Documentum and Alfresco – Electronic Forms and Workflow User Requirements

We met with a client this week that is evaluating the Active Wizard for an electronic forms infrastructure to replace many paper, Word and PDF forms within the organization.  The Active Wizard is TSG’s most popular Open Source offering (currently on version 4.0).  This post will present the “high priority” requirements along with our thoughts and capabilities of the Active Wizard.

Electronic Forms and Workflow – High Priority

Below are the most relevant requirements deemed “high” by the team.  We chose to skip medium or low requirements or requirements that are inherent with any electronic form (ex:  Eliminate Paper, Global Access, Electronic Storage, Data Retention).

Part 11 Compliance – The client is a life sciences company and needs any electronic signatures to comply with 21 CFR Part 11.  The Active Wizard has been used in multiple 21 CFR Part 11 solutions leveraging Documentum’s Trusted Content Services as well as other validated methods, including OpenOverlay, to provide a valid electronic signature.

Need to reduce cycle time from initiation to final approval – We tend to see a couple of different opportunities to reduce cycle time including:

  • Simplicity – the form should be easy to complete and initate workflow.  Review and Approval must be easy to understand.
  • Reduce Errors  – Forms filled out incorrectly or routed to the wrong people result in increased cycle time.  The Active Wizard focuses on getting making sure the right form and right workflow  is created the first time.
  • Quick Approval or Rejection  – Getting the workflow participants to make a decision quickly, for approval or rejection, involves providing email alerts as well as mobile approval interfaces.

Full accessibility for search, view, print, export – The Active Wizard renders eforms to PDF for simple search, view, print and export of the form.  We typically provide search and reporting interface to completed forms via our HPI interface.

Need to allow for “copy and use” of existing forms – The Active Wizard allows for a “copy” function as well as versioning of a form.

Need to provide for multiple file formats and attachments – The Active Wizard provides for content neutral attachments as either “Workflow” documents (items that are approved with the form) or “Supporting” documents (items that help make the decision but will not receive electronic signatures).  Typically clients will want to turn these attachments into PDF to provide for a electronic record with potential electronic signature.

Need to allow for notifications for pending, rejected, and completed workflows – Any form that lands in a user inbox will generate an email notification that indicates pending, rejected or completed activities. As an aside, one client has requested a “what’s coming my way” feature for items that were not quite in their inbox yet.

Need to have capability to create many kinds of forms for multiple organizations – One Active Wizard client, a transportation company, is using the Active Wizard for over 400 different forms.  The key capability for this client and others is simple and complete form administration with create and modify capabilities.  Clients like that forms can be managed by “non-IT” resources.  While the Active Wizard is based on XML, view the presentations in our learning zone to see how the interface allows non-technical users to administrate the form as well as the workflow rules.

Need to be able to view in-process, completed or approved forms as a full view, don’t want to view a bunch of tabs – This requirement probably requires more explanation.  In the current Webtop system, a change request form is actually a series of customizations of the Documentum Webtop attribute tabs.  The Active Wizard renders the form into a PDF document for easy viewing/printing and HPI provides for search across all outstanding forms.

Need to print in-process, complete or approved forms – Upon initiation of a review or approval workflow, the Active Wizard renders the form into PDF for easy printing.  Approved forms will typically have an electronic signature page added to the PDF rendition.

System must be quick and easy to use to complete a form – The Active Wizard provides a “Wizard” interface similar to TurboTax or TaxCut to provide a simple and accurate way to complete a form.  Key part brought up in discussions was the need to redesign the business process now that the form and workflow is electronic.

Need to be able to create new forms easily – After some initial training, developing forms and workflow rules for the Active Wizard is fairly straightforward.  See learning zone examples for form creation and workflow creation.

Need to provide version control of templates –  One major differentiator of the Active Wizard and other forms solutions is the use of XML and templates.  A form, and the business rules associated with the form, are all stored as XML.  Once a form is initiated, that template is copied to the form instance.  The template is managed with standard check-in/check-out versioning.

Need to allow for electronic routing for review and approval – The Active Wizard provides a dynamic capability to route.  Unlike standard workflow where a template is chosen, the Active Wizard builds the workflow route “on the fly” based on values in the form.  The Active Wizard can leverage Documentum Workflow (the basic workflow, not BPM) for our Documentum clients or our newest addition, Activiti for our Alfresco clients.  For Documentum clients that would like to leverage the power of open source and Activiti, we have architected the solution to allow for running an Activiti workflow while still leveraging a Documentum repository.

Need flexibility to specify approvers based on situation – By being tied to the form data, form initiators can pick approvers while completing the form.  The Active Wizard also provides multiple methods to delegate and replace approvers once a workflow has started.

Need to be able to establish approver groups by role – The Active Wizard provides for group based routing but also provides for workflow rules to distinguish individuals within a group for specific routing.  For example, a workflow rule might indicate that a regulatory group is required for approval.  The Active Wizard provides for either having the form identify the specific person or a rule to identify a person based on a field within the form (ex:  Bob is responsible for all Regulatory signatures associated with Product X).

Need to allow for approval delegation and proxy assignment – Active Wizard provides for  “Delegate” as well as reassign.  Proxy is typically handled by the workflow engine.

Need to ability to change approvers mid-route by initiator or admin – This one is traditionally a tough requirement and will vary based on business process.  In the past, Active Wizard implementations have included the ability to allow others besides the approver to delegate mid-route.

Need to have staged input, routing and approvals, with ability to update information mid-process – We discussed this requirement in detail.  This deals with a form that has sections completed and approved during the approval process.  We discussed ways to isolate the different portions/processes within the form leveraging the Active Wizard ability to relate forms together and combine into a final record once all the pieces were complete.

Need ability to route in parallel or serial – The Active Wizard provides ability to route parallel or serial mixed in one workflow.

What’s Missing – Other Requirements

In talking as a team – we thought we would add some other requirements that we are seeing in regards to forms and workflow:

  • Mobile Access – More and more clients are looking to initiate and approve forms from mobile devices.  As clients look for reduced cycle time, the ability to connect with approvers quickly wherever they are is becoming less of a “nice to have” and more of a “need to have”.  See our mobile approval interface in the learning zone or try for yourself by supplying your email address from our site.
  • Compliance – While we mentioned it somewhat above, the issue with many approaches is when the template changes, what happens to the forms that are in flight?  Active Wizard, by leveraging XML that includes structure and business logic, provides a way to make sure that forms in flight keep moving with the old structure and business logic while new forms leverage the new structure and business logic.
  • Help TextFor clarification of questions and answers on each form field.
  • Links in the Form – to allow easy access to additional resources or systems required to complete the form.  These could include websites or other external links.
  • Dynamic Workflow – Many of our clients struggle with template workflow approaches.  We have posted multiple articles on how dynamic workflow compared to a template approach.