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Microsoft Forms Processing – Is AI Builder Enough or Do I Need SharePoint Syntex?

All form processing in Office 365 uses Microsoft's AI Builder, a turnkey solution that brings you the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) through a point-and-click experience, so you don't need coding or data science skills. While you may not need to be a data scientist to get started, you will need to make some decisions around which type of form processing to license and how many licenses to procure, based on your expected use cases. Let's walk through it step by step.   

Microsoft Form Processing Basics

AI Builder can be trained to understand the content of many types of documents. But when we talk about ‘Form Processing,’ we are speaking very specifically about extracting data from documents that meet the following criteria: 

  • Standardized format: The data you want to extract is always in the same place relative to the other parts of the form. For instance, form processing would work well for a document where the date appears on the upper left corner of the form, and a dollar total appears on the lower right corner of the form.
  • Mostly text: The documents you want to process can contain some simple imagery, such as icons or logos, but should be mostly text.
  • No Checkboxes:  Right now, AI Builder doesn’t do an excellent job of understanding whether a checkbox is checked or not checked. Microsoft is working on it, but it’s not available yet.
  • Simple tablesAI Builder can’t handle forms with nested tables and merged cells.
  • Onepagers only: For now, AI Builder can’t handle multi-page forms.
  • File Types: JPG, PNG, or PDF format (text or scanned) are suitable. Text-embedded PDFs are best.
  • Language: At this time, forms must be in English. 

For more details see Requirements and limitations – AI Builder | Microsoft Docs. 

While it might be evident to your technical eyes that two documents are not the same ‘form,’ do not assume your business users will get it right away. Spend time up-front showing them which documents can be processed as the same form and which cannot – ideally using samples they provide – and explain why. Encouraging your business users to ‘think before they upload’ will help everyone avoid unpleasant surprises and increase satisfaction with your solution. 

Choosing Between AI Builder Alone and SharePoint Syntex 

You have two options for processing forms within the Office 365 ecosystem:  

1) You can use AI Builder alone or  

2) Use SharePoint Syntex, which connects AI Builder form processing directly to SharePoint libraries.  

The table below provides some details on the licensing required for each option: 

For AI Builder without Syntex you need:    For SharePoint Syntex you need: 
  • Licensing for PowerApps, Power Automate or Dynamics 365 that gives you the ability to create a Dataverse environment
     
  • And EITHER 
  • AI builder add-on credits 
                  OR 
  • 300 licensed seats of any of the above services, which gives you 1 million AI Builder credits* by default
 

 

 

OR 

  • A license for SharePoint Syntex for every user who will use the libraries where form processing is enabled. 
  • And that user must also have one of the following licenses: Microsoft 365 F1, F3, E3, A3, E5, A5, Office 365 F3, E1, A1, E3, A3, E5, A5, Microsoft 365 Business Basic, Business Standard, Business Premium, or SharePoint Online K, Plan 1, or Plan 2 
  • And if you have fewer than 300 SharePoint Syntex licenses (which will give you 1 million AI builder credits*), you will also need AI Builder add-on credits 
 

*According to Microsoft, 1 million AI Builder credits will get you about 1000 forms worth of processing, including training and testing models. But your mileage may vary, depending on the complexity of your models and the amount of retraining you need to do.   

Once you have gotten licensing squared away, you still have some details to take care of: 

In most scenarios, it makes sense to enable Syntex Forms Processing in “Libraries in selected sites” to start. This will give you a feel for how many AI Builder credits your use cases are consuming. It also assures you can control where Syntex is used – an important consideration if you have not licensed everyone. You can always come back and change this setting later. 

For AI Builder w/o Syntex:    For SharePoint Syntex: 
  • After you have purchased the AI Builder credits, a Power Platform administrator needs to allocate that capacity to the right environment. In many cases, that will be the ‘Default’ environment. Still, some organizations are using multiple environments, so be sure the capacity gets allocated to the one where you will build any Power Automate flows or PowerApps. 
  • The environment is shown in the upper right-hand corner of all Power Platform screens. 

 

 

 

 

OR 

  • If you need to purchase additional AI Builder credits, a Power Platform administrator needs to allocate that capacity to the Default environment since that will interface with SharePoint Online. 
  • Then have your SharePoint Administrator follow the steps here to set up Syntex in your tenant. 
  • When on the step “Set up Form Processing,” be sure to choose the right option for your business needs and budget. 


Although each of these options uses AI Builder, the two paths have some significant differences in their implementation and the output you get.
 

As the name suggests, SharePoint Syntex is tied to SharePoint. When you create a form processing model in Syntex, you start from a document library where Syntex is enabled; your model stays intrinsically linked to that library. Any user with edit permissions on that library can create a forms processing model there. Specifying the names of fields during the model creation process adds columns with those names to the library (if they do not already exist). The extracted information can become document metadata via an auto-created Power Automate workflow. It is an amazingly simple – and powerful – two-step process once set up: step 1 – upload document, step 2 – form information gets extracted and added to the document as metadata. Done. 

Setting up AI Builder for forms processing without Syntex is appropriate for more ‘techie’ or ‘business analyst’ types but offers much more flexibility. Instead of starting with SharePoint, when using the AI Builder approach, you start with a model independent of any container that can be reused anywhere once it is trained. The easiest way to use the model is to call it via the Power Automate “Process and save information from forms” action, which can be triggered using any method that allows you to pass the file content to the action – with an ‘instant’ trigger like a button, via an email, or when a document is uploaded to a SharePoint library, for instance. Once you have the form information in your flow, you can manipulate it, process additional business rules, and send it off to other places in Office 365 or any other system to which Power Automate can connect.   

You will want to be careful to limit how many concurrent instances of your flow can run when creating your own AI Builder models. For example, if someone uploaded 10,000 documents at once to a library that had a Power Automate flow using the ‘Process forms’ action running on it, the flow would likely either get throttled, or document processing would fail because Microsoft limits the number of times that one user can call that API within a given period. You can easily set the concurrency by updating the Advanced settings in the trigger action in Power Automate. There are other considerations, including the type of Power Automate plan you have.  Learn more here. 

Final Thoughts 

As you can see, deciding which of these options is best for your organization is hardly straightforward; it depends on the number of users you have, how many of them you want to use the service, what output you need and where you want to send it, and your existing licensing agreement. Microsoft provides an online estimator to run various scenarios. Still, suppose you need more help figuring out-licensing or getting started with these innovative workplace tools. In that case, Withum’s Microsoft licensing and Power Platform experts can work with you to come up with a licensing model, get everything configured, and provide rollout and adoption assistance.  Reach out to us for a complimentary consultation. 

If you need more information on or you’re ready to get started, book a meeting here. You can also subscribe to our blog.

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