[Russ Photo (16Kb)]
This is the On-line companion to my monthly column in
Enterprise Reengineering
The National Publication for BPR

Using Web Forms to Avoid Paper
(From the April 1996 issue)

As information flows from one destination to another, it often rides on an "information roller coaster" - paper to electronic format, and back to paper again.

Is your information on this ride?

[flow chart (10Kb)]

I would like to challenge organizations to consider how or why they even come into possession of paper-based information. Within an organization you hopefully have the means to control your processes so that internal departments can move information electronically between them. This is a good start for reducing the need for document imaging, but it still leaves you with the problem of handling incoming information.

Of course, there's no way to control the information coming into the organization from the outside world. Or is there?

Depending on your incoming information, there is a reasonable chance that it already exists in an electronic format. The challenge here is to create an electronic conduit for transferring the information from your information source (vs. printing/mailing/faxing). Naturally, the Internet stands ready to be this conduit between organizations. (For well-defined information exchanges, the conduit can be formally defined through electronic data interchange, but that is a subject for a future column )

Some organizations are offering online mechanisms for entering information through Web forms. These Web forms can feed the input data directly to your target databases and avoid the paper version altogether. What if the information must ultimately reside on an "official form" that is normally filled-in by hand? The Web can still help. I encourage you to examine the "shopping" mechanism at the company GTSI. The GTSI site lets you develop an order, but it goes one step further by generating an official procurement form (in Postscript) with all the fields neatly filled in. This electronically generated form will scan-in much easier than its hand-written counterpart.

There are many instances where the information does not fit into standardized forms - or entering information into a Web form would represent an undue burden to the information provider. In these situations, you can still use the Internet for the electronic transfer via file transfer protocol (FTP) or E-mail attachments.

Take for example a human resources department receiving resumes (via fax) and scanning them into a searchable database. Very few job seekers would retype their resume into an Web-based application form, so that would not be a good approach. However, most people do have a soft copy of their resume. Many classified ads now include a fax number and an E-mail address. Resumes sent via E-mail can then be directly imported into the database if that system allows. If your systems does not accept electronic copy (i.e. its only input mechanism is through scanning) you can still print the resumes received via E-mail. A crisp printed copy will always scan-in much better than a faxed version.)

If document imaging is still required for your information flows, the Internet contains a wealth of information to help you in selecting a vendor and implementing this technology. Web sites to visit include:

  • The DIMUND Repository for Document Image Understanding and OCR information and resources. This site contains research announcements, bibliographies, mailing lists, source code, technical reports, database information, and Internet resources for document understanding and character recognition.
  • MITEK has an extensive list of OCR-related companies as does this branch of Yahoo.
  • The Information Science Research Institute fosters the improvement of automated technologies for document understanding and has focused its attention on technologies for recognition and retrieval of information from machine-printed documents.
  • COMPINFO has a good section on document management and document imaging.
  • As usual, I especially encourage you to tap into the most valuable resource on the Internet - your peers. Be sure to frequent these newsgroups: comp.ai.doc-analysis.ocr and comp.ai.doc-analysis.misc

    Don't forget to sign-up for The Documents Mailing List which will send you a weekly digest of submissions. This mailing list was established to foster communication among researchers in the document community and is available as part of the DIMUND site .

    Russ Haynal

    Please be sure to visit my Archive of BPR articles.

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