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How to Take Your IBM i Forms to the Next Level

IBM i, Windows
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January 19, 2017

Spooled files. Pre-printed forms. Form overlays. There are so many ways to create IBM i (iSeries) forms—and so many components to consider in the process. iSeries overlay can be overwhelming.

So make it easier. Discover if it’s time to re-think your processes for creating IBM i forms. Then, get tips to take your IBM i forms to the next level.


3 Signs You Need to Re-Think Your Forms

Believe it or not, many IBM i shops are stuck in the status quo when it comes to their forms. Pre-printed forms, manual programming, and dated technology prevent them from making improvements to their processes. Sound familiar?

These are three common signs that your organization needs to re-think your forms. Here’s why.

1. You Rely on Pre-Printed Forms

Pre-printed forms are a pain. Paper is included from beginning to end and the process itself is riddled with manual steps. Data needs to be re-keyed in order to be integrated. And if you want to make an update to a form, you can’t. You have to start over again from scratch.

This process tends to waste time and paper. In today’s digital world, introducing paper to a process is unnecessary. Instead of using pre-printed forms and manually adjusting your document data to meet the form, opt for modern electronic forms software. There will be no need for paper, but you still have the option to print the final product (without messing with the alignment of pre-printed forms).

2. You Manually Create Forms from Spooled Files

IBM i systems generate spooled file output or text-based documents (i.e., orders and invoices). However, the data on these files cannot easily be queried by joining database tables. This means that manual programming effort is required to move the data from a spooled file into a form document. As a result, RPG or COBOL programs with custom business logic need to be utilized instead.

This is a tedious and frankly needless effort, however. All of the data is already in the spooled file report, so it would be much simpler if you could repurpose the spooled file for document creation. For instance, the right form software will allow you to take the spooled file report and then automatically apply a form template or overlay. You’ll get to the end result you want—a PDF or high-quality print document—much faster.

3. You’re Using AFP

AFP was once a top form technology. However, at least five manual steps are still included in form creation. And anyone who has ever dealt with AFP overlays and custom RPG/COBOL programming will tell you about the pain of creating AFP forms.

On top of that, AFP utilities are no longer supported on IBM i 7.3 and later. IBM is even recommending that users look for replacement forms before migrating to 7.3. So, it’s probably time to put your AFP forms out to pasture. The AFP data streams and processes will continue to work, but you won’t be able to use AFP utilities to create form overlays. With the right form software, it’s easy to transition away from your AFP forms, as it works side-by-side with existing AFP processes. Plus, look for software that can generate AFP output by using AFP print drivers and IPDS printers if still needed.

Did You See the Sign?

Does your business tick one of those boxes? Then take it as a sign that your current processes for creating forms on IBM i just aren’t up to snuff. It’s time to take your IBM i forms to the next level.


4 Tips for Taking Your IBM i Forms to the Next Level

Ready to re-think your IBM i forms? Follow these four tips to start taking your IBM i forms to the next level.

1. Go Digital

Your IBM i is a valuable part of your IT environment. You count on it for spooled file reports and so much more. So make the most of it by making your IBM i forms fully digital.

Those spooled file reports you create contain data. That data frequently needs to be utilized to create documents. The manual processes of the past meant you needed to re-key that data into a new form. With electronic forms software like iForms, you can make that process fully digital. Data can be integrated into a new document, without you lifting a finger.

iForms automatically monitors output queues for incoming spooled file documents. This means that you’ll be able to convert spooled files into high-quality documents faster. Plus, iForms will also monitor IFS folders for text file input and monitor data queues. As documents arrive, you’ll be able to process, print, and deliver new forms in real time.

When generating electronic forms, it’s good to have many creation options. iForms can gives you the options to create forms however you need them and keeps the process digital from beginning to end.

2. Integrate Everything

Integration is key to saving time in the form creation process. You want your systems and programs to be able to seamlessly integrate with your process. Plus, you don’t want to spend your valuable time re-entering information needlessly.

iForms makes integration seamless by including API commands. Embed these commands in any CL, RPG, or COBOL program. Then you’ll be able to use your existing programs to generate a form from within any existing job stream (i.e., a job stream that generates a spooled file). Plus, you can use a RESTful API to generate forms from web-based applications. All you need to do is place the formatted web URL in your application to connect to iForms. Then you’ll be able to generate and deliver a document from any custom program or automation process across any platform.

By linking iForms with other programs, you’ll take several manual steps out of the form creation process.

3. Give Your Forms a Facelift

Pre-printed forms and AFP form documents come with several limits to the design process. There’s only so much you can do, and your IBM i forms suffer for it.

Visual design is a crucial component of iForms. Graphical elements are at your fingertips, so you can easily add new components to a form. For instance, you can add a box around a text area of the form to draw attention to it. Or you might want to add a logo (or other images) to the form for branding purposes or a barcode for other automation processes.

You can also make life easier for yourself in the long-term. With iForms, you can create a template so you never need to start a form from scratch again. Simply swap out a graphic or a text box and make the template meet your needs. This is a great way to get started with a new form process when you don’t have time to fully design a new form. 

Giving your forms a facelift isn’t limited to new forms either. You can use your existing form overlays from AFP (or another tool). Simply launch the form in the iForms designer and add whichever elements fit your fancy. Add a graphic or simply output the form in a fresh new format.

Your customer-facing documents should be dressed for success. With iForms, it’s easy. Your forms will be high quality and minimal effort.

4. Send Them Off in Style

Pre-printed forms and AFP form documents are limited in distribution options. You might be forced to print and then copy or scan the form for your records.

Diversify your IBM i distribution options with iForms. With iForms, you can print or digitally output a form in whichever way you need it. Printing options include practically any imaginable printer—laser, inkjet, label, or high volume. You can output to PDF or other PC file types. Or you can save your document as a spooled file. The sky is the limit. Plus, with iForms, it’s easy to retain a digital copy in a document management system for easy retrieval later on.

You should be able to send documents without any hassle. With iForms, it’s just a click to output your files any way.


Ready to Take Action?

Taking your IBM i (iSeries) forms to the next level doesn’t mean you need to give up your spooled files. In fact, by following all of these tips, you’ll make it easier to take advantage of everything IBM i has to offer—including your spooled files.

Take action today and take your forms to the next level with help from the experts.

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