Many years ago, when Adobe's .pdf was the hottest Web form technology going, I spent many hours researching a way to allow people to fill out government forms and sign them online for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
I never did figure it out, of course, because, as it turns out, it couldn't be done. And one person couldn't even get close. This was in the days before IT believed in alignment, mind you.
And even before that, my husband and I spent tons of valuable newlywed time filling out forms for the United States Navy. Anything you want to do in the military, whether it's visit your husband on base or go to the commissary, you can bet there's going to be a form that needs filling out first.
So, you can imagine how elated I am to read this Washington Technology article explaining how IBM's Lotus Forms Version 3.0 uses Web 2.0 technology, making it easier to automate forms and share information with other agencies.
For a long time, Adobe and Microsoft have been the leaders in creating online forms, but IBM is making a strong entry into the field with this latest release of Lotus Forms, according to eWEEK.
After reading the Washington Technology piece, I can see why.
If you're involved with government work, this is definitely something you'll want to investigate. IBM also believes the solution will appeal to other industries that rely on form tracking and approval, such as health care, insurance, financial and banking and consumer products/manufacturing.
Washington Technology explains how the FAA is using Lotus Forms Version 3.0, which uses open standards, to build Web forms and integrate information from the forms with back-end systems, compliance tools and other software. This means the data can be shared with other agencies, reducing the number of forms people have to fill out. For the military, it also offers a way to digitally sign various form sections over the Web.
The U.S. Army is moving to Lotus Forms and expects to save $1.3 billion after adding IBM's solution, plus Silanis' e-signature technology, according to eWEEK.
In the past, digital signatures and government forms required users to download a program and do all the processing on their PC.
None of this would be possible without XML, which is what Lotus Forms uses to integrate the data with back-end systems. According to Reseller News, here's how it works:
Forms 3.0 is made up of three components, the Forms 3.0 Server, the Lotus Forms Viewer 3.0 for off line use, and Lotus Forms Designer 3.0 for building forms that can be published to a Web site. The server itself includes all the logic previously housed in the client and an XML translation engine that takes in HTML and produces an XML representation for use on the back-end. The same process happens in reverse on the way back to the client. The other component is an API for building integration with back-end systems and existing work flow engines.
The Washington Technology article focuses specifically on IBM's Lotus Forms Version 3.0, but according to Reseller News, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all plan to offer online collaboration. Frankly, I've used Google's Documents. To me, it's just a step above downloading an e-mail attachment and reloading it after you've made changes. In other words, it has a long way to go before it comes close to offering the capabilities mentioned in the Washington Technology article.