“Intelligent” Forms

Feature Article | October 4, 2004 by admin

Manfred Müller is a happy man. He has just signed an employment contract with an interesting company and can start work on the first of next month. His future employer is also looking forward to the new member of staff and wants to get everything ready for him in the HR and Accounting departments. So he sends an e-mail to his home address with a questionnaire and a non-disclosure agreement. The interactive PDF (Portable Document Format) form already contains Manfred’s name, date of birth, and other information gleaned from his application that had already been entered into the company’s SAP application.
Manfred opens the PDF on his PC, enters the missing information in the corresponding fields of the form, signs the non-disclosure agreement, and returns the documents to the company via e-mail. There the completed HR data is automatically extracted from the form and passed to the SAP application in the HR department.

Generating PDFs with SAP data at the push of a button

Full integration with SAP NetWeaver

Full integration with SAP NetWeaver

The wait for an integrated process such as this has been long, but it is now over thanks to the SAP solution “Interactive Forms based on Adobe software” (Interactive Forms). Interactive Forms enables you to create PDF forms straight from SAP applications, automatically populate them with data from e.g. mySAP Human Resources (mySAP HR), and send them via e-mail. The recipient either opens the PDFs online (with a connection to a backend system in his or her browser as part of a Web Dynpro application), or offline in Adobe Reader, i.e. without a connection to the SAP solution. In the latter case, the recipient saves the form on his or her computer, completes it, and returns it to the sender. As soon as it arrives, the solution extracts the completed data from the form and passes it to the SAP application. Breaks in media and laborious, error-prone manual data input are thus a thing of the past. An intermediate step whereby a clerk checks the accuracy of the data before it is saved to the database can be inserted into the process as necessary. The form itself is either discarded after the data extraction process or is archived as a read-only file for documentation purposes.
The Interactive Forms solution enables not only interactive forms, but also printed forms such as invoices, orders or delivery notes, to be generated, printed, faxed, e-mailed and archived directly in an SAP application. This is done via the ABAP Workbench. As an active contribution to protecting its clients’ investments, SAP continues to support the earlier solutions SAPscript and Smart Forms with no limitation. Further, SAP provides a system-based migration wizard that converts forms generated in Smart Forms to Interactive Forms format.

A “container” for company data in XML

Interactive Forms combines two worlds – on the one hand, the XML format that enables information to be exchanged, and on the other, the globally ubiquitous Adobe PDF format for user-friendly layouts. In the case of the Interactive Forms solution, the PDF is a kind of container for company data in XML (Extensible Mark-up Language), which can be automatically processed further in SAP applications, but is usually difficult to understand in its XML native format.
A PDF form, on the other hand, has a high recognition value and looks exactly the same on screen as it does on paper. It presents the information in a structured manner so that users instantly know what they are dealing with. PDF forms can be processed “offline”, i.e. without being connected to the Internet or an SAP solution. This means that people who have no direct access to the application can be integrated into an SAP business process. Further, the PDFs can be printed for documentation purposes, for instance, or saved locally – a further advantage over an HTML application.

SAP development infrastructure contains Adobe tools

The solution integrates two Adobe tools in the SAP development environments for ABAP and Java. The first is Adobe LiveCycle Designer for creating forms. It appears at design time – i.e. when a developer is designing a form template – on a separate tab both in the ABAP Workbench and in SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio (used to develop Web Dynpro applications). The developer does not have to install the tool separately, as it is included in the scope of the SAP development infrastructure. In technical terms, the integrated Adobe LiveCycle Designer is identical to the stand-alone software, with a couple of minor exceptions.

runtime architecture

runtime architecture

The second Adobe tool is Adobe document services. These come into play at runtime, that is, when a form is called or sent by a user. They merge data from SAP applications with the corresponding form template and output this as a PDF. In the interactive scenario they extract information added by a user from a completed form and pass it back to the SAP application. Furthermore, the document services set Reader usage rights in a PDF, which activate special functions of Adobe Reader. Among other things, such rights enable electronic forms to be saved locally, digital signatures to be placed on forms, or comments to be inserted using Adobe Reader.
The Adobe document services are Web services that run on the J2EE engine (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) of the SAP Web Application Server and are called via SOAP commands (Simple Object Access Protocol). These Java components can be accessed from ABAP and Java using a Web Services interface that encapsulates the document services.

“Intelligent” form templates

design time

design time

In order that Interactive Forms can generate a PDF with the appropriate SAP data, a form developer creates a template at design time in the ABAP Workbench or in SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio using the Adobe LiveCycle Designer. This template contains information about which form element is to appear at which position of the PDF, which fields can accept input and which are static, and which fields provide the user with a drop-down menu with entry options, for instance. The developer further specifies in the form template which SAP application table or field the form elements and input fields are linked to.
To set up this link, the developer defines in the so-called context in the SAP development environment which information is required for the form, for instance data from mySAP Human Resources (mySAP HR). When the data structure has been defined in the context, the developer calls the Adobe LiveCycle Designer. Here the layout is created via Drag & Drop using a tool box, and the link between form elements and SAP data is forged using the context.

Excellent ease of use

The form template is saved with all links. If a user calls a particular form at runtime via the Internet, for instance, the Adobe document services call the corresponding template and data from the SAP database, merge these into a PDF, and display it.
In the online scenario, that is, with a connection to an SAP application, Interactive Forms provides the user with special functions for even greater ease of use. These functions are also saved by the developer in the form template at design time. They include the F4 value help which displays in a drop-down menu, on the basis of the information already entered, the options logically linked to this for subsequent input from the SAP database. For instance, if the user has already specified “USA” in the “Country” field, the solution automatically lists the American federal states in the “State” field. Another special function is the automatic syntax check in the form to prevent input errors, for instance.

Matthias Zeller

Matthias Zeller

Markus Meisl

Markus Meisl

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1 comment

  1. Lisa

    Excellent explanation of Interactive Forms. Thanks!

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