Army Enlists E-Forms To Speed Processes

Just like most businesses, the U.S. Army wants to eliminate paperwork and move to electronic processes, but much more than time and money may be at stake.
Just like most businesses, the U.S. Army wants to eliminate paperwork and move to automated processes, but much more than time and money may be at stake. "Imagine the approval authority for a form is in Baghdad and you're in Falluja," says Jim Acklin of Enterprise Information Management, a contractor working on the Army's Forms Content Management Program. "That's not a trip you want to take."

In place of paper documents requiring physical signatures, the Army is implementing an integrated process that will let personnel fill, route, digitally sign and track forms electronically, with data populated, captured and stored back to databases, and image-based records archived automatically. The project has been underway for two years-typical military time for analysis, testing, RFPs and a review of 15 integrator teams and dozens of vendors. Contracts were awarded last August (the terms of which were not disclosed) and deployment is now underway. IBM is the prime contractor, providing consulting, content management, records management and workflow technology. The e-forms front end is from PureEdge, and the digital signature platform is from Silanis.

The first documents to be converted will be evaluation reports that must be completed on all officers and enlisted personnel at least once a year. The Army will also automate award request forms for citations such as the Bronze Star, and emergency data forms, which capture next-of-kin information for all personnel. "If we can handle these processes, it will take care of 60 percent of each soldier's requirements," says Jeanne Harmon, the Army's Chief of Publishing.

Considering that the Army has about 156,000 officers and 896,000 noncommissioned personnel, these three processes account for a staggering amount of paperwork. Other reengineered processes will include supply ordering and pay disbursement. Counting civilian personnel, the solution will reach as many as 1.4 million users.

The Army already has some 2,500 electronic forms available, but its years-old Jetform system wasn't integrated with e-signature technology. Forms requiring signatures had to be printed and physically delivered rather than routed electronically. "We're going to save hours, if not days, just being able to keep the process moving," says Harmon.

Newer collaborative forms systems from vendors such as FileNet, Adobe, Verity, PureEdge and Cerenade offer conditional fields that open up subsections and new routing based on the form input, says Gartner analyst Toby Bell. Validations and rules scrub data as it's being entered, and database lookups and services can call data or subprocesses.

The category still lacks templated, off-the-shelf forms for processes such as lending, claims, agent enablement, contract management and many compliance applications, says Bell. And the biggest roadblock to adoption is overcoming the physical signature mindset.

The Army expects to convert a total of 2,500 forms by this summer and make them available globally through the Army Knowledge Online portal. The Publications Division discovered that multiple forms-automation initiatives were taking place at various levels in the Army at a cost of $500,000 to $2 million per project-and rarely with interoperable technologies. The enterprisewide project will make a consistent, repeatable process available to all.

Business process management (BPM) technology is moving into "phase three" of its maturity, which involves providing adaptable process orchestration, says advisory firm Delphi Group. Insurer North Carolina Farm Bureau leverages this ability to reduce risk while more aggressively pursuing new business, Delphi reports.