How Microsoft ClickOnce Platform Benefits ECM Deployments for Capture, Document Management & eForms

ClickOnce is a deployment technology that enables you to create self-updating Windows-based applications that can be installed and run with minimal user interaction. ClickOnce deployment provides 3 major benefits for any .NET application:

  • Updates are provided automatically, downloading only those parts of the application that have changed.
  • Each application is self-contained and cannot interfere with other applications.
  • Deployment enables non-administrative users to install, granting only those security permissions necessary for the application.

As manufacturers of an ECM platform built on the .NET Framework, we are able to take advantage of ClickOnce to provide simple deployment of the complex and powerful applications we create. Personally, I’ve found that ClickOnce strikes an excellent balance between the two things most often encountered in enterprise environments: requirements for rich client applications that can be frequently and rapidly updated, and the simple access and deployment thin client web applications are known for.

When software needs to be deployed to many users across an entire enterprise organization, like is often the case with our content management product, ILINX Content Store, ClickOnce successfully gets the software where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. This also holds true for our capture and workflow product, ILINX Capture, which requires complex interaction with both other software suites and several classes of image capture hardware.

But what if your platform has limitations that prevents you from taking this route, forcing you to package the software into a .MSI file instead? This is adequate for some situations, but quickly becomes a pain to deploy proportional to the number of machines it needs to be installed on.

Facing this challenge with our electronic forms product, ILINX eForms, we have found a workaround that allows us to avoid the headache of one-at-a-time deployment .MSI files create. In short, the same API used to build the standard ILINX eForms client is available for use in building custom .NET applications, which allows you the freedom and flexibility to integrate ILINX eForms into your own .NET software. When combining this benefit with even basic ClickOnce configuration, you end up with a strong, rich-client application that can be seamlessly deployed and updated across your organization as needed in a matter of seconds.

But what about building out the custom app itself? The highlights of that process will be covered in a future entry, but if you’re ready to go right now, just open up the Help file in your copy of the ILINX eForms Designer and take a look at the Standalone Application contents section for some guidelines to help get you started.

Jesse Kinney
Solutions Developer
ImageSource, Inc.

Expanded Logging for LiquidOffice eForms

If you have ever been tasked with administrating or monitoring eForms and processes published by Autonomy Process Administration (formerly known as LiquidOffice), the default events leave a bit to be desired.

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One Way ILINX® Manages Compound Documents

As part of the ECM industry, it is important to understand what compound documents are and how they affect you.  Compound documents have been an issue in ECM software from the beginning of time. According to wiseGEEK, Compound documents are document files that contain several different types of data as well as text. A compound document may include graphics, spreadsheets, images, or any other non-text data. The additional data may be embedded into the document or be linked data that is resident within the application. You may be asking what that means for you? We all know that basic ECM is scan/store/retrieve, but what happens when you add electronic documents in PDF or MS Word?

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When handwriting is your only option…. Peter Lang

When researching Enterprise Content Management capture projects, the question of handwriting recognition comes up again and again — and many people aren’t sure what to expect.  More commonly, their expectations are unrealistic. They think there is no hope at all, ever. On the other end of the spectrum, some think that tiny fevered cursive scribblings from a rushed meeting can be scanned (or even faxed) and read with accuracy. In helping people think about their forms and the viability of capturing handwriting, I have a few simple guidelines to consider which seem to apply in a majority of cases.

  • Are handwritten forms really the only option?  If the form is available online, can the data be made “fillable” and then submitted directly to your database tables?  Can you let the user fill the form online and print, thus producing machine print and eliminating handwriting?  How about taking the data that a user entered and bar coding it (if the form must be printed rather than be submitted)?  Also helpful and sometimes overlooked:  prefilling form  data from your database through a merge process with a bar code index for retrieval of that same data.
  • Does your Capture software support ICR?  Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) is what you need to read handwriting.  Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is much more common and is designed to read machine print.  Please don’t try to make it read handwriting – you won’t like the results!
  • Make sure the handwriting is constrained. Annoying? Perhaps. But making the person filling the form write in boxes sets you up for the most successful ICR results.  The catch phrase here could be “Curse the cursive”.  When a character is joined to another character it is faster to write.  However,  the ICR software really struggles to figure out where one character starts and another stops.  And here’s where recognition tanks.   With the real world example below, we can generally expect 100% recognition.

  • Ask for all caps handwriting. You can often tell your ICR engine to look for upper case characters only. This really

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College Transcript Processing

College Transcript Processing refers to converting a paper based transcript into an electronic transcript via software that OCR’s the scanned paper version, locates specific data within the transcript and saves that data for later use.  The reason for processing a transcript via software is to improve the rate of data transfer to another system for storage and retrieval versus manual data entry by a data entry specialist.  This is a somewhat difficult task due to the following reasons:

  1. Each and every College presents similar data in a very different format.
  2. Almost all colleges attempt to prevent the copying of the paper transcript through various copy protection methods.  Most of these methods render the data on the transcript almost un-readable.

The data that is similar on a transcript falls into several main areas:

  1.  College Identifying Information
  2. Student Identifying Information
  3. Session/Course Information
  4. Previous Colleges Attended Information
  5. Degrees Awarded Information

The data is similar but not the same on each college transcript.  In addition, the layout of a transcript varies greatly between the various colleges.  Session/Course data could take up the entire width of the paper for one college, but be formatted as multiple columns of data for another college.  There are many, many variations that need to be taken into consideration when attempting to OCR to find and extract the data.

So far the Abbyy FlexiCapture 9.x software has been able to handle most of these issues out of the box.  One of its most powerful features I am finding out is the scripting language to write rule, custom scripts and export scripts that can correct OCR issues and assist the Verification Operator improving efficiency and throughput.

The scripts for rules, custom scripts or export can be written in VBasic or Jscript.  There is some documentation on the Abbyy classes and objects, but not a whole lot.  Most of what I have done has been through trial and error or in specific cases from examples provided by Tech Support.  However, what scripts that have been developed work well for correcting OCR issues and providing automated checks of extracted field data.  Through Custom scripts there is even the option to use a Database lookup on extracted data and return other fields from the database to assist in providing a complete set of validated information.

This has been a learning experience but it is proving to be well worth the effort in getting the data off the paper and into the system used to evaluate a student for enrollment by cutting down on the man hours required under the old manual data entry.

eForms 101 part 2

A short while ago I wrote a blog entitled eForms 101…and I’d like to continue on the theme. I mentioned some of the main advantages of eForms – that they save money, are green, fast, accurate, malleable – and thus they improve customer service.

One of the real values of eForm use is that it can be coupled with a workflow. When a paper form arrives there is lots of processing time. Routing the form electronically takes a fraction of the time it takes to physically route paper. And tracking the progress of a routed paper form is slow and can be frustrating. Think of the last time you had to call a long chain of people looking for a piece of paper any of them may or may not have — woof. Again, an eForm that has been routed electronically using a workflow is easy to check up on. No calls. Just view the progress map and you can see who’s got the ball. And parallel workflow routing offers a way to speed up routing exponentially over physical counterpart processes. If an item is stuck in a queue or inbox too long, it can trigger alerts or can be automatically routed for processing. If I am the customer who submitted information to a company, that’s how I want my info taken care of!

In terms of return on investment (ROI), labor costs are obviously reduced because it is now quicker to locate a form, get it approved, share it widely or launch it through a specialized review path, etc. But beyond this is the less tangible benefit of making employees more productive overall. And the fact that ALL the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed with alacrity and quality control contributes greatly to improved decision making.

Now some thoughts on how to get going quickly. If this is an initial foray into eForms and workflows, I suggest the paper process to be replaced is simple and well understood. Paper forms can be reproduced electronically verbatim, so filling the form will be instantly intuitive to the user. Focus on high volume forms to cost justify the endeavor. If your goal is to take a process to the extreme in automation, be sure to take a phased approach. Basic form and workflow capabilities must come first, and must work perfectly. A tool always worth mentioning to get eForms up and running fast is Texcel FormBridge. Using a per page licensing fee, this tool allows you to convert paper or TIFs, or flat PDFs into eForms for a variety of products. What’s the big deal? Well, scan in a paper form filled with fields and watch FormBridge work. It identifies automagically where the fields go, and what their titles are. The eForm looks like the input form, nicely formatted. All the text in the form is editable – including field titles. And the same is true with all those scattered myriad rows of checkboxes. They are all converted to eForm checkboxes with proper labels. From paper to LiquidOffice eForm in the blink of an eye.

After you get a chance to review the business benefits of eForms in your organization, time to ask :

  • Where is your organization right now on the paperless scale?
  • Is paper use on the rise?
  • Are services that impact customer satisfaction stalled due to cumbersome paper processes?
  • Has your existing eForm initiative lost any momentum?

ImageSource is staffed to help you, with industry veterans including: Systems Engineers, Support Engineers, Developers, Project Managers, Sales Staff, and Senior Managers.