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Dealing with forms and reports in SharePoint – a case study in tracking ideas

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This is a case study on using SharePoint along with Nintex forms and workflow to collect and track the submission of ideas.

The Problem

Often when we want to collect something from people we turn to one of two well known inexpensive solutions:

  1. Ask people to email us with the information.  Perhaps we give them some guidance on what we want or provide a template in email or Word. Often nothing forces people to follow that template or suggestion other than manual processing.
  2. Make a form on the web and ask people to fill it out.  Often times when the form is submitted it is emailed to someone to deal with.

In both these cases a person is going to have to pick these submissions out of their email and keep track of them while they wind their way through whatever process is in place to deal with these submissions.  People may use sticky notes, print them and use a file folder, an MS Excel list, some more sophisticated users will create a database for the tracking.

SharePoint along with Nintex forms and workflows provides another inexpensive solution.

Collecting the ideas

When I heard of the need to receive submissions of ideas, take those ideas to a committee who would make a decision about each idea, and then track the decisions I immediately thought about using a Nintex Form that would collect the ideas and a list to keep track of them – no email needed. We don’t need to open the site up to everyone because we can use Nintex Live to host the form “in the cloud” where people can fill it in without login.

To build up the complete solution, I started with a list that would contain the information submitted along with fields for the decision making process and the decision itself. To keep the submitting of the idea separate from the tracking, I created a Nintex workflow with a Nintex start form where a person can enter their idea and other requested information. The submission form has a description field that we wanted to limit to a set number of words as described in my earlier blog post.

Once the form is submitted, the workflow will record the information provided into the idea list and email the submitter to let them know their idea has been received.  The committee coordinator can see the received ideas on the committee home page or setup an email alert to get daily or weekly summaries as desired.

A status allows the committee coordinator to track the progress of the ideas through the decision making process.  The statuses are quite simple: received, scheduled for meeting, decision made.  A separate field records the decision (approved or rejected) and other fields record other information important to the process.

Ideas in the committee package

The next problem is how to get the ideas to the committee members in a friendly way.  Of course, using SharePoint I naturally want people to just go and look at the list directly, but I know that this is not the way that the committee works (yet, maybe one day they will).

The committee receives a complete meeting package as a PDF with all the materials they need for the meeting.  The reporting capabilities of SharePoint (standard edition) leave much to be desired.  I have done reporting with an export to Excel, or created something in MS Access, but I did not feel that these solutions would work well in this case. Given the long description field, a tabular view is not going to be good and the hassle of having to start up Access to run a report was not something I wanted to broach with the user (and I am not even sure if they have it installed).

Click to see full size

I had been investigating how to use Data View Web Part (DVWP) previously when I came across The Magic Data View Builder by Dustin Miller. This reporting problem was going to be the perfect demonstration of the usefulness of this tool.

Using the Magic Data View Builder (with some HTML and CSS) I was able to construct a report that will provide all the essential information on screen and also print (to PDF) well for inclusion in the meeting package.

Conclusion

The addition of Nintex workflow and forms to our SharePoint installation gives us some powerful tools to build solutions that get people out of their email, provides more structure to the information and can more precisely ask your users to provide the information required.

Thanks for reading

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