U.S. 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 electronic 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 purely electronically, with data populated, captured and stored back to databases and image-based records archived automatically. The project has been underway for two years — military time for requirements analysis, requests for proposals and a review of 15 integrators and dozens of products.

Contracts were awarded last August (though the terms were not disclosed) and deployment is now underway. IBM is the prime contractor, providing consulting, content management, records management and workflow technology. The electronic forms front-end is from PureEdge and the digital signature platform from Silanis Technologies.

The first documents to be converted will be evaluation reports that have to be completed for all officers and enlisted personnel at least once a year. These reports involve multiple forms, routing requirements and approvals. The Army will also automate award request forms, for citations such as the Bronze Start and the Purple Heart, 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 [data collection] requirements,” says Jeanne Harmon, the Army’s Chief of Publishing.

Considering that the Army has approximately 156,000 officers and 896,000 noncommissioned personnel, these three processes alone account for a staggering amount of paperwork. Other form-based processes involved will include supply ordering, pay disbursement and medical recordkeeping. Including civilian personnel, the Army expects the solution to touch as many as 1.4 million users.

The Army already has some 2,500 electronic forms available, but its years-old Jetform system on which they’re based wasn’t integrated with e-signature technology. “We could pre-fill and store data, but if the forms required signatures, personnel had to carry them or mail them rather than route them from PC to PC,” says Harmon. “We’re going to save hours, if not days, just being able to keep the process moving electronically.”

The Army expects to convert a total of 2,500 forms by this summer, and they’ll all be available through the widely accessible Army Knowledge Online portal. Savings won’t accrue from process savings alone. The Publications Division discovered that multiple forms automation initiatives were taking at various levels of the Army at a cost of $500,000 to $2 million per project — and rarely with interoperable technologies. The enterprisewide license will make a consistent, interoperable and highly repeatable approach available for forms-based processes across the Army.