The most basic touch interface is still paper and pen, which drives a vast array of business processes. An updated application uses a high-tech pen to digitize handwritten text, data and drawings and integrate the information directly with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.
The new version of Capturx boasts tighter integration with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and greater workflow automation, and lets you create rich, searchable PDF files with the captured information.
The Capturx application relies on the digital pens, complete with Bluetooth radios, developed by Swedish-based Anoto, with accompanying software. Capturx was developed by Adapx, a Seattle-based Anoto partner that creates pen interfaces for a range of back-end enterprise applications.
The pen looks like a somewhat enlarged ballpoint pen, packed with a processor, Bluetooth radio, camera, inkwell and force sensor. The camera photographs the writing on a paper or other form that's been printed using a special pattern of thin, nearly invisible black dots (Anoto partners can provide the preprinted forms or end users can print them on a regular printer). The pen's camera takes 50-100 photos per second, using the dots to track the relative motions of the pen. The software "translates" the movements into a kind of digital "ink," precisely recreating the written words, numbers and even drawings by the physical pen.
Adapx combines this technology with handwriting or character recognition software to create editable text. Its new version of Capturx for Microsoft SharePoint Server creates a more advanced offering for paper-based employees than the company's initial "rudimentary" SharePoint product two years ago, says Ted Gauld, vice president of product management for Adapx.
(The vendor also has a version that works with Microsoft OneNote, a note-taking application.)
The pen captures what's physically written on the paper form (built originally in Microsoft Excel). Checking a specific box on the form "wakes up" the Bluetooth radio which can use the employee's cellphone as a modem (the pen also can use Bluetooth or USB to connect to a PC). Capturx's character recognition algorithms convert the written data into SharePoint lists, which are columns and fields that define the item data or metadata schema. The lists are the basis for sifting SharePoint data, visualizing it and sharing it. The data can then be passed on to a range of other enterprise applications, such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
"With data [only] on paper, the workflows, the business processes, just stop," says Gauld. "Our electronic digital transmission addresses this." Within minutes, data collected in the field via pen-and-paper forms can be accurately transmitted, formatted and stored in a SharePoint server.
The Holland America Line, part of Carnival Corp., a major cruise and vacation company, uses Capturx for SharePoint to streamline a complex and rigorous hiring process in scores of local markets around the world. In the past, the company faced delays of five to 10 days before written information gathered at a local office was scanned and uploaded to headquarters. With Capturx for SharePoint and Anoto digital pens, the data can be loaded into corporate SharePoint minutes after the form is complete. The system also eliminates time-consuming document scanning.
The new SharePoint release of Capturx also automates a range of processes to improve complete and accurate data collection. The server will send a mobile email back to the field worker with an alert, such as "signature is missing." The worker can then get the document signed without having to return a second time.
Finally, the new release now can automatically create a PDF file of the original form and all the original writing, and then add keywords and other meta data. The result is a searchable PDF of a handwritten form.
Capturx for SharePoint is available now either as a hosted subscription service, at about $49 per user monthly, or as a traditional behind-the-firewall server, at $1,000-1,500 per 10 users.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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