E-Mail Automates Workflow in a Flash

With e-mail and messaging as pervasive as they are in the workplace, it only makes sense that these technologies mature into tools that facilitate workflow as well as information distribution.

FORMation mg (Irvine, Calif.) falls in line with this new paradigm by introducing its flashMAIL400 to the AS/400 market. FlashMAIL400 is a workflow module from FORMation designed to allow users of the company's flashFORM400 to send and receive messages with attached spool files and merged electronic forms via e-mail directly on the AS/400. FlashMAIL400 also enables flashFORM400 users to view electronic forms that contain the embedded form graphics with logos and signatures.

With flashMAIL400, FORMation advances automated workflow in the enterprise by adding e-mail capabilities to electronic forms, according to Andy Rackauckas, senior programmer/analyst in charge of development for FORMation mg. In the case of a three-part form, for example, users can split the document among a number of different out-queues.

"You take one part, and put it to each different out-queue, so you could have [for example] one part of a form printing in the warehouse, another in accounting and a third in a clerical area," Rackauckas says. "In this way, the e-form workflow allows for the bursting of an electronic form."

Adding e-mail capabilities through flashMAIL400 takes the distribution one step further, Rackauckas points out. Instead of printing different copies of statements in different departments, users can actually designate e-mail as one of the out-queues for their e-forms.

The majority of FORMation customers currently use the company's products on a Windows-based e-mail engine, such as Microsoft Exchange or Outlook. "The main part of this is taking the AS/400 spool file and making it either an HTML or a PDF attachment to an e-mail," Rackauckas says. Microsoft Excel spreadsheets can also be sent as attachments.

Using flashMAIL400, Mazda Motor Corp.'s North American Operations in Irvine, Calif. is able to automatically deposit employee paychecks and send those employees e-mails regarding that status of their pay.

Mazda has been using the product for about five months, according to Leanne Jackson, project leader with the IS department of Mazda North American Operations. Prior to this, paychecks were printed and distributed manually throughout the organization. This new system cuts down on the number of checks printed and distributed, and has been so successful that Mazda North American Operations is looking into implementing a similar system for its Canadian offices.

"[Implementing flashMAIL400] really took a lot of responsibility off of IS as far as special forms printing and as far as the interaction needed to deal with printers going down," Jackson says. "Since [pay] is now auto-deposited, there's no paper printing, and everything is handled by the system instead of people."

Mazda North American Operations is using flashMAIL400 with Microsoft Outlook, which has about 600 users, including about 100 users on AS/400 systems, according to Jackson. The company has two AS/400s at its facility in Irvine, an S20 for production and a Model 170 for development, both running V4R3 of OS/400.

FlashMAIL400 is priced at $1,500 per module, regardless of processor size or number of users.

In other FORMation news, the company has formally announced a partnership with ADVANCED BusinessLink Corp. (Kirkland, Wash.), allowing users of flashFORM400 and BusinessLink's Strategi e-business platform to send electronic documents across the Internet for viewing or printing.

Use of flashFORM400 in conjunction with Strategi is expected to eliminate the need for multi-printer out-queues in remote locations. Users will instead be able to manipulate pre-formatted AS/400 binary files -- such as purchase orders, invoices, time cards and checks -- through a browser.