Smarter Everyone, Smarter Everything, Smarter Everywhere
Due to being an eponymous blog, it has become that time to redirect my blog and increase its aperture to cover a much wider range of IBM-related topics that developers will find interesting and that reflect my own broader range of pursuits and thoughts within IBM.
These days I work in the Smarter Workforce segment of IBM Collaboration Solutions, which is responsible for building out cloud-based solutions for employee talent optimization. How do you attract employees? Retain them? Provide education when they are recruited, promoted or need remediation? How do you best equip employees to share information and enable one another to achieve better customer satisfaction and better business results? How do you measure the results?
So, if you're not in this particular problem space, why should you care? Well, there is a remarkable dynamism in this problem space due to the fact that it seeks to help human beings interact more effectively and efficiently with other human beings. As a result, many of today's most interesting topics, technologies and techniques are applicable: social computing, cloud computing, mobile computing, security, bigdata, business analytics and algorithms, and even psychological science and cognitive computing.
Think about what it takes to give everyone a smarter edge. Think of everything that might be needed to do it, plus everything they might want to do, and everything they might want to do it with. Then, think of enabling them to do it everywhere. Now we're talking the same language.
When I started on Java Server Pages (JSP) as a topic, I had intended it to be a blog topic. But it grew quite beyond blog size, so now that the technical work is finished, I can give you the meta-level on using JSP with Enterprise IBM Forms.
The work I'm telling you about here is intended to make it easy for you to exploit the powerful, simplifying JSP technique within the XFDL+XForms markup of IBM Forms documents. It took a some work to sort it all out, but with that done, it is easy for you to replicate what I did and gain the benefits. I wrote this wiki page on the IBM Forms product wiki to help you get set up, and the page references the developerWorks article I put together to show how to use JSP in your XFDL+XForms forms.
It was pretty challenging to get the JSP to talk to the Webform Server Translator module, so I was pretty happy when that started to work for me. It's one of those cases of only needing a line or two of code, but it being really hard to get exactly the right line or two. As Mark Twain once said, it's like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Anyway now that we know the smidge of code, it's easy for you to copy and use in your XFDL-based JSPs.
At first I thought, OK I have a good blog topic, but then I realized we weren't covering the full Forms information lifecycle. Put simply, a form is possibly prepopulated and then served, it collects data, but then it comes back and you have to do something with the data collected. So, back for more work sorting out how to receive a completed form into a JSP and use its values in JSP scriptlet code that helps prepopulate the next outbound form. This was a fair bit less challenging, as it maps very closely to how you start up the IBM Forms API in a regular Java servlet. Remember, JSP is just a convenient notation that the web application server knows how to turn into a Java servlet. JSP just makes it easier for you to focus on your special sauce application code.
Well, now that I could handle the whole Forms information lifecycle, I realized I hadn't covered the software development lifecycle. Back to the salt mines again. The problem was that JSP annotations are incompatible with XML. Although there is an alternative XML syntax for JSP, I devote a section in the article to explaining why it's a bit of a train wreck, and I focus instead on the normal JSP annotations. By representing them as XML processing instructions, we're able to maintain the XFDL and the JSP logic together using the IBM Forms Designer, and then use an XSLT to convert to actual JSP when it's time to deploy the IBM Form. This was really important to me because, quite frankly, if a new feature does not work in the Design environment for a language, then the feature essentially does not exist in the language.
Now, that's a wrap! I hope you like the article and get accelerated development benefit from it. JSP is really for building quick prototypes and demos, and also for solving simpler problems much more simply than using straight Java servlet coding. It's even a really nice complement to using Java servlet coding within a larger project. So don't delay, get ready to use JSP with XFDL today.
Something happened today that seemed like perfect fodder for this blog because it combines a humanitarian story, social business, and a good use case for IBM Forms Experience Builder in a social business context.
An esteemed colleague at my Canada software lab site is the organizer for our site's donations and efforts for a local charitable cause. Turns out, IBM has a special charitable grant program in which IBM makes a substantial additional donation to the charity if a set number of IBMers sign up as volunteers. I really like this model because it essentially gives IBMers a way to vote, not only on how much IBM corporately donates but also where the donation goes. It's the same reason I like charitable tax incentives, as it is essentially the same as the federal government allowing the people to vote on the charitable causes they support and how much tax money goes to them.
Anyway, IBM internally runs an enterprise social business platform called Connections, which includes profile pages for all IBMers. These are like Facebook or LinkedIn pages, only inside the corporate firewall. Still, there is information that would not normally show up on one's profile page, but which my colleague needs in order to complete our internal IBM charitable grant application. So, my colleague has found it necessary to reach out to a large number of people at our site to get this information; she's under a tight timeline, and she needs responses from everyone.
This is a great example use case for IBM Forms Experience Builder. One reason is that my colleague needs to quickly stand up a lightweight custom data collection solution, where we'd miss the grant deadline for our charity if we had to wait for a normal IT project to be completed. So, this is a great example of workforce agility to be gained. Yet, on a technical front, this is interesting because it is so easy to see that the solution needs two forms, and their corresponding backend DB storage, as well as a service to connect one to the other. The fact that you can make all this stuff and hook it up in your web browser without coding is truly a step forward in IT democratization.
In this solution, my colleague can create a first LIST form that simply allows her to enter the names of all the people that she needs to get information from. Each person's email address can then be automatically looked up by hooking up into the form the LDAP lookup service that is added to our installation of Forms Experience Builder.
Then, my colleague can create a second COLLECT form that allows each person to provide the information she needs.
Most importantly, my colleague really needs to be able to re-enter her LIST form at any time, not to add more names, but rather to see which people have submitted the COLLECT form-- and which haven't. To do this, she can automatically hook up the database for the COLLECT form as a service to her LIST form. As each person fills the COLLECT form, their entry on the LIST form can show their required information.
At any point, my colleague can look at her LIST form for blank entries to see those people with whom she has to take "secondary measures" to ensure 100% response before the deadline. Most importantly, her LIST form would already then have all the information she requires collected into one place.
Can you imagine how much more work she'd have to do if she did all this by email? She'd have a flood of emails mixed with her normal email, and she'd have to fish out the information from each email and put it into a list manually. Tedious, error prone, and lots more ways to miss the deadline. My colleague is be able to collaborate much more efficiently and effectively using a 2-form IBM Forms Experience Builder solution, and this is why lightweight data management solutions should be added as an essential ingredient of an enterprise grade social business platform. Specifically, if you're going to purchase IBM Connections, then add IBM Forms Experience Builder.
Last blog I told you how you could get a "Greenhouse" account that gives you access to a cloud-hosted build-without-coding environment for constructing and deploying data-centric IT solutions. The product is called IBM Forms Experience Builder (FEB), and I want to spend some time on this blog giving you a better sense of the solutions you can create.
The solution I'd like to cover is a bit more advanced than a "Hello, World" solution; maybe I'll do one of those in the next blog. But the first thing I wanted to be able to do was use my account to enable myself to share solution files with you over time. Every FEB solution has a body of code that represents it. You can export the serialization of any solution as a file so that it can be imported into another account or onto another FEB server. So, I wanted to create a FEB solution that allowed me to share FEB solution files with anyone. I created that "Simple File Sharer" solution and then used it to share the "Simple File Sharer" solution file. You can get the file here (requires Greenhouse account login).
Once you have the solution file, you can import it into your own FEB account within Greenhouse and then use it to share files, especially any sample FEB solutions.
The Simple File Sharer solution uses ordinary features in the form (user interface). I just dragged and dropped a table item, and then put a name, description and upload component into the table. I also dragged and dropped a textual label so I could provide some basic instructions for users of the solution.
The Simple File Sharer solution uses some more interesting FEB capabilities to implement behavioral features around the form user interface.
In conclusion, the Simple File Sharer solution may only allow me to create a record, but it still ends up demonstrating a number of FEB features that you would commonly use in solutions that allow multiple users to create and edit records. In the future, I'll share more solutions with you that highlight various FEB features that contribute to creating interesting solutions. Remember, it's not about just forms; it's really about the whole solution you can wrap around forms, including automatic database storage, access control, lightweight workflow stages, and even configuring web services-- all without coding. And that's what makes IBM Forms Experience Builder a platform-as-a-service capability that everyone from a line-of-business users up to an IT professional can appreciate!
How would you like to be able to construct, deploy and get results from IT solutions using only your web browser?
Don't believe me? Well, how about coming to the IBM Forms wiki, where you can watch a few short videos that show you.
You'll be intrigued and want to go the next step. One of the prominently available wiki pages is a community article that gives you a starter pack of prebuilt solutions like the ones you see in the video. You can download any one or all of them because they're just single files that describe the forms, access control, workflow stages and other resources of each solution. You can import any of them into your own IBM Forms Experience Builder server, and then deploy them, use them, get results from them, and of course edit them to see how they work or to change them and redeploy them. All from your web browser.
Don't have an IBM Forms Experience Builder server to try it out? Well, now we've gotten to the main topic of this blog article. You can get your own free public access to an IBM Forms Experience Builder server. You can try out any of these starter pack solutions as well as build and deploy any of your own solutions.
Since you will be a builder of forms experience solutions, we will need to be able to present your solutions to you, distinguished from everyone else's solutions. So, you'll have to start by registering yourself with the system that hosts the IBM Forms Experience Builder server. The system is called Lotus Greenhouse, so click the link and then choose "Sign up" to get your account.
Once you're able to log in to Greenhouse, you'll get access to a number of software products including IBM's social business software (Connections), IBM Websphere Portal Server, and of course IBM Forms Experience Builder. However, you don't really need to log in to Greenhouse then menu navigate to IBM Forms Experience Builder when you can just bookmark the direct link to IBM Forms Experience Builder on Greenhouse.
Once you log in with your Greenhouse user id and password, you'll see the "Manage" solutions page, which lists all of the Forms Experience Builder (FEB) applications that you have designed. This is the page that gives you the ability to create a "New Application" or "Import" one of those starter pack applications, all at the press of a button.
So, now you can try out and evaluate IBM Forms Experience Builder now to see for yourself that there really is a smarter web where you can construct valuable solutions without coding now. If you are building IT solutions for your organization, you owe it to yourself to see how much more effective you'll be at satisfying your organization's IT solution demands. But even more importantly, if you're competing for IT solution services contracts, you owe it to yourself to become an IBM business partner or to expand your partnership to include IBM Forms Experience Builder. And finally, if you like to build industry-specific data management products, then you should consider becoming an IBM value-added reseller (VAR) so you can build your products more efficiently with IBM Forms Experience Builder and go to market with IBM to sell the bundle. In all these cases, you now have the access you need above so you can learn more and get started today.