Processing data to create and manage custom forms across platforms

Within your organization, is form management a real headache? Is your programming staff spending more and more time on program modifications to accommodate minute changes in your organization's custom forms? If you answer yes to either question, you might want to consider AFP Technology's FormScape.

FormScape is an enterprise output management system that lets you centralize form design and control the flow of output within your organization from one server (i.e., the program takes the burden of generating form output off your workstation and places it on one server within your organization). This approach saves you money on the overhead of forms maintenance. Instead of updating several copies of a form throughout your organization, you now have only one place to look and update the form. This approach also helps you reduce network load because you can print your form without sending the entire formatted print job across your network wire.

FormScape Components
FormScape consists of three components (FormScape Server, FormScape Developer, and FormScape Reprint Manager) that work together to provide your forms management solution. FormScape Server traps data that you want to merge with a form from files on a hard disk or a Windows print queue

and processes the data (e.g., remaps it, changes fonts, configures overlays, and selects printers and papers). After FormScape Server finishes processing your data, it routes the final output to a printer, fax, or other archive device. This component runs as a background process on your Windows NT or Windows 95 machine (on NT, it also runs as a service), and it doesn't require user input once you start it.

You use the FormScape Developer component to configure how the FormScape Server component captures and processes print jobs. FormScape Developer refers to each unique set of instructions as a project. When you define a project for FormScape Server, you specify what input it uses, what processes it performs on the data, and how it designs and redirects your output. FormScape Developer consists of a
What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) interface, as you see in Screen 1, for creating your form layout.

The last component is FormScape Reprint Manager. This component lets you retrieve any document FormScape Server processes. Once you retrieve the document, you can view it online or print it.

Installation and Setup
Software installation is painless. You start by running setup.exe from the CD-ROM. After you answer a few questions regarding which components you want to install, the software copies the necessary files to your hard disk and you're ready to go (you don't need to reboot before you start using FormScape). The software initially installs with a seven-day trial license. Each time you launch FormScape Developer, you can choose to print a registration form to fax to AFP Technology to receive an unlock code.

Becoming productive with the software takes time. The first time you launch FormScape Developer to set up a new form, you see a window with a tree-based structure outlining an empty project. The tree's structure depicts how FormScape Server will process your print job.

The first step in setting up a project is to add a data collection method by clicking a small Add-Point icon under the Processes branch of the tree. After you set up the collection method, you design the layout of the form using a full-screen form editor. Finally, you tell the software how to map data you want to merge with the form from the print queue or hard disk. After you complete these steps, you can test your project. If everything appears to be working, you can load your project into FormScape Server.

Cross-Platform Features
A real benefit to FormScape is its platform-independent nature. You can share FormScape files among PCs, UNIX, mainframe, and midrange systems through third-party interconnectivity products.

For example, a user on a SCO UNIX machine running SCO's Advanced File and Print Server can direct output data for an invoice to an NT print queue. FormScape will intercept the data, format it, and print the invoice, complete with graphical formatting. This ability to automatically output forms can save a lot of development time on platforms where designing graphical forms is not particularly easy.

FormScape is a good product for any forms-based organization, large or small. If you're looking for a way to manage your forms across the enterprise, consider FormScape.