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What Will Replace InfoPath?

Technology

Sep 24, 2021 - 7 minutes read

Info Path Replacement 416X300
Marcin Pilarczyk Team Leader Senior Software Developer

He has over 9 years of experience in building software based on the M365 platform. He helps organisations leverage the full power of M365 to make their businesses more effective. Privately, he tries his hand at different sports from scuba-diving to snowboarding.

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It has been common practice to use a combination of InfoPath and SharePoint to develop low-code solutions to support digital business transformation. Now InfoPath is reaching its end-of-life support (mainstream support ended in July 2021, extended support will last till 2026). Since Microsoft also announced that InfoPath 2013 will be the last version to be released, it became clear that the businesses need to find a suitable replacement.

Power Apps and Power Automate have become a new standard for building low-code solutions in the Microsoft stack, creating foundations for today’s Power Platform. It would seem that it should be easy to migrate legacy InfoPath applications to the new model.

But the answer to the question “What will replace InfoPath?” isn’t that obvious as there are plenty of options, both within and beyond the Power Platform. Licensing doesn’t make that decision any easier either. Some time ago, in an article about modernising legacy systems, we described how Power Platform was used to support the initiative of migrating old InfoPath-based solutions. In this article, I want to share my experiences regarding the multiple options for applying Power Platform to migrate such legacy systems.

Migration Options

Nowadays, there are plenty of options to create low-code applications on M365. Below I’m exploring some of the most attractive migration options.

Microsoft Lists + Power Automate

In simple scenarios, Microsoft Lists and Power Automate can be a good fit. Lists now allows for customisations to provide auto-generated forms like custom headers, rules and conditional formulas as well as view and column formatting. Thanks to that, you can get pretty immaculate results in no time. Here you can find more information on what’s achievable with these customisations.

list-view-formatting

Figure 1 Example of a List View Formatting with approval process source: https://github.com/pnp/List-Formatting/tree/master/view-samples/tile-layout-example-with-formatting

SharePoint + Power Apps + Power Automate

This can be seen as the obvious choice and in some materials, this approach is even referred to as a “successor” to the InfoPath and SharePoint Workflow. Especially since no additional licenses need to be purchased. There are two options to consider here:

  • Customised Power Apps forms

In this scenario, Power Apps replaces the native SharePoint form and the user can interact with it directly from the SharePoint List interface. They are not visible in the Power Platform Apps list from the end user perspective.

customised forms

Figure 2 Example of Customized Form source: https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/custom-form-launch/

  • Standalone Power Apps canvas app

These apps aren’t as tightly connected with SharePoint as customised forms are, but they too allow for an easy connection to the same SharePoint Lists. Users can interact with these apps through many M365 services: Power Platform, SharePoint (as link, or embedded), Teams (App Bar, Tab in channel, Tab in conversation) or even Power BI.

They can also be easily accessed from the Power Apps mobile app (unlike customised forms, which open within SharePoint interface).

canvas apps example

Figure 3 Example of Canvas App source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powerapps/powerapps-overview

  • Dataverse + Power Apps (canvas or model-driven, or mix of both) + Power Automate

For enterprise-grade solutions that require proper Application Lifecycle Management, complex security and data integrity, it’s more suitable to use regular databases like SQL or Dataverse. The latter also enables creating model-driven applications which use the same building blocks as the Dynamics 365 apps to build enterprise-ready solutions. It requires additional licenses though, which may be problematic but in complex scenarios it provides far greater developer productivity and maintainability of the delivered solution.

model-data driven app

Figure 4 Example of Model-driven application source:https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powerapps/maker/model-driven-apps/model-driven-app-overview

  • Dataverse for Teams

Many organisations looked at SharePoint as a data storage solution to avoid additional licensing costs which exist when using Dataverse. This was probably noticed by Microsoft, leading them to introduce Dataverse for Teams.

This option allows to build Power Apps canvas apps that use a simplified version of Dataverse database for storage, directly within the Teams experience. Essentially, and most importantly, it’s a part of selected O365 licenses, so no additional costs are incurred. The apps are created within the scope of a particular Team but can also be shared with anyone in the organisation.

With the addition of free Azure API Management connector that provides the capability to connect to other enterprise data, it becomes clear that Microsoft is more and more pushing away from SharePoint in favour of Teams. In regular canvas apps, this type of connector is classified as premium and requires purchasing additional licenses, so Dataverse for Teams has a big advantage over other options.

There is a limit, though. Dataverse for Teams comes with 2 GB of storage and 1 million of data rows. So, in case your old InfoPath solution heavily relies on attachments, you may want to use Dataverse in combination with another document repository. We found SharePoint to work well in this scenario.

Here is a video showcasing Dataverse for Teams (source: Reshape the future of work with Microsoft Dataverse for Teams).

Time to Decide

When considering InfoPath modernisation, one may think that customised forms are a perfect fit. They work similarly to the previous-generation InfoPath List Forms as they open directly in the SharePoint List interface and use the same List to store the data. In addition to that, they have a few other benefits:

  • It’s extremely easy to build forms – Power Apps can generate pre-defined form templates based on the List structure automatically. With some modifications, you can get a working application in a matter of hours if not minutes.
  • Similarly to InfoPath, it supports one click deployment — the customised form gets published and instantly becomes available to users
  • Since it’s embedded in SharePoint, the users stay within the SharePoint experience

There are, however, several issues, especially around Solution Management:

  • Customised forms can’t be packaged into solutions like regular canvas apps. This can create a mess if Power Automate flows are associated with the application as they can’t be wrapped into a single solution in this case
  • Customised forms reside in the “Default” Power Platform environment and they can’t be used in any other environment.
  • There is no official way to export a customised form with a SharePoint List and then import it to into another environment (at least by the time when this article is written). There is a workaround as described by Tomasz Poszytek in his blog here, but it’s not officially supported, so creating any environments and pushing changes from one to another may fail at any time.
  • Since Customized Forms can’t be exported in an out-of-the-box way, you can’t incorporate any automation in deployments or have a proper Application Lifecycle Management process.

Based on our experience in building Power Platform solutions, we have identified a set of basic recommendations that can help in managing the InfoPath migration topic.

  • Analyse and categorise apps by complexity and business criticality.
  • Small, applications that aren’t business-critical can be very well implemented with either customised forms or canvas apps connected to SharePoint. Typically, they are built by citizen developers, don’t require full-blown ALM process and have limited supportability.
  • For applications with medium complexity, that are more important to business, Dataverse for Teams is a good fit, as it offers relational database, supporting complex data types, as well as simplified ALM.
  • For the most critical and complex applications that require ALM, proper security model and IT oversight, Power Apps with Dataverse should be considered. It can be implemented with either model-driven, or canvas applications, or a combination of both


Below, we prepared a chart summarising these recommendations, that positions each of the technologies discussed in article, based on complexity/criticality of an app.

Although you can just simply look for a replacement, InfoPath modernisation doesn’t have to be a 1:1 migration to Power Apps and one of the chosen data sources. You can build more than just canvas applications in Power Apps — it’s a part of a larger concept, Power Platform, that provides far greater possibilities than SharePoint and InfoPath.

Things like AI Builder that bring AI capabilities to apps in no time, Power Virtual Agents for building low-code intelligent bot solutions, Power BI for enhanced data insights, Flow Approvals that provide streamlined approving experience, regardless if you are in Outlook or Teams. All of these tools can make business processes much more efficient but require stepping back and looking at a platform as a whole, rather than choosing the tool and doing simple 1:1 conversion.

These are basic recommendations but can go much deeper than this, based on specific business case. Contact us and our experts will help you make strategic decisions by providing consultancy in Power Platform and the whole M365 suite.

Conclusion

Many organisations that previously used SharePoint and InfoPath to digitalise their business processes have an important decision to make. This technology becomes deprecated and they have to find a replacement. So what exactly will replace InfoPath? We recommend conducting a deeper analysis of what type of applications have been built and plan accordingly, as well as look at a Power Platform as a whole and see what benefits it could bring to the business.

Although SharePoint is still a valid choice in some cases, Teams is becoming the new standard, especially with introduction of Dataverse for Teams with access to Azure API Management connector, included in the license.

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Marcin Pilarczyk Team Leader Senior Software Developer

He has over 9 years of experience in building software based on the M365 platform. He helps organisations leverage the full power of M365 to make their businesses more effective. Privately, he tries his hand at different sports from scuba-diving to snowboarding.

See all Marcin's posts

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