Regs drive paperless publishing technologies

The increasing pressure on federal agencies to convey more information with less paper is strengthening the market for Web-based publishing technologies and paperless document creation systems.

In recent weeks, two big names have announced new steps forward, both in their technologies and in their approach to the federal market.

Macromedia Inc., provider of several popular Web publishing technologies, has formed a new group to focus on government sales and is creating several bundles of software titles to address agencies' needs. The company has also created a government sales group, consisting of 14 people split between Washington, D.C., and the West Coast.

Adobe Systems Inc., meanwhile, is expanding its effort to move its intelligent document platform into the government market. Using upgrades of the traditional Acrobat and Acrobat Reader programs, Adobe's newest products integrate Extensible Markup Language into the documents, allowing easier back-end processing and making PDF documents more useful to users.

"The real currency of the government is the document," said Michael Singer, senior director of worldwide government and ePaper solutions at Adobe.

The e-government initiatives especially feed the government's desire to make commonly used forms available online. With Adobe's intelligent documents, users can fill out forms online from home by using the free Adobe Reader software, he said.

Government is the company's most important market, said Marc Eaman, a solutions evangelist with Adobe.

"We are building a very strong relationship with the intelligence community," he said. "We're the best-kept secret around. When we show people things, light bulbs go on."

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998 is also sparking interest, especially as compliance deadlines loom, Eaman added.

"Everyone to some extent has begun to go down the path," he said. "They have found real value in doing so. It's not just this [mandatory] item."

Christopher Baum, vice president and research area director at Gartner Inc., said Adobe's intelligent document approach is evolutionary and still has some growth ahead but is a good effort so far. No document is secure in an insecure environment, he added.

"I think it is important to realize that the document itself is an environment," he said. "That environment needs security attention and authentication attention. The document will be moving in and out of your environment. You need a smart document that knows where it is and what is appropriate to do to it."

The Macromedia offerings fill a different but related need. They allow agencies to build and update Web pages easily, reducing training time and allowing more employees to take part.

"We've been working with the government agencies for the past several years and watching how they use our products," said Juliana Slye, government industry manager at Macromedia.

The prepackaged bundles are intended to address issues that agencies commonly face in developing Web sites and online applications, said spokesman Paul Madar. "The technology has been proven, it's been out there for a while," he said. "What's new is being able to package it this way."

The Web sites of the National Park Service's Intermountain Region represented one government effort on which Macromedia focused. Chris Marvel, lead planner and Webmaster for the region, is responsible for an intranet serving 5,000 employees and three portals for the public. He built the sites using Macromedia Cold Fusion and uses other Macromedia products to manage them.

"It's a tremendously important piece of an organization," Marvel said of the Web effort. "Any organization that doesn't have a fully functional Web-based solutions group doesn't get it. You have to have that skill and knowledge within the organization. You can outsource [some of the detail work], but you have to have that knowledge inside the organization to know what you need."

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Web publishing

Macromedia Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. are among the companies trying to make e-government initiatives more productive.

Agencies can use their products to:

* Create intelligent documents that users can interact with but that can keep data secure.

* Easily update government Web sites.

* Develop Web applications.

* Ensure that their sites comply with regulations, such as rules requiring access for the visually impaired.

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