Peripherals: HP system writes a new chapter in forms automation

HP Forms Automation System

Company: Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., www.hp.com.

Nutshell: Uses a digital pen and customized forms to capture handwritten information that can be uploaded to a host computer.

Price: $250 for each HP Digital Pen 200; typical cost for technology implementation is $245 per seat for 1,000 seats or pens.

Why it won: Represents a further step in forms automation, using a lightweight digital pen that works like a pen on paper but records the information digitally.

Each HP Digital Pen 200 contains a small camera that recognizes the dot pattern of a form, records all of its movements and links the movements with the lines of a form.

Henrik G. de Gyor

How many government forms can fit on the tip of a pen?

Quite a few, if it's a digital pen that can read the forms and record the pen's movements.

Hewlett-Packard Co. takes this approach with its HP Forms Automation System. Instead of having field workers collect information on personal digital assistants or on notebook or tablet PCs, why not just have them write the information on paper and let the pen collect the data in the digital form?

For about 90 cents per form, plus the cost of the equipment itself, agencies can avoid retyping data collected on paper forms or deploying expensive notebook computers to capture data electronically.

'It is a nice way of melding the digital world with the world of paper,' said Carolyn Casey, marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard.

Microprocessor pens that digitally capture their own movements have been available for several years, offered by companies such as Logitech Inc. of Fremont, Calif. The HP system is different in that the pens synchronize the fields of a specialized form with the data that is captured, Casey said.

This is how the system works: The forms, which must be printed on selected HP Laserjet and color inkjet printers, have special dot patterns that can be recognized by the pen. The pen acts like a normal pen when used on regular paper. Each pen contains a small camera, and when it recognizes the dot pattern of a form, it records all of its movements, linking those movements with particular lines of a form.

Once the pen is docked on a USB-based port, it uploads the data to a host computer. The information is encrypted before it is transferred. Each pen can hold the templates of up to 100 forms and has a display showing the battery life and remaining memory.

The pen has sufficient memory to hold a day's worth of completed forms, Casey said. Agencies use the system with transaction packs, software that allows 50,000 instances of a form to be captured. The instances of a form being entered into the system are tracked by a service controller placed on an organization's intranet.

The company estimates that the system can save money in several ways. Each HP Digital Pen 200 costs $250'far less than a $500 personal digital assistant or a $1,500 notebook PC. If paper forms are still used, the savings will be in eliminating the cost of manually re-entering data from a paper form into a database, which Casey estimates can cost an agency a dollar or more per form.

An enterprise deployment could cost about $100,000, Casey said.

HP introduced the Forms Automation System last October, and according to Casey several agencies are taking a close look at the technology.

With federal, state and local governments processing almost 14 billion forms a year by HP's estimate, Casey said she is confident that the system will be of interest.

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