Air Force rolling out XML-based e-forms

Air Force Publishing

Filling out and sending a form will become much easier for Air Force personnel once the service implements an Extensible Markup Language-based electronic form package from PureEdge Solutions Inc.

The Air Force has selected PureEdge's e-forms creation and management system to replace the FormFlow form filler software and is currently converting 18,000 e-forms that are used by more than 700,000 service members worldwide, said Carolyn Watkins-Taylor, director of the Air Force Departmental Publishing Office (AFDPO).

With the new package, Air Force employees will no longer have to save multiple files to fill out just one electronic form, and they will not be forced to print the form and sign it by hand.

Watkins-Taylor said there are three main advantages to the PureEdge solution:

* The ability to use digital signatures.

* Encapsulation of the form and all related data, including attachments, in one document.

* Using the XML standard, which enables agencies to "tag" data to more easily exchange information among systems and positions the Air Force for easier integration with back-end processes.

"They really like the ad hoc routing," which enables users to e-mail forms back and forth "and sign everything on the form in one place," Watkins-Taylor said. "The problem before was that users would save a [partially completed form] and then not be able to find it. Now it looks like a Microsoft [Corp.] Word document, they name and save it" and can also spell-check the form.

"The biggest push has been for the digital signatures," she said. "The Air Force has not given our program certification yet," but should by March 2003.

Personnel are also working to integrate the XML-based e-forms directly into the Air Force's back-end systems and processes supplied by other vendors including IBM Corp., Hummingbird Ltd. and BroadVision Inc., said Brian Nutt, chief operating officer of the Victoria, British Columbia-based PureEdge. "We will continue to concentrate on the seamless integration with other back-end systems."

The first time a person fills out one of the new forms, it should automatically be integrated into the related back-end systems, Watkins-Taylor said. "We're re-engineering processes from the very beginning," which will eventually include the "self-population of data."

The AFDPO is currently working with the Air Force Officer Evaluation System/ Enlisted Evaluation System to connect the annual officer ratings form directly to the back-end personnel systems. The supervisor will receive the ratings forms with officers' basic data already filled in, and the "supervisor can simply rate you, list the awards and put in the narrative," instead of having to include all of the tedious details, Watkins-Taylor said. The goal is to have those systems linked by January 2003, she said.

There are about 95 PureEdge forms already available on the AFDPO Web site, and the service is now focused on the mass conversion of about 3,000 forms in the AFDPO inventory, which should be completed by mid-March, with all 18,000 Air Force forms converted by next November, Watkins-Taylor said.

Training is another key focus area, and AFDPO has developed a computer-based training course to familiarize Air Force personnel with the new e-forms software, which can be found online.

Technology integrator Enterprise Information Management, based in Rosslyn, Va., is managing the project and, along with PureEdge and other contractors, is helping supply the Air Force with customized training tools, Nutt said.

***

Same feel, only smaller

After months of testing, the Air Force awarded PureEdge Solutions Inc. a $7.5 million contract in September to convert the service's 18,000 electronic forms using the company's Extensible Markup Language-based solution, said Carolyn Watkins-Taylor, director of the Air Force Departmental Publishing Office.

PureEdge's e-forms creation and management system not only includes digital signatures and enables integration with back-end systems, but is also up to 25 times smaller than the FormFlow form filler software it is replacing, she said.

The PureEdge solution requires about 6M of hard drive space and can be installed as a stand-alone program or as a plug-in to a Web browser. The new tool has also been made to "look and feel as familiar as possible," down to the check boxes, said Brian Nutt, chief operating officer of PureEdge, based in Victoria, British Columbia.

"The goal has been to minimize potential disruption in the field," Nutt said, adding that PureEdge has already added numerous Air Force-specific requirements to the e-forms software and plans to solicit more in the future. "They are going to push our technology in ways it never has before."

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