more effective to just engage a developer.  For clients that wanted to empower end users, the discussion usually turned to third party tools.  Both Nintex and K2 make some great forms products, but they both tend to be highly cost prohibitive.  Even some of my clients with the largest budgets, just couldn't pull the trigger due to cost.  If you have the money, these third party tools can probably meet your immediate needs.  However, if you can wait a bit longer, maybe it makes sense to put those dollars towards migration to Office 365.  By the time you are done, Microsoft will more than likely will have a forms project that can meet a lot of your needs.  That being said, the third party tools are more mature products at this point.  They will offer more features to you now, than FoSL will at launch, so you really have to weight in what makes sense for your business. 

Now, I could be totally wrong on this since all I have seen is the same demo many of you have at SharePoint Conference.  Many ISVs have built good businesses around the gaps in SharePoint.  They can charge a premium for a feature you need now.  However, those gaps tend to get filled over time.  Social is a great example.  Back in 2011, lots of companies were considering NewsGator.  Many opted out, again due to cost.  Then Microsoft bought Yammer and now the company formerly known as NewsGator is now known as Sitrion and is focusing on HR solutions.  I'm not saying that I see K2 or Nintex going out of business any time soon, but I hope they are working on something great to fill that next gap.  While you may argue that the Microsoft forms solution may never be as mature as what the ISVs offer, it may be good enough.  Customers will opt to get by with what it provides rather than sign a PO with an ISV to get more.

As I said at the end of last year, 2014 is the year of the hybrid.  You'll see more organizations this putting one foot in the cloud.  Whether they start with OneDrive for Business or they go all in, you'll see new organizations looking at the cloud this year when previously they swore they would never go.  Never say never.  When companies look at spending 500k, 1 million, or even more on doing an upgrade every couple of years, you have to ask yourself why?  Wouldn't you rather just do one last migration to SharePoint Online and then never have to worry about it again?  If I was a CIO, that's certainly where I would be looking.  Of course, moving to the cloud has it caveats, concerns, downtime, performance issues, and risks.  I understand that it's not right for everyone.  However, if Office 365 is viable for your business though, why wouldn't you do it and never have to worry about another migration again?

After the forms session, I had a conversation on SPCtv with Greg Lindhorst, Sonya Koptyev, and Karuana about the future of forms.  Be sure and watch it for more information.

SPCtv Insights into the Future of Forms

Follow me on twitter: @coreyroth

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Corey Roth, a SharePoint Server MVP, is an independent consultant specializing in Cloud technologies such as Azure and Office 365. He also specializes in mobile development. Corey serves as the product manager for two cloud-first mobile app platforms: BrewZap and HappenZap.

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