Paper documents are ubiquitous, and they will continue to have their place in daily work for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the significance of paperless business processes is increasing because of the automation of processes brought about by the Internet and corporate intranets. More and more companies and public agencies are using digital documents to communicate with partners, customers, or citizens. Digital documents, such as order forms, contain current information from company software and can be flexibly and individually tailored for specific customers or a specific target group. In this way, many processes can be automated and integrated into a company’s software, which cuts process and administrative costs.
Up to now, however, forms offered only one-way communication that did not permit any feedback from recipients. However, interactive forms in Portable Document Format (PDF) open a dialog between company and customer. Recipients can enter their own information on the form, save the data in the form, and then transmit the form electronically. The data on the form is then automatically transferred to a company’s software, where it triggers follow-up processes.
Tightening bidding processes
The bidding process serves as a good example of an application that can take advantage of interactive forms. Here’s how it might work. The purchasing department of a company creates a bid in its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and selects the potential vendors. Based upon this data, the system automatically creates interactive bidding forms with specific vendor information, such as address or contact person. The forms are transmitted to the vendors by e-mail. The vendors can fill out the forms offline (without being connected to the system that created the forms) and transmit them back to the company. The company then processes the forms automatically; the data provided by the vendors is written to the ERP system. The purchasing department uses the data to evaluate the quotation and then issues an order.
Unfortunately today, media breaks between forms (which often appear only on paper) and the application hinder the frequency and commonality of such processes. Raw data from the database or an application must be inserted into the forms manually. The same holds true in the opposite direction: the system must be updated with information from the forms.
Interactive forms solution closes the gaps
The joint development by SAP and Adobe – Interactive Forms Solution powered by Adobe – closes this gap. Users can create electronic forms directly in their SAP system, fill it out with data, and send it. The supplementary information added to the form by customers is then automatically transferred into the system.
The new solution will be delivered with SAP NetWeaver and mySAP ERP toward the middle of this year. Interactive Forms Solution is completely integrated into SAP products and based upon open technology standards, such as Extensible Markup Language (XML), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and PDF.
Adobe’s PDF format has become the de factor standard for forms. It combines the familiar look and feel of paper forms with structured data storage based upon XML. It also offers numerous options for document-supported collaboration over the Internet and corporate intranets. Users throughout the world can read and handle PDF documents with Adobe Reader, which is available free of charge.
With Interactive Forms Solution users can:
- <sum> Process forms online with a connection to the system and offline on a local computer
- Capture a form’s appearance and data in one object
- Fill in forms with specific data from SAP applications and transmit them securely to their intended recipients
- Automatically check documents for consistency
- Activate additional functions, such as inserting comments or digital signatures
- Transmit completed forms back to the SAP application, updating the business data automatically
- Create templates for interactive forms that include logos or images
Adobe developed two core elements of the new solution: Adobe Designer and Document Services. Adobe Designer is a design tool for creating interactive forms. It is easy to work with and includes the drag-and-drop functions of Adobe desktop software. It is completely integrated into the proven SAP development environments of ABAP Workbench and SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio.
The Document Services element transfers XML data from SAP applications into interactive forms and back into the SAP application. It is based upon Web services and is also completely integrated in SAP solutions. Before a form is transmitted, Document Services performs a validity check on the correctness of the data. In the future, Document Services will also support digital signatures.
Increasing productivity and lowering costs
The new solution for interactive forms tightens time-consuming business processes, such as approving vacations or requesting materials. Because manual processes are no longer involved, companies’ productivity increases. All follow-up processes are based upon consistent data, which makes time-consuming follow-up work unnecessary. This foundation supports clear and unambiguous communication with vendors, customers, and partners. Interactive forms based upon the PDF format can be changed quickly – and without programming knowledge. This feature opens the door to competitive advantages because changes to a product strategy, business processes, or market news can be realized quickly.
And customer satisfaction increases as well. Customers receive forms that they can archive and that include contents tailored to a specific target group. The forms appear on the screen exactly as they do on paper, and they can be viewed with Adobe Reader, which is widely available. The interactive possibilities and automated data transfer from and to an SAP application also enable companies to react to the needs of their customers more quickly.
Interactive Forms Solutions powered by Adobe integrates interactive PDF-based forms into business processes. Companies can automate and more efficiently design processes previously based upon paper and thus lower process costs even further with the help of SAP solutions.
Customers and partners can obtain additional information at SAP Service Marketplace (http://service.sap.com/adobe) or at Adobe Systems, Inc. (http://www.adobe.com/sap).