Previously static Portable Document Format files are finding a new role on the Internet.
An electronic forms suite announced last week by Cardiff Software enables users to fill out, sign, route, submit and approve forms expressed as Adobe Systems Portable Document Format files and then feed the data automatically into back-end systems such as PeopleSofts. Called the LiquidForms eForm Management System, the new product is based on an industry standard for eXtensible Markup Language forms and interfaces with the newly released Adobe Acrobat 5.0.
Since Adobe PDF is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous document format — Acrobat Reader is now installed on more than 200 million computers — Cardiff hopes that its forms system will prove particularly attractive to large companies and government agencies that distribute forms to the general public. Beta customers include three federal agencies and two state agencies, in addition to three Fortune 100 companies, said Robert Weideman, Cardiffs vice president of marketing. The product wont be released until May.
"Adobe does feel that there is a significant opportunity in the eForms market," said David Rodrigues, senior product manager at Adobe Acrobat. "A lot of people turn to PDF to retain document integrity and because it preserves the look and feel" of the corresponding paper form. Acrobat 5.0 is the first version of the Adobe software to support XML and Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC) databases, he said, adding to its interactive capabilities.
Paperless forms processing is gaining momentum from recent initiatives such as the Government Paperwork Elimination Act and the new electronic signatures law, which gives legal authority to electronic signatures on many documents. Government agencies, in particular, are seen as a huge market.
Weideman claimed the Cardiff product has clear advantages over other document systems, such as those from JetForm or Shana, which dont easily interface with other applications and require plug-ins on the client side.
"Its not that Cardiff is any brighter than Shana and JetForm — its just that we dont have an existing product to rebuild," Weideman said. "We have the benefit of being new to the market, so we can build a modern product."
However, Nigel Brachi, a spokesman at Shana, noted that while Shanas products dont use Adobe Acrobat, the company does offer an XML-based product that supports ODBC databases and requires only a Web browser and the temporary use of a tiny Java applet, transparent to the user.
In Cardiffs system, each user has a password-protected account accessible from a Web browser. Data from completed forms can be directly processed into systems for Enterprise Resource Planning, human resources, databases and other back-office applications.
The system has two configurations: Workgroup, which supports up to 100 accounts for $15,000, and Enterprise, a scalable system starting at $30,000.