Teleform 8.0 simplifies your paper problem
Product review: New features, better integration help users convert data into digital forms
If your department or agency is like most, chances are you've at least thought about how to best address the reams of paper-based documents and forms you have. Although agencies might have had the option of waiting for new technologies to come along, the Government Paperwork Elimination Act's deadline to allow people to submit information electronically by October 2003 looms.
Fortunately however, Cardiff Software Inc.'s new Teleform 8.0 makes the prospect of this chore less daunting. The software's latest release offers several important enhancements, including a more efficient interface for scanning, support for Adobe Systems Inc. Acrobat 5.0, an enhanced shape library and improved character recognition.
Support for Acrobat 5.0 should be good news to government users. Adobe's PDF files have long been the document format of choice for many federal agencies, and the latest version includes tighter Web integration and links with back-end databases.
Other new features include increased security and centralized system access, which organizations can use to create and organize a hierarchy of folders on a central server to easily manage form templates for individual departments or groups. With full integration of Pervasive Software Inc.'s .SQL 2000i database, storing the information collected via forms has never been easier.
Similar to other solutions, such as those from Adobe, Captiva Software Corp. and Kofax Image Products, Teleform automates the process of collecting, evaluating, validating and storing data via forms using scanners, fax servers and the Internet. Additionally, when data-collection forms are created and distributed, the returned data is evaluated, cleaned and then stored in the database so it can be used by other applications.
Teleform uses six modules to design, distribute and process forms: a Designer, a Print Manager, a Scan Station, a Reader, a Verifier and a Publisher.
As you might imagine, the Designer is where the bulk of the work is done. Its interface is intuitive and enables users to build simple forms with only a few mouse clicks. Likewise, the Print Manager's interface enables users to easily handle large print or fax jobs, while using a phone book-type recipient list, so forms can be sent to the right audience without hassle.
The real workhorse, however, is the Scan Station component, which turns completed forms into batches that are then processed by the Reader and Verifier.
Using a technology dubbed RecoFlex, the Reader component can evaluate forms and interpret handwriting, machine print, bar codes and data entry fields in more than 235 languages. Even better, because of the Reader, unattended collected forms can be processed day and night. And, as you might have surmised from the name, the Verifier component allows users to check or correct information. Last, the Publisher enables users to distribute documents via fax or e-mail.
Although the system can run as a stand-alone application, those with higher volume needs can take advantage of certain versions of Teleform that also work as a client/server application. Although this application is admittedly more difficult to install than a stand-alone solution, Cardiff has taken every step to ensure a painless process with well-documented steps in the manual and the help of numerous wizards.
Because the testing was performed on a machine running Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000, I had to create a user profile with domain administration authority before installing Teleform. Then I simply set up a few extra users who would authenticate against the server when using Teleform and defined a Windows share for the templates.
With that completed, the only other task was installing the included Pervasive .SQL 2000i database. By using a simple-to-follow InstallShield Software Corp. program, all I had to do was answer a few questions and then load the user licenses.
Testing the solution was a breeze. Firing up the Design component and selecting the new form wizard, I was given the choice to either create a form or work with an existing one. By selecting the first option, I chose a default page size and font. Then, I added a generic graphic to enrich the document and began adding elements such as check boxes, as well as entry- and associated-text fields. All that was left to do was save and publish the form.
Because I also wanted to test the scanning portion of the solution, I added some handwritten text to my form and started the Scan Station. With my form now in electronic format, I was pleased to find it automatically queued for identification by the Reader. Launching the Verifier enabled me to quickly fix things that did not translate properly, most likely because of my poor handwriting.
What makes the Cardiff solution especially useful is its integration with Cardiff's LiquidOffice suite. It then becomes a fully automated form-processing and workflow system.
Cardiff also touts the ability for offices running Citrix Systems Inc.'s MetaFrame to add remote verification and form design, thus creating a completely distributed environment. Because the solution is built using industry standards, not only does it work well with its own namesake tools, it also integrates easily into just about any environment using Extensible Markup Language, HTML, PDF and Open DataBase Connectivity.
Should you find the enterprise version of Teleform, which we tested, a bit too much for your department, Cardiff also offers a version aptly named Elite. Those who want a bit more education and training in the program will be happy to know that classes are available, ranging from forms design to creating scripts.
In all, I found Teleform Enterprise 8.0 a nice tool to work with, and I highly recommend it as deserving a closer look. The only negative reaction I had to the product — aside from it being more difficult to install than a desktop solution — was the requirement that a hardware key, or dongle, be attached to my parallel port, adding one more step to the process.
Fielden is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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