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EMS - Active E-Forms

  • 4GL-like language
  • Active data objects
  • Procedural logic
  • Nested "IF" statements
  • Forms "repository"
  • Automatic path-of-authority
  • LINK Facility
  • Event-driven logic

Many organizations would like to automate more of their business processes, but haven't because of programming back-log, or because the cost to design an application appears more costly than the expected return on programming investment.

The Active E-Forms (AEF) module changes all that. By providing an intelligent form-routing capability, AEF allows the prototyping and deployment of "mail-enabled applications" in a quick and efficient manner. With Active E-Forms as part of their electronic mail, companies have reduced their operating costs and turnaround time on paperwork.

An Active E-Form can be designed with logic to query on-line databases, update and verify fields, and do validation checking. For this reason, using an Active E-Form is often easier than processing other CICS applications because EMS provides much of the information for field entry automatically.

A form can be selected for use, get partially filled in, and then be refiled back into the form repository allowing a user to only be concerned with filling in variable information.

Features and Benefits

4GL-like Language

The 4GL-like language of Active E-Forms allows users to define variables, screens, and procedural logic within the form itself.

Active Data Objects

An Active E-Form is an "active data object," a self-contained unit of both data and instructions. As the form flows from approval level to approval level, the data object is actually what is moving. When an Active E-Form data objective receives final approval, it is transformed into a standard EMS electronic form, which is stored and sent just like any regular EMS mail message.

Procedural Logic

Active E-Forms are "intelligent forms" in that they have multi-step logic programmed within their data structure. This procedural logic controls the path of the E-Form from one approval level to the next. This procedural logic can either direct a query to a database, or check on "approval limit" information stored in the EMS directory.

Nested "IF" Statements

The "IF" statement is used to set a condition and, depending on the outcome, perform one or another branch of instructions. These statements can be nested to twenty levels deep.

Forms Repository

The EMS user accesses a master forms cabinet and chooses a form to "launch." Users are given a display of those forms they are authorized to launch within their "path-of-authority."

Automatic "Path-of-Authority"

The forms repository will only display to the user those forms that he/she is authorized to launch. EMS users with higher levels of AEF approval authority can use the NEXT command to select a different path of cabinets. This is useful where a particular "class" of manager or an employee designated as a surrogate user is authorized to review forms pending approval.

LINK Facility

The LINK command can be used to invoke a CICS Command Level sub-program to perform specialized processing on passed variables.

Event-driven logic

To allow procedures to be embedded into the form, event-driven logic is provided to control the routing process. Examples of such logic are: "If this form isn't approved by December 29th, send a notification back to the sender" or "as soon as this form is approved, notify the finance department manager."

The potential uses of Active E-Forms within any organization are limitless. Many common forms-based processes such as credit approvals, purchase requisitions, capital appropriation requests, expense reports, and sales order processing are ripe for this kind of automation.

Some Examples

Amortization Schedule Requests

Prior to using Active E-Forms, a bank requested printed amortization schedules for customer loans, and these took a number of days to obtain. First, the request had to be sent in to data processing. MIS personnel had to key in the parameters of the loan, run a program on the mainframe, and then print the amortization schedule which was mailed back to the branch office and forwarded on to the customer. Now the bank uses an Active E-Form which is filled out by the branch loan officer, the E-Form logic automatically triggers the submission of a job which is run on the mainframe, and the results are returned by EMS to the loan officer's workstation where it can be printed locally. What used to take days now takes minutes.

Research Requests

As part of its research request system, another bank uses Active E-Forms. When a customer requests additional information about a disputed transaction, such a request ultimately gets handled by the research department at headquarters. This group works on a LAN with sophisticated workstations providing visual access to microfilm and microfiche. The local branch initiates a "research request" form which is automatically routed to a mailbox belonging to the research group. The mailbox is polled several times each day and any forms and messages downloaded to the LAN. The research group then retrieves the requested information, making hard copy where necessary. The form is returned to the local branch informing them of the status of their request and when to expect hard copy to arrive at the branch.

Time Card Processing

An aerospace company uses Active E-Forms for its time card system. Each employee selects his/her time card from a cabinet, and updates it at the end of the day. The form prompts the employee for the required information, performs validation checks, and computes elapsed time intervals automatically. The company has discovered that data and calculations handled through an Active E-Form are much more accurate and consistent than the prior manual time card system. When the employee invokes the APPROVE function, this launches the form up to the departmental manager's level for approval. After managerial approvals are applied, the form is converted to data and entered into the CICS batch job stream for processing.

Active E-Forms Schematic

This flow is typical of an Active E-Form intelligent routing application:

  • Step 1: A customer telephones a supplier company with an order for product.
  • Step 2: Upon receiving the telephone order, an electronic forms "repository" is accessed by the salesperson where the relevant "order form" is filled out, and launched. The "link" command within the form checks data in a CICS application (inventory) and provides information about inventory levels for the product specified. The logic of the Active E-Form automatically routes it to the Credit Department if the order is for more than a pre-determined dollar value, or on to shipping if less than that amount.
  • Step 3: When received by Credit, accounts receivable data has already been checked and entered into the form, triggering a second decision: approved orders are automatically forwarded to Shipping for processing while rejected orders are routed to the Credit manager for appropriate action.
  • Step 4: When received by Shipping, inventory data is verified once more, and a pick-list generated. The Active E-Form generates either a fax or mailed hard copy notification to the customer of expected ship date. The Active E-Form forwards itself to the Billing Department.
  • Step 5: When received by Billing, a printed invoice is generated off of the form and the accounts receivable database is updated. Depending upon the logic within the Active E-Form, the customer may receive the invoice by fax or by mailed hardcopy.
In this example, the only hard copy to exchange hands was from the vendor to the customer in the form of a final ship date notification and/or invoice.

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