Vendors team to translate forms to data

Cardiff Software Inc. and Cross Pen Computing Group have teamed to offer a new solution for capturing data from paper forms using a pen computing tablet and data capture software.

The Teleform Digital Ink Module lets users fill out paper forms on Cross' CrossPad tablet and digitizes what they write. As the data is recorded, it is mapped to an electronic version of the form, which can be uploaded into a computer to be validated using Cardiff's Teleform data capture software.

"Anywhere there's remote inspection, we think this will be a perfect tool," said Robert Weideman, vice president of marketing with Cardiff, whose federal government customers include the Food and Drug Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

Brian Mullins, director of marketing with Cross, expects the package to boost institutional sales of the CrossPad. "Most of our sales have been individual purchases,'' he said, by customers who use the device to record notes.

Cardiff announced the product this month in Atlanta at the Association for Information and Image Management trade show. It is expected to ship this summer.

According to David Wood, a Boulder Creek, Calif., industry analyst, the Teleform Digital Ink Module offers "a nice transition option'' for organizations that want to shift from paper to electronic forms.

He said a "significant category'' of forms applications remains paper-based because the forms require a handwritten signature.

The FDA is likely to evaluate the Teleform Digital Ink Module as a means to speed collection and improve the accuracy of the food safety data it collects on seafood products. Syscom Services Inc., Silver Spring, Md., hopes to offer the solution for the FDA to test this summer.

Currently, FDA and state food inspectors fax completed forms to the agency from 140 sites around the country, said Dave Dressel, a consumer safety officer with the FDA. Last year, officials inspected 5,000 types of seafood products, such as fish cakes and breaded shrimp, manufactured in the United States.

The faxes are received by a computer, which uses Cardiff's Teleform to read them, verify the data and deliver the information to a database. As with other data capture systems, errors that the software identifies have to be corrected by a person reading the computer image of the original form.

Dressel said his agency has not looked at the product, and an Internet-based solution also is being considered. Whatever solution the FDA chooses would have to "cut down the time on the front end of printing and distributing of forms, improve the accuracy of what is sent in and, of course, be cost-effective,'' Dressel said.

"Something that a lot of people don't realize [about] fax-based solutions [is that] there is no product in that market with anywhere near 100 percent accuracy,'' Wood said.

Lanny Sparks, a forms specialist technician with Syscom, said he wants to test the Cardiff/Cross solution before making a recommendation, but he thinks deploying it could be easier and less expensive than providing laptops and training inspectors to use them.

The tablet system retails commercially for about $400, with server software priced at $2,495.

"There are applications where you have to have paper," he said. "The CrossPad could be the answer to data acquisition in this area, [although] I think I'd like to see Teleform working as a purely electronic device at some point in the future."

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