An Abbreviated Case Study
The day before I wrote this article, I had a conversation with a consultant who is involved in checking aspects of safety on several offshore oil installations. Currently he uses a portable computer and a Microsoft Word document that has a simple layout of relevant information he can print out for the oil rig as a record of his visit. A further paper copy of the Word document is used as a corporate record of the visit. The Word document is retained on disk, but the paper document is the primary output. If the data from such forms was to be aggregated for corporate use, the data on the paper document would need to be manually reentered into a corporate database, with the risk of introducing data inconsistencies compared to the paper form.
Using InfoPath, the consultant could capture the necessary safety check information on his laptop, as before, during a visit to an oil platform. However, InfoPath could be set up to identify any missing or incorrect data automatically, improving data quality and ensuring that no safety check was overlooked during the visit. A custom InfoPath view would allow the form to be printed out to function as paper documentation on the oil rig. The form data could be submitted immediately to corporate headquarters if a suitable Internet connection was available; if no Internet connection was available, the InfoPath form could be saved locally on disk and then submitted to a corporate XML web service or database at a later time when Internet connectivity is available. This technique eases data aggregation and monitoring, allowing safety checks to be collated and planned more efficiently.
In addition to highlighting missing data, InfoPath can ensure that data entered is validated against a suitable schema. If certain conditions apply that require collection of further data, InfoPath's conditional formatting functionality can display the additional form controls when appropriate to facilitate collecting the additional data.
For the consultant's use case, InfoPath could provide reassurance that essential data is not omitted, validate data as it's entered (avoiding problems of correcting data long after the event), and provide custom data collection for specific circumstances. Compared to the current workflow, these InfoPath capabilities offer substantial improvements in data completeness, quality, and relevance in this scenario.