Quadrant Doubles Down on Simplicity with Formtastic 10
December 2, 2015 Alex Woodie
Complexity is a killer in this brave new electronic world of ours. If your product or service is hard to use, don’t expect the masses to come knocking at your door. That ethos of simplicity echoes across all industries and businesses, and it’s the driving factor in a major new version of Quadrant Software‘s Formtastic output management software for IBM i.
Quadrant made two important changes to grease the wheels of simplicity with Formtastic 10, the first major new version of the product in years. First, it overhauled the Windows-based design tool that Formtastic customers use to create and edit their documents. Second, it hooked Formtastic into BCD‘s Nexus Web portal, enabling customers to access documents from a Web browser.
Formtastic’s New Design Tool
If you like the ribbon interface that Microsoft introduced with its Office software a few years back, you’re going to love the new forms design tool in Formtastic 10. That’s because it now boasts the same style of ribbon GUI that garnered so much attention (most of it positive) for Microsoft.
Quadrant brand manager Jon Jeuck explains: “We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our customers to continue to create and edit their document overlays, so we designed its look and feel like Microsoft Office products. That’s what most of our customers use. That’s what they’re comfortable using,” he says.
The older Formtastic design tool had a GUI too, but it was not as simple to use as people have come to expect. “Most of the commands were locked up in several drop-down menus across the top of the interface,” Jeuck tells IT Jungle. “In this newer version, we vastly simplified this ribbon-based design. Now virtually all the controls are available from one of the top two ribbon tabs, the Home or the View tab, and a handful of the less frequently used controls moved into a main menu icon.”
It takes users just two to three minutes of exploring the tool to become proficient with it, Jeuck says. And once they’re up and running, the work goes quicker because there are fewer mouse clicks required.
One person who won’t have any trouble getting used to the new interface is Jean Patterson, an assistant MIS director at Northwest Door. “I love the new interface,” declared Patterson. “I work with a lot of Microsoft Office products like Word and PowerPoint. Modeling Formtastic’s ribbon interface based on these was a great idea.”
“She feels like she can train up new users more quickly,” Jeuck says of Patterson. “It’s not as intimidating. Users sort of know where things should be, without a lot of training.”
Part and parcel of the update to the design tool is a wholesale migration of the product’s underlying codebase. Users won’t readily notice the new framework, which is based on Microsoft Foundation Class and Visual C++. But they will appreciate the fact that the Formtastic design tool now runs on any Windows operating system supported by Microsoft (currently Windows 7 through Windows 10).
The new framework will also make it easier for Quadrant to deliver new features and updates to customers. The company doesn’t have anything particular in mind yet, but it could be along the lines of updated color pallets, zoom-in and zoom-out bars, or date selectors, Jeuck says.
Prepping for Portal Power
IT Jungle got the scoop on another big announcement Quadrant is planning to make next week: integration between Formtastic and BCD’s Nexus Portal.
The integration will enable IBM i documents generated in Formtastic to be automatically indexed and made available to users in the Nexus Portal. This will streamline and simplify the act of retrieving documents for the customers, partners, and employees of Quadrant customers, says Quadrant Vice President of Corporate Marketing Marcel Sarrasin.
Email is the most common way that Formtastic customers distribute documents, although the software can also place documents on the IFS or a network drive. “You’re not going to have your customers coming into your IFS or a network drive,” he says.
It’s common to see users search through their emails for a certain document, or pick up the phone and inquire about a certain document sent via email. Those can be time-consuming and painful exercises. Needless to say, letting authenticated users access their own documents directly through a Web browser is a much easier and less painful method of sharing information.
“Now they can just go to a browser, log in and only see their invoices, orders, and POs,” Sarrasin adds. “It’s very quick and easy for them to find any of those documents. It’s just a more professional level of service they can provide their customers and partners.”
This is also one of the first major integrations between Quadrant and BCD Software. Quadrant acquired BCD in early 2014.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first new release of the product since Quadrant released Formtastic version 5.4.5 Service Pack 6 (SP6) in the summer of 2014. Customers who are current on maintenance get the new version free of charge.
The decision to skip over four version numbers and go directly to double digits reflects the large amount of development effort Quadrant invested in the product, Jeuck says. “We figured it was about time to jump forward with it, and 10.0 seemed like a good number,” he says. “We decided to double down.”