Army plans to automate some forms by fall

By fall, the Army will automate its first forms applications to run over a single, integrated system.

Currently, the Army converts many paper-based forms into digital files that are Web-accessible. But users still have to print a copy of the form and manually sign and deliver it to other officials to complete the process.

Another challenge is the forms are housed on disparate, incompatible systems.

The first five forms to become automated as part of the Army’s Forms Content Management Program are the Military Evaluation Forms, used by general officers in active-duty, Reserve and National Guard units for job performance evaluations. The centralized system, managed by Enterprise Information Management Inc. of Arlington, Va., uses Extensible Markup Language tags to provide a common method for identifying, managing and storing data.

“We have an environment where we have completely redundant efforts,” said Bruce Lyman, EIM’s system integrator who is working on the Army project. “We’re solving that by standardizing usable objects.”

Digital signatures

The forms, which use XML e-forms software from PureEdge Solutions Inc. of Victoria, British Columbia, let officials digitally sign them. The system also uses content-management software from IBM Corp. and digital signature technology from Silanis Technology Inc. of St. Laurent, Quebec.

Using electronic forms can increase the safety of troops deployed in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, soldiers must drive paper evaluation forms, sometimes miles in hazardous conditions, to get a signature from their boss.

“When we implement this, we don’t want to make a bang. We don’t want them to know they are doing anything different with their evaluations,” said Jan Swicord, chief evaluation systems officer for the Army Human Resources Command.

Swicord and Lyman spoke recently in Washington at a panel discussion sponsored by PureEdge.

Ultimately, all of the Army’s 100,000 forms, ranging from personnel evaluations and text manuals to supply requisitions and medical records, will be automated using XML tags as part of the Forms Content Management Program. This will not only give the service a single format to manage the e-forms, Swicord said, but it will also allow users to digitally track the status of forms.

The forms will be accessible through the Army Knowledge Online portal.

Two years ago, the Air Force’s De-partmental Publishing Office faced a similar quandary with its move to automate more than 18,000 types of forms for administrative, finance, logistics, medical, personnel and travel transactions.

The service decided to make the move to electronic transactions for increased efficiency and to comply with the re-quirements of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

“This is an investment towards in- creasing interoperability, but most im- portantly, it is an investment to increase the level of support we provide to Air Force personnel worldwide,” said Carolyn Watkins Taylor, director of the publishing office.

Air Force officials are expected to save $75 million annually by moving to an enterprise system.

Swicord said the average Army user will save at least three hours of the 10 hours it currently takes to start and complete the Military Evaluation Forms in paper format.

“We’re going to eliminate three hours off the bat and that’s pretty conservative,” Swicord said.

The next series of forms the Army could possible automate are the Casualty Forms filled out when troops are wounded or killed in action, she added.

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