|Interactive Technology Replacing FormFlow|
Interactive Technology Replacing FormFlow
By Master Sgt. Ron Tull, Air Force Print News.
Washington D.C. -- (AFPN) March 12, 2002 -- The program Air Force people use to fill out electronic forms on computers has been around since the early 1990s, but it will soon be a thing of the past.
The modernization effort combines an automated information system with extensible markup language, or XML, a standard electronic language. The conversion is scheduled to begin in July with the 100 most commonly used forms. By year’s end, about 14,000 forms used by Air Force people in nearly a dozen functional areas will be converted.
"FormFlow was state-of-the-art technology when it was implemented, but the old system was proprietary; you couldn’t add to it or customize it," said Carolyn Watkins-Taylor, director of the Air Force Departmental Publishing Office at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C.
"When we looked at FormFlow technology, we realized it was obsolete," Watkins-Taylor said. "We always knew that we were heading toward something more database-interactive and something more Web-based."
The new format will allow the forms to be smart and interactive.
"A form is there to give you information or to get information," Watkins-Taylor said. "We’re going to expand the options for getting and giving information and make them more Web-based to have direct interaction with the application."
The interaction means the user will not be filling in personal information over and over again. Within the automated information system, or AIS, the boxes on the form will be "self-populating," meaning they will link to the functional area responsible for them. In many cases, what the customer sees on the screen will not look like a form, but instead will be a series of prompts.
The XML language has a small footprint and can be used with several types of media such as pagers and personal data assistants. Forms can be filled out on these and uploaded to the Internet at a later time. This makes the technology portable for the office, flightline or battlefield.
In order to accommodate the needs of the warfighter, as well as the office worker, AFDPO used four scenarios to base the new process on:
- Interacting with AIS in real time with full Internet and database capabilities;
- Filling and printing from a stand-alone delivery channel, such as a personal data assistant, and interacting with AIS at a later time;
- Filling and printing with "ad hoc routing," using e-mail or other methods at a later time; and
- Original filling and printing paper form with traditional routing or processing.
Building a form such as a staff summary sheet or performance report will be easier because the formatting will be built in. The user will simply respond to prompts. The system will automatically forward the application to other users for their review and digital signatures. Public key interface technology will assure security by encrypting the signatures.
"The system will be intuitive to users across all functional areas because each area will supply its own needs and rules," Watkins-Taylor said.
The transformation means new training for the people tasked with developing new forms.
"They’ll need to be able to talk common data elements, know that an AIS is an automated information system, and what a screen shot is," she said.
Officials expect it will take nearly five years to realize the full potential of the conversion.