Electronic forms company JetForm Corp has just filed a secondary offering on Nasdaq to fund the acquisition of its major competitor, and is seeing healthy growth in a market that is surprisingly untapped. JetForm reckons it can convince anyone who’ll listen that the paperless office is an efficient, cost saving reality. In an age when companies appear to depend entirely on technology to run their business, it is amazing to think how much time is still spent filling in and processing paper forms that ultimately are input to the computer, maybe once, maybe twice, or maybe even several times by several different departments. Get one detail wrong, and your form could eventually end up back on your desk to start the whole process all over again.
By Joanne Wallen
Although the paperless office is nowhere near a reality for most companies, Ottawa, Canada-based JetForm says it has what it takes to help companies cut costs and significantly increase efficiency. The company is already seeing strong year on year growth, and has established offices throughout the world. In the year to April 1996 it had turnover of $30.5m, up 67% on the previous year. JetForm’s offering is not just about filling in a form on screen, it is about automating the entire process with a sophisticated workflow and output system. In September last year, JetForm bought what it considered its major competition in Symantec Corp’s Delrina Group for $100m (CI No 2,999). To fund the acquisition repayment, and to expand its sales and marketing effort, the company has just filed for a secondary offering on Nasdaq. It will offer 2.5m shares and hopes to raise some $47m net. The offer is being underwritten by Goldman, Sachs & Co. So exactly what is JetForm offering? The company has just launched version 5.0 of its JetForm suite of programs, which divides into three main areas. The first is the actual filling in of the form, on screen, catered for by JetForm Filler. JetForm’s electronic forms have in-built intelligence, so that frequently used information, such as name and address or special contractual obligations can be stored in a database, and will automatically be entered on to the form every time the users calls up a new form. The forms support the Open Database Connectivity Standard, so they can be used with any ODBC-compliant database including Sybase, SQL Server, Oracle, dBase, DB2/2, Informix and Ingres. JetForm 5.0 includes Dynamic Forms, which enables a form to change its screen presentation according to data entered on the form. For example, if a form asks for marital status and the user answers Yes for married, the form will then display fields for entry of name of spouse and other relevant information. Version 5.0 also supports Object Linking and Embedding, so that for example a user could cut and paste information from a filled form into an Excel spreadsheet. Next, JetForm Workflow takes the form and sends it around the organization to the relevant parties such as a line manager for authorisation, the accounts department for ledger entry and the purchasing department. JetForm Central is a server product that then collates and automates the necessary output from the forms. It may direct output to a printer in the relevant department, or to facsimile, electronic mail or electronic data interchange as required. The company says its products are ideal for the Internet and intranet environment. It has integrated Java into its forms design product JetForm Design, so that intelligent forms can be embedded into Web pages as Java applets. JetForm president and chief executive John Kelly says at the moment, the company doesn’t really have any major competition. Competition may come, he admits, from the Workflow management companies, application software houses, document management vendors and others in the future. In order to minimize this risk, the company is positioning itself as a partner to these types of companies, and reckons its product forms an ideal front end to other applications such as production Workflow, and document management. J
etForm already has integration alliances with IBM Corp and Unisys Corp, SAP AG, PeopleSoft Inc, Lotus Inc and ICL Plc. JetForm Filler for example, is used, Kelly says, as a front end to SAP and PeopleSoft. The company is also keeping its prices low enough to make it attractiveto customers and not attractive to potential competitors, it said. JetForm works out around $100 per user. JetForm boasts an increasingly impressive list of satisfied customers including banks, insurance companies and manufacturing companies. The Ford Motor Co has implemented JetForm to monitor and control its processes, installing JetForm in 11 locations in 8 countries, from Eastern Europe to South America. The system processes about 10,000 electronic forms a day. European purchasing systems analyst John Cree says those departments that are using JetForm have seen real cost savings and other departments are now interested in using the technology.
Profit and loss
So why aren’t more businesses convinced? Kelly reckons one of the reasons is that no one ever analyses the costs involved in processing paper forms. Since the process involves people from all over the organization, no one itemizes the time spent or the costs involved in the whole process. If only forms processing were an item on the profit and loss account says Kelly, the sell would be simple. The other reason, is that people don’t understand that there is more to the product than just an electronic means to filling out a form. Many companies have done away with the paper form and replaced it by a template on a word processor, JetForm says. Companies do not recognize that this has not automated the rest of the process. Kelly says the president of the Bank of Boston, one of the company’s big customers, was unconvinced until he asked his secretary how she used JetForm. She was in the process of doing his expenses, and when she completed the form, he waited for it to print on her laser printer. When she explained that as the claim was for less than the authorized limit, the money would be transferred directly to his bank account and the necessary copies were already with the accounts department, he apparently saw the light. Jetform reckons it has plenty of market to go at. Kelly says analysts report the printed forms business is declining by around 3% a year which does not sound like a lot, but considering Gartner Group Inc estimates the pre-printed forms market in North America alone is worth some $6bn, John Kelly says that JetForm will be quite happy if it can pick up the fall-out.