Integrating IBM Workplace Forms V2.7 with IBM WebSphere Portal V6.0 Document Manager

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Kiat Sing Lai (laiks@my.ibm.com), Advisory IT Specialist, IBM

Kiat Sing Lai is an Advisory IT Specialist at the Developer Technical Support Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He provides assistance to IBM Business Partners using IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM Lotus Forms through IBM PartnerWorld for Developers. You can reach him at laiks@my.ibm.com.



20 March 2009

IBM recently launched the latest version of IBM Workplace Forms, version 2.7. This version introduces a new component called IBM Workplace Forms Services Platform, which is the basis of all Workplace Forms integration offerings. By providing a set of libraries, Workplace Forms Services Platform makes the integration of Workplace Forms with other third-party systems such as IBM WebSphere Portal even easier. Its available toolkit enables you to quickly integrate Workplace Forms with your backend application and to maximize your return on investment in both Workplace Forms and WebSphere Portal.

Introduction to IBM Workplace Forms V2.7 Integrator for WebSphere Portal V6.0 Document Manager

IBM Workplace Forms V2.7 Integrator for WebSphere Portal V6.0 Document Manager (hereafter referred to as “Forms Integrator for PDM”) is a result of Workplace Forms Services Platform. Forms Integrator for PDM lets you use IBM Workplace Forms Designer to create, store, update, and publish form templates to WebSphere Portal Document Manager and to allow users to view, complete, and submit forms to WebSphere Portal Document Manager using IBM Workplace Forms Viewer or IBM Workplace Forms Webform Server. As a result, WebSphere Portal Document Manager becomes the centralized repository for managing form templates and forms completed by users or applications.

In addition to that, workflow can be used to control the publication of forms templates and the storage of completed forms. Using the WebSphere Portal Document Manager interface, the form approver or reviewer can approve or reject a form. You have control over form creation, approval, and publication. Versioning support means that changes made to forms can be tracked easily.

Figure 1 depicts the relationship between WebSphere Portal Document Manager, Workplace Forms Webform Server, Workplace Forms Viewer, and Workplace Forms Designer. It illustrates the high-level relationships among the products.

Figure 1. Workplace Forms users can work with forms through Workplace Forms Webform Server or Workplace Forms Viewer
Workplace Forms users can work with forms through Workplace Forms Webform Server or Workplace Forms Viewer

Using Workplace Forms Designer, you can create, publish, update, and store form templates in WebSphere Portal Document Manager. On the other hand, Workplace Forms users can use a browser to interact with a form. During deployment, the system administrator can decide how users view the form stored on WebSphere Portal Document Manager: by using Workplace Forms Webform Server or by using Workplace Forms Viewer. With Workplace Forms Webform Server, forms are rendered directly in a browser as dynamic HTML (DHTML). This gives you a zero-footprint deployment. You need to install the Workplace Forms Viewer on each client machine.

To demonstrate the integration between Workplace Forms and WebSphere Portal Document Manager, we use WebSphere Portal Document Manager V6.0 as the file repository. You learn about the concepts of Forms Integrator for PDM and discover how you can use the powerful features available in WebSphere Portal Document Manager. Benefits of and best practices for the integration are discussed.


Components of the Forms Integrator for PDM solution

You can download the Forms Integrator for PDM solution. To use Forms Integrator for PDM, you must have the following products installed on your system:

  • WebSphere Portal V6.0 with Portal Document Manager
  • Workplace Forms Server V2.7 – Services Platform
  • Workplace Forms Server V2.7 API
  • Workplace Forms Designer V2.7
  • Workplace Forms Server V2.7 – Workplace Forms Webform Server (optional)
  • Workplace Forms Viewer V2.7 (optional)

NOTE: Forms Integrator for PDM, Workplace Forms Services Platform, and Workplace Forms Webform Server must be installed on the same machine as WebSphere Portal V6.0. Workplace Forms Designer, as the client, can be installed on a remote machine.

Installation and configuration of Forms Integrator for PDM is straightforward. Proper planning, though, is essential for a successful integration. Figure 2 summarizes the tasks involved in installing and configuring Forms Integrator for PDM.

Follow these steps to install and configure Forms Integrator for PDM:

  1. Install Forms Integrator for PDM.
  2. Deploy Forms Integrator for PDM into Workplace Forms Services Platform by copying the deployable files to Workplace Forms Services Platform's extension folder.
  3. Configure WebSphere Application Server to access Workplace Forms Server's API.
  4. Configure WebSphere Portal so that content-types.properties opens forms on your browser.
  5. Configure Workplace Forms Webform Server Bridge web module.
  6. Configure WebSphere Portal Document Manager by linking it to Workplace Forms Webform Server.
  7. Deploy, configure, and add getViewer portlet to WebSphere Portal page.
  8. Prepare WebSphere Portal Document Manager and Workplace Forms.

Use the chart in figure 2 to plan for installation and configuration. Depending upon how you want the user to use the form, choose the appropriate steps. Follow steps 5 and 6 if you want to use Workplace Forms Webform Server; otherwise, follow Step 7.

Figure 2. Installation and configuration of Forms Integrator for PDM
Installation and configuration of Forms Integrator for PDM

Workplace Forms Webform Server is a zero-footprint forms deployment, but it is not a replacement for Workplace Forms Viewer. To find out more about the differences between the two options, consult the IBM Workplace Forms 2.7 InfoCenter.

NOTE: If you are using Workplace Forms Webform Server to view forms, do not use WebSphere Portal Document Manager Workflow. Any form that is stored or has been stored in the Submitted Drafts or the Private Drafts folders at any point does not display in Workplace Forms Webform Server.

The getViewer portlet can be added to the WebSphere Portal page, giving users an option to download a supported Workplace Forms Viewer. Figure 3 shows the getViewer portlet, which suggests that users download and install Workplace Forms Viewer. Before you install Workplace Forms Viewer, make sure that you logged on to your computer as an Administrator and that all prerequisites are met.

Figure 3. getViewer portlet detected that the user machine does not have Workplace Forms Viewer installed
getViewer Portlet detected that the user machine does not have Workplace Forms Viewer installed

The integration of Workplace Forms and WebSphere Portal Document Manager

Let's look more closely at the relationship between WebSphere Portal Document Manager and Workplace Forms Designer. Figure 4 depicts the relationship between several major components of Workplace Forms and the WebSphere Portal Document Manager integration solution. WebSphere Portal Document Manager is a portlet application running on WebSphere Portal. It is the place where forms are stored and managed. Within the WebSphere Portal Document Manager, documents such as forms are stored in a hierarchical folder structure.

Figure 4. The relationship between WebSphere Portal Document Manager and Workplace Forms Designer
The relationship between WebSphere Portal Document Manager and Workplace Forms Designer

Services Platform Projects is a folder in WebSphere Portal Document Manager that contains project files. You can have more than one project, but each project name must be unique and should not contain special characters.

Workplace Form Designer is the tool used to create forms. With Forms Integrator for PDM, you can use Workplace Forms Designer to create, update, publish, or download Services Platform projects. You can have more than one Workplace Forms Designer installation connecting to a Services Platform project. Workplace Forms Designer can download more than one Services Platform project from different sources of WebSphere Portal Document Manager.

When you create Services Platform projects in Workplace Forms Designer, the project is first created in WebSphere Portal Document Manager, and the entire project is then copied to Workplace Forms Designer; this creates an identical replica of the Services Platform projects. Workplace Forms Designer creates forms within this project and executes the Publish Project task to upload the project to WebSphere Portal Document Manager. Changes made to the project can be updated in WebSphere Portal Document Manager by executing the Update Project task from Workplace Forms Designer.

Workplace Forms Designer can also download Services Platform projects that are stored in WebSphere Portal Document Manager. This ability is particularly useful when you install additional copies of Workplace Forms Designer on new machines or import additional Services Platform projects located on another installation of WebSphere Portal Document Manager.

The form user can view and work with a form either through Workplace Forms Viewer or through Workplace Forms Webform Server. When the form is rendered, the user fills out all necessary fields on the form and clicks Submit to post the completed form to WebSphere Portal Document Manager. Workplace Forms Designer can specify to which folder in WebSphere Portal Document Manager the submitted form should go.

To restrict user access to folders and forms, the WebSphere Portal administrator can set the appropriate access control rights for each user and each group. Using this approach, the user has access to only those forms and folders that he or she is authorized to see and work on.


Why WebSphere Portal Document Manager?

An enterprise-level forms solution may involve many designers, approvers, and users. A centralized place to manage the creation, approval, publication, and distribution of forms is essential. WebSphere Portal Document Manager offers a place for designers to contribute, edit, share, view, and search forms created by other designers. Forms stored in WebSphere Portal Document Manager can be organized in folders, and access control for each folder can be applied using the built-in access control module. This feature gives you control of user access to the forms.

WebSphere Portal Document Manager is not just for electronic forms. It also stores other document types such as images, text, PDF, HTML, XML, and so on. This further enhances collaboration and integration. You can also store relevant documents in a WebSphere Portal Document Manager folder. For example, a PDF file and a form could be stored inside a folder. The PDF file can contain instructions or any relevant information on how to complete the form. Supporting documents such as images, Microsoft Word documents, or Microsoft Excel documents can also be included in the folder to help approvers and reviewers make informed decisions when reviewing a form.

By enabling the workflow function in WebSphere Portal Document Manager, forms need to be approved by form reviewers before being published to the public. This step ensures the quality and proper routing of forms to the right person at the right time. Changes made to the form can also be tracked and managed easily. You can select whether or not you want to create a version of an existing form.

Utilizing the Search feature available in WebSphere Portal Document Manager, you can find forms and documents easily. Relevancy and summary of the search give you accurate results. Also, the presence awareness that displays the online status of the forms author allows the form reviewer to discuss any questions or issues pertaining to the form (see figure 5). This feature greatly improves collaboration between the form designer and the approvers.

Figure 5. WebSphere Portal Document Manager portlet with presence awareness
WebSphere Portal Document Manager portlet with presence awareness

Process walkthrough

To demonstrate the users and processes involved when managing forms in WebSphere Portal Document Manager, we created the following groups with users and provided them with the necessary access rights. To find out more about managing access control in WebSphere Portal, refer to the WebSphere Portal V6.0 InfoCenter.

  • Group: wpsFormDesigners, User: designer01. To create and publish forms to WebSphere Portal Document Manager from Workplace Forms Designer.
  • Group: wpsFormApprovers, User: approver01. To approve or reject forms created by wpsFormDesigners.
  • Group: wpsFormUsers, User: user01. To view, fill out, and submit forms to WebSphere Portal Document Manager.

In addition to that, you need to enable the workflow function for the WebSphere Portal Document Manager document library that is used to store the forms. A user with Portal Administrator rights can configure this setting in the Portal Administration page; select Portal Content - Document Libraries. As shown in figure 6, wpsFormApprovers is defined as the group that has the approver rights for the library. Figure 7 shows the relationship between form designers, form approvers, and form users.

Figure 6. Enabling the workflow function in WebSphere Portal Document Manager
Enabling the workflow function in WebSphere Portal Document Manager
Figure 7. The relationship between form designers, form approvers, and form users
The relationship between form designers, form approvers, and form users

Forms must also have a submission button that the user clicks when he or she finishes filling out the form. When submitting a form, wpsFormsDesigners can decide whether to submit the entire form or to submit just the form data instance. Complete instructions for creating the submission button can be found in the IBM Workplace Forms V2.7 InfoCenter.

Next, we look at the end-to-end process of publishing and managing forms using WebSphere Portal Document Manager.

  1. Using Workplace Forms Designer, the wpsFormDesigners group sets up the connection to WebSphere Portal Document Manager (see figure 8). The profile can be any name; however, it must be unique within the server list. The server address is in this format: http://<hostname>:<port>/wfsp/wfsp, where <hostname> is the fully qualified hostname of the server on which Workplace Forms Services Platform is installed. The firewall installed on your machine may block the connection to WebSphere Portal; you may want to configure the firewall to allow an outgoing connection to WebSphere Portal at the specified port. Perform a connection test to verify the connectivity.

    Figure 8. Configure the server connection to Workplace Forms Services Platform
    Configure the server connection to Workplace Forms Services Platform

    The wpsFormDesigners group can choose to create a new project or to download an existing project (see figure 9). The downloaded project must not already exist or have the same name as any project in the current workspace. The wpsFormDesginers group can select an existing server profile, or it can add a new server profile if there is another installation of WebSphere Portal Document Manager with Services Platform projects.

    Figure 9. Creating a new Workplace Forms Services Platform project
    Creating a new Workplace Forms Services Platform project

    After the project is created, wpsFormDesigners creates the form. The Form Creation wizard prompts wpsFormDesigners to enter the form properties details as shown in figure 10. The wpsFormDesigners group can specify if this form is to be published or not. If Published Workplace Form is selected, the Publish Location and Submit Location must be defined. Publish Location is the directory in the Services Platform Projects folder used to store form templates approved by wpsFormApprovers. The Submit Location is the directory used to store forms completed by users or applications. You can select an existing folder, share a folder, or create a new folder using the wizard.
Figure 10. Properties for the form
Properties for the form
  1. After the form is ready, you can publish the project by choosing File - Publish Project. You can also update the project if you made any changes to a form that was already published to WebSphere Portal Document Manager. When you perform the download, update, and publish project tasks, the entire project is involved. In other words, forms cannot be downloaded, updated, or published individually.
  1. With the workflow function enabled on WebSphere Portal Document Manager, any form published by wpsFormDesigners first goes to the Submitted Drafts folder. The user who has the approver/reviewer rights on that particular WebSphere Portal Document Manager library is authorized to approve or reject a form. In our case, users of group wpsFormApprovers see the draft forms in the Submitted Drafts folder.

    The wpsFormApprovers group reviews the relevant forms and decides whether to accept or reject the forms (see figure 11). Using Workplace Forms Designer, wpsFormApprovers may edit the form before moving it to the next workflow stage. For example, wpsFormApprovers can make minor changes (such as changing some text) on the form without needing to send the form back to wpsFormDesigners.
Figure 11. Accepting or rejecting a form
Accepting or rejecting a form
  1. If wpsFormApprovers approves the form (see figure 7, step 4.1), the form moves to the Publish Location folder defined in step 1. If wpsFormApprovers rejects the form) see figure 7, step 4.2), it is moved to the Private Drafts folder for further action by wpsFormDesigners.

    In WebSphere Portal Document Manager, users can see a list of forms that they are authorized to work with. The Portal Administrator can use access control in WebSphere Portal Document Manager to restrict user access to just those forms and folders relevant to the user. If wpsFormUsers want to work on the form offline, they can download the form template to a local file (by clicking the Save button), and they can use the stand-alone Workplace Forms Viewer to open the file.

    After the file is downloaded and opened, the user clicks the Submit button to submit the form to WebSphere Portal Document Manager. The wpsFormUsers group is prompted to enter their portal user name and password. When the Submit button is clicked, the completed form is submitted to WebSphere Portal Document Manager and it returns a message confirming that the submission was successful as shown in figure 12.
Figure 12. Confirmation message for the submitted form
Confirmation message for the submitted form
  1. The completed form submitted by the user is moved to the Submitted Drafts folder in WebSphere Portal Document Manager as shown in figure 13. The wpsFormsApprovers group needs to approve the completed form to move it to the next workflow stage (step 7). If workflow is not enabled for the document library, the completed form is moved to the Submit Location directly.
Figure 13. Forms in the Submitted Drafts folder awaiting approval from wpsFormApprovers
Figure 15. Forms in the Submitted Drafts folder awaiting approval from wpsFormApprovers
  1. Within WebSphere Portal Document Manager, wpsFormApprovers see a list of submitted forms for their approval. If the completed form is approved, it is moved to Submit Location (figure 7, step 7.1). Otherwise, it is moved back to Private Draft for further action (figure 7, step 7.2).

Conclusion

IBM Workplace Forms V2.7 Integrator for WebSphere Portal V6.0 Document Manager offers you the tools to easily integrate IBM Workplace Forms with WebSphere Portal Document Manager. This integration maximizes the value of your investment in IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM Workplace Forms. By utilizing features and functions of WebSphere Portal Document Manager, the creation, publication, and management of forms become much easier. Collaboration among forms designers, approvers, and users is greatly improved through the collaborative infrastructure that WebSphere Portal provides.

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