Air Force tests XML-based e-forms

The Air Force has selected software from PureEdge Solutions Inc. to pilot the development of electronic forms based on Extensible Markup Language in the first phase of a four-year, multimillion-dollar contract.

The Air Force has about 14,000 e-forms that are used by more than 700,000 members worldwide, and the PureEdge technology will help transform those static electronic documents into an interactive e-business model based on XML, said Brian Nutt, chief operating officer of the Canada-based company.

XML enables agencies to "tag" data and documents so it is easier to exchange information among systems. The Air Force is testing PureEdge's secure Internet Commerce System software, which creates, deploys and manages secure XML forms for online transactions.

Air Force laboratory tests have been completed at PureEdge headquarters, and final operational tests are under way at Air Force bases around the world, including seven in the continental United States and others in South Korea, Turkey and Germany.

When the software passes the operational tests at those 10 bases, the Air Force and PureEdge will implement XML solutions for the millions of e-form transactions made each year, Nutt said.

"The goal is to be more responsive to the warfighter," he said. "Our technology allows the Air Force to exchange data using open-system standards and not just replace current forms but process re-evaluation to make the data more accessible and more relevant."

Air Force officials won't comment on the project until a formal contract award is made, a service spokesman said.

Technology integrator Enterprise Information Management is managing the overall project, said David Sprenkle, president of the Rosslyn, Va.-based firm. He said company officials are excited about the "opportunity to replace proprietary systems with XML standards-based products," which will save the Air Force time and money.

The test phase should be completed shortly and will be followed by a formal contract award in July that could be worth "well into seven or eight figures," Nutt said.

The Air Force and PureEdge worked through some minor glitches as part of the testing, but overall, the program has gone "smooth as glass," he said.

Michael Daconta, director of Web and technology solutions at McDonald Bradley Inc. and co-author of "XML Development with Java 2," said the key to the Air Force's success with the PureEdge solution is how well the product compares to the e-forms market's biggest player: Adobe Systems Inc.

"Anything that doesn't at a minimum compare and contrast with what Adobe is doing with PDF" would be a major risk because Adobe products are "very high quality," Daconta said, adding that the current version of PDF enables users to import and export XML data.

PureEdge went through an exhaustive Air Force evaluation that involved several other companies, including Adobe and Accelio Corp. (which was recently acquired by Adobe), but PureEdge's solution performed well because the company has used XML for the past seven years, whereas other firms have only recently embraced the technology, Nutt said.

"The key to our technology is interoperability," Nutt said. "The Air Force is using it as a springboard to revamp business processes by using the forms at the front end and then sharing data across Air Force commands and potentially other [Defense Department] commands, and you do that with XML."

PureEdge's other federal customers include the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC uses the solution for EDGAR, the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system, a database of corporate filings that receives about 1 million hits daily.

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Giving shape to e-forms

PureEdge Solutions Inc.'s Internet Commerce System suite of applications includes the following components:

ICS Viewer — For capturing, signing and submitting e-forms based on Extensible Markup Language.

ICS Designer — For building XML e-forms.

ICS API — For integrating XML e-forms with existing systems.

ICS Deployment Server — For distributing and updating software from a central location.

ICS Certificate Validation Module — For integrating applications based on the General Services Administration's Access Certificates for Electronic Services with the Certificate Arbitrator Module, a component provided by the government.

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