Data Exchange for the Mobile Workforce
Data Exchange for the Mobile WorkforceOrganizations have been forced to adapt many of their internal business processes to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce. Although there are technological solutions that address many of today’s communication needs, the plethora of different document formats in use – even within the same organization – means that some tasks remain vexing. For example, how does an organization remain flexible enough to facilitate the exchange of data among mobile workers yet retain the ability to bring that data into internal IT systems? Altova offers an inexpensive solution with StyleVision®, a graphical stylesheet and report designer with electronic forms capability, and Authentic®, a WYSIWYG XML and database editor in which end users can view and edit electronic forms created in StyleVision. The Authentic Community Edition is available from the Altova Web site as a free download so that anyone can be brought into your workflow, whether they are internal or external to your organization.In this post we’ll present a sample case showing you how to create an electronic form that mirrors an existing paper form (in our example it is a reimbursement form) and then we’ll follow it as it makes its way around a fictional organization. Please note that the example we use here is simplistic and was designed only to illustrate the process of developing and deploying an electronic form. Although you can add additional data sources and perform validation and other complex functions in StyleVision, we have not illustrated these here.It is extremely easy to design electronic forms in StyleVision. To start, we simply select New – New from XML Schema/DTD/XML … from the File menu, browse to an XML Schema file, and select the type of design we’d like to create. For this example we created an XML Schema and instance file in XMLSpy, Altova’s XML editor and development environment, based on the fields on the paper reimbursement form. You can also base a StyleVision design on a database or XBRL taxonomy.Below is a copy of the reimbursement form we will be using along with the XML Schema we created.Once we select the XML file in StyleVision, we are prompted to select either a free-flow or form-based document. In a form-based document all design elements (e.g., text boxes for user input, images, buttons) are fixed in position – ideal for data entry forms.When we create a form-based document, we can upload a “blueprint image” so that we can recreate a paper-based form exactly as it was originally designed. This is the option we’ve selected below. The image will appear in the background of the design window and we will simply place design elements on top of corresponding elements on the form. Of course, the blueprint image overlay does not appear in the final output.The screenshot below shows the blueprint image as it appears in the design window in StyleVision – how cool is that? Now, using the Insert menu at the top, we can simply insert design elements onto the blueprint image in the design window.Available design elements include form controls (e.g., input boxes, combo boxes, radio buttons), images, tables, charts, and “layout containers” for exact positioning.We’ll start by adding input fields to capture employee information (i.e., First [Name], Last [Name], Title, etc. from the top part of the form). Once we click Insert – Insert Form Controls and select Input Field, the Insert Design Element dialog box appears.We have highlighted the First [Name] element in the dialog box below – the input field will now be associated with the First element. This way, when the end user types data into the input field and saves the form, this information will populate the First [Name] element in the XML file.We now add design elements throughout the rest of the form, associating input fields with their respective elements from the XML file.When we are finished adding input fields, a logo, lines, a table for the expense items, and labels, the design looks like this – we’ve set the opacity attribute for the blueprint image to 0 to make it easier to view the design elements. Please note also that we’ve done some additional design work such as adding calendars in date fields, drop down boxes, and a currency sign that changes according to user input. For more information about fine tuning your form please see the StyleVision User and Reference Manual in the StyleVision application.We can preview how the end user will see the form we designed in StyleVision by clicking on the Authentic eForm tab at the bottom of the design window (below). Note that the end user is prompted to enter data directly into each data input field. We accomplished this by placing the prompts (e.g., Insert First Name) in between the relevant tags in the XML file associated with our design. The end user simply highlights the prompt and replaces it with text.Once we are finished designing the reimbursement form we can save the entire design – including the XML Schema and instance files, images, and any other associated files – in a single PXF® (Portable XML Form®). Saving the design as a PXF will enable us to email the form along with data updated in the underlying XML form among people both inside and outside the company’s LAN.Once we hit OK we are prompted to select the files to include in the PXF. Notice that we’ve selected HTML, RTF, PDF, and Word 2007+ under the Generate and store XSLT files … heading. This will allow an end user to generate the form – with data – in these formats directly from Authentic.Now that we’ve saved it in a PXF, the electronic form we designed in StyleVision is ready to be deployed in a business environment.In our example, we have a team of salespeople working across the globe who need to request reimbursement for business and travel expenses incurred. The salespeople complete expense reports, forward them to their managers for approval, and then send approved reports to the corporate office so that the information can be added into the accounting system.The PXF makes this easy.Once a salesperson is ready to complete a reimbursement request, she simply opens the PXF in Authentic and can immediately begin entering information onto the form. Below is a screenshot of a reimbursement form that has been completed in Authentic – notice that the form still needs a manager’s signature.Now the salesperson must send it to her manager for approval. It’s easy to initiate an email with the form attached directly from Authentic. Once the manager receives the email, she can simply double click the attachment and it will open in Authentic. Here the manager has clicked the Approved check box and added her name and the date.The manager can then email the updated PXF back to the salesperson, who in turn emails it to the corporate office so it can be imported into the accounting system for processing. Our fictitious corporate office of course receives hundreds of reimbursement requests each day and has established a process for importing them into the relevant Oracle databases in the accounting system.We’ll use Altova MapForce, a graphical any-to-any data mapping, conversion, and transformation tool, to populate the corporate database with the data from the quotations. After setting up the mapping, we’ll automatically generate code from MapForce so that we can automate the transformation either through batch processing or a real-time conversion.First we’ll set up the mapping.We’ve inserted the XML file ExpRpt which we’ve extracted from the PXF into the left side of the MapForce design window and then inserted the Oracle database on the right side of the design window.Now we can drag and drop fields from the XML file with the reimbursement data into the Oracle database. We can also transform data, as we’ve done with the Approved element. Here we’ve used the built-in boolean function to convert the string value stored in the XML file (“true” or “false”) into the numeric equivalents (1 or 0). We can also create our own functions.The mapping we’ve created appears below.Please note that this post offers a very broad overview of how to use both StyleVision and MapForce. Please visit the online training section of the Altova website for more in-depth instructions on how to use these and other Altova products.And there you have it. With the PXF, the fictitious Nanonull Corporation allows a group of far flung sales reps and their managers to easily exchange and edit information via electronic form. The PXF also provides a way for Nanonull to populate the accounting database without offering these employees direct access to company IT systems. All without busting the IT budget.
What could your organization do with a flexible, portable interactive document? Please share your ideas with other users by commenting on this blog post. Have you used StyleVision or other Altova products in an interesting project and think it would make a great case study? Email us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you!