Adobe Adds Bar Code to PDF

Adobe's new bar-code technology for PDF forms, which the IRS is already testing, will help businesses move data more easily from paper to electronic databases.

If you were hoping the Internal Revenue Service would conveniently misplace your tax forms this year, dont bank on it yet. Adobe Systems Inc. this week unveiled a new technology to improve forms processing, and the IRS is already testing it out.

Adobe, of San Jose, Calif., says its new bar-code technology for PDF forms will help businesses move data more easily from paper to electronic databases.

For example, a business could add the bar-code technology into a PDF containing a survey for its customers. The company could then make that survey accessible to customers over the Web, through e-mail or on CD. Once a customer completes the survey, a bar code is automatically created, capturing the data. If customers opt to mail the survey back as a paper document, the company can "scan the document, capture the data using an Adobe decode server or legacy system and supply it to a back-end system for processing," said Adobe, in a statement.

Although businesses are increasingly relying on electronic communications, often paper forms are necessary, said Dan Baum, lead developer of Adobes new solution. For example, he said, "wet signatures are often required on documents or necessary support documents are only available in paper form."

One organization that processes millions of paper documents each year is the IRS. While the number of taxpayers filing electronically is growing, more than half of all tax forms are still filed on paper. All of this data is then manually entered into electronic forms, a time-consuming task that leaves a lot of room for error. Which is why the IRS, which has worked with Adobe on several other initiatives, approached the company about a way to ease this process, said Baum. Adobe was already in development with its bar-code technology, and the IRS is now testing it out.

IRS spokesman Paul Showalter said, in a statement: "Technology that allows us to offer fill-and-print tax forms on and our Tax Products CD-ROM will eliminate data entry on the back-end and result in a faster, more effective paper-based process."

"What I like about this solution is that we get 100 percent accuracy," Showalter told eWEEK. "It either works or it doesnt." Additionally, said Showalter, even if a piece of the bar code is torn off or punctured with a pen, the data is not lost because it is stored in more than one place on the bar code.

Adding the bar-code fields into PDF forms requires a plug-in with Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional or the forthcoming version of Adobe Designer. Filling out the forms only requires the free Acrobat Reader with a plug-in. The plug-ins and decoding server, along with pricing, will be available in the second half of 2004. Pilot testing begins this month.