E-Forms Are Almost Ready for Primetime

If you developed your impression of electronic forms products three years ago, it’s time to look again.
If you developed your impression of electronic forms products three years ago, it’s time to look again. While early forms products were just a front end on data entry, today’s collaborative forms systems offer enormous potential to improve process efficiency and cut costs.

Today’s best systems support conditional fields that open up subsections and new routing based on the form input. Validations and rules scrub data as its being entered, and database lookups and Web services can bring in new data or initiate related processes. They essentially create “a moving file folder that know who’s supposed to get the form next, puts data in the appropriate databases and automatically archives records of the form that may be needed for compliance,” says analyst Toby Bell of Gartner.

Leading systems include Adobe’s Intelligent Document Platform (which combines Adobe PDF and technology acquired in the purchase of Jetform/Accelio), Cerenade’s Visual eForms, FileNet’s Forms Manager (built on technology acquired from Shana), Microsoft’s InfoPath, PureEdge’s 8x platform and Verity’s LiquidOffice (acquired with the purchase of Cardiff). Both Adobe and PureEdge are partnered with IBM. In most cases Microsoft’s solution requires the InfoPath client to be installed, so it is better suited to internal company efforts.

Despite progress with e-forms technology, obstacles to adoption remain.

What the category still lacks, says Bell, are lots of off-the-shelf forms for loans, case management, claims, remote agent enablement, contract management, branch bank new accounts and compliance scenarios. Many templated vertical applications are in development, Bell says, and together with ROI figures and success stories, they’ll open more eyes.

Still, the biggest roadblock to d-forms adoption is change management. Many people simply want to do things the way they’ve always done them.

“The advantage of doing this in the government is that you can mandate change,” says Bell, referring to the Army’s recent adoption of an e-forms solution (see “U.S. Army Enlists E-Forms to Speed Processes”)combining IBM content management and workflow, PureEdge e-forms and Silanis signature technologies. “The Army will be able to order its constituency to use a certain process.”

Nonetheless, the Army is considering using signature pads as well as Department of Defense-approved digital signatures to “deal with the mindset of needing a John Hancock,” says Jeanne Harmon, Chief of Publishing. The Silanis signature technology supports both approaches.

--Doug Henschen Editor, Managing Content