The lowdown on e-forms

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What are they? E-forms are electronic replacements for paper forms, which can be printed or used for complete electronic transactions.

Why do I need them? Four words: Government Paperwork Elimination Act. Also, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. And, as a side benefit, e-forms can make document-based workflows more efficient.

What kind do I need? It depends. If you're just delivering simple forms to a small number of users, or widely distributing forms to be printed, then desktop fill-and-print applications such as Adobe Acrobat or OmniForm are perfect. If you really want to automate your workflow and provide secure online submission of forms, then you'll need an enterprise tool such as Accelio, PureEdge ICS or OmniForm Premium.

How much do they cost? Workgroup applications such as Acrobat can cost less than $100. The cost of enterprise-level software that can handle workflow for documents and capture the data within them in a database or in Extensible Markup Language can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What should I look for? When shopping, consider a unit's digital signatures, data capture options such as XML or open database connectivity support, Web browser support with a small plug-in or in straight HTML, and ways to bring in or scan your old JetForm or Adobe Portable Document Format documents.

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