How InterForm Simplifies XML Document Handling for IBM i
April 13, 2016 Alex Woodie
At the turn of the century, extensible markup language (XML) promised to simplify many data interchange tasks for IT professionals. Sixteen years later, XML is firmly part of the technological menagerie in the United States, but nowhere near a universal standard. However, over in Europe, XML is a much bigger deal, which is why InterForm added significant new XML capabilities in the latest release of its IBM i-based forms package.
Supporting XML isn’t just a good idea for companies who deal with clients in Europe. In many cases, it’s the law, says InterForm CEO Peter Sørensen.
“In Europe almost every country has an XML requirement,” he tells IT Jungle. “For instance, for invoicing in Denmark, it has to be XML. You’re not able to deliver paper or PDF. They only accept XML . . . Definitely, XML is a big thing.”
InterForm delivered new XML capabilities with the latest release of InterForm/400, the Danish company’s flagship document management software product, which is called ArtForm/400 in the United States due to copyright reasons. The suite already enabled IBM i shops to convert spool files into XML output, among many other capabilities.
Generation of XML documents should get easier with the new release. According to Sørensen, the new XML Module will make it easier to handle the multitude of XML formats that companies in Europe are asked to support.
“A lot of our customers have several customers that have several formats,” he says. “And certain industries have their own XML formats. There is a whole engine built that enables customers to generate the different XML output formats.”
The new XML module also provides validation testing to ensure the XML document complies with particular industry or regional standards. “Built into the tool is an option that you can validate that the content is compliant with the standard,” Sørensen says. “It’s easier to do before you send it instead of being denied at the delivery point.”
There is also an option to import standard XML templates as guides that InterForm/400 customers can use in in the creation of their own XML documents. “You can read the full manual and design the XML documents yourself,” Sørensen says. “But then you’re talking about a very complicated process. Instead, using this tool will save you a lot of time and worry.”
The 2016 release of InterForm/400 also adds support for a particular German standard called ZUGFeRD that defines how XML can be embedded into a PDF-A. This allows people to view the business document as a regular PDF, while retaining the automated import and data extraction capabilities that XML brings.
While Europeans have adopted XML as a standard way of exchanging documents in a business transaction, it’s still not in widespread use in the United States. That could change, Sørensen says, as more companies in the US start to realize the benefits that XML-based document processing brings to business.
XML-based document processing brings the same type of business automation that electronic document interchange (EDI) brought. “At the end of the day, it’s all about not having manual processes,” Sørensen says. “Sending XML in an agreed format means you can extract and include in the database without any manual typing. . . It’s the same principle [as EDI] where we agree on a way of sending and receiving in a certain format in order to reduce transactional costs.”
X-Headers, Stream Files, and More
The 2016 release brings several other important capabilities, including a new capability to utilize X-Headers to automate the receipt of customer feedback sent via email. By analyzing the metadata information in the email that a customer sends in response to an automated marketing campaign, for example, companies can automatically route the response to the appropriate department.
This release also simplifies something that used to be quite difficult to do: highlight a particular word or words using different colors in business output. This would be useful when sending correspondence to customers, such as an insurance company that is informing customers of changes to terms of the agreement. “Typically that’s very difficult because you would not know where to start or stop,” Sørensen says.
IBM i shops that use Infor‘s M3 (Movex) ERP software will find something to their liking in the latest release of InterForm/400 (or Artform/400, if they’re US customers): a new Movex/M3 module that supports output from that ERP system.
Several years back, Lawson software made a change in Movex that eliminated generation of IBM i spool files, instead shifting output to a stream file format, which required using a separate Windows machine to process output. Infor is apparently in the process of rectifying that mistake, Sørensen says. But in the meantime, they can utilize InterForm’s software to keep it all on the IBM i server.
“A lot of customers are really not that happy with that stream file format,” Sørensen says. ” The Movex module for us is to help Movex customers who have only stream files as output from latest release.”
Last but not least, the new release of InterForm/400 brings updates to graphical forms designer. It also runs on Windows 10.
InterForm/400 is a suite of tools that includes a PC-based graphical forms design tool; an IBM i-based spool file merge utility; support for distributing documents via email, fax, and XML; Word and Excel integration; support for barcodes and check printing; support for optical character recognition (OCR) and signature pads; a separate archive module; and workflow and approval capabilities. The software is sold in the United States through Boise, Idaho-based Minet Communications.