Adobe Takes Barcodes to the Next Dimension

Later this year, Adobe plans release a series of new 2D barcode technology products dubbed the Intelligent Document Platform. The product line, which was beta released at the March AIIM On Demand show, is aimed at government and enterprise users who have to process a mix of online and offline forms. Unlike regular barcodes, which are static and only store information in one direction, 2D barcodes are dynamic—the data they contain can be changed—and information can be stored horizontally as well as vertically, which provides a significant increase in data storage capability.

Charles Brett, VP at META Group, says that while 2D barcode technology has been around for years, Adobe has taken it to another level. "The 2D barcode is not a new technology, but what they are doing is unique. They have put that 2D barcode on a form and are updating it in real time," Brett says.

Adobe's Intelligent Document Platform enables companies to capture information in 2D barcodes, and then process the forms using a special server component thereby avoiding the need for data entry. What's more, the data in the 2D barcode can be captured as XML (or other formats), allowing companies to merge the data in the forms into existing workflow tools and backend systems.

The 2D barcode product platform consists of three main elements: Customers design the form with Adobe Acrobat 6.0.1 Professional equipped with a 2D barcode authoring plug-in. End-users fill out the form using the free Adobe Reader 6.0.1 with another special free plug-in (the full version of Adobe Acrobat works with the plug-in). As the user enters information, the 2D barcode captures the information in real time. Finally, the customer scans the documents and a special server component decodes/analyzes the forms, detects and decodes the 2D barcode, then extracts the information from the barcode, and provides data to move the information to the next step in the enterprise workflow.

Brett says that this last step helps eliminate much of the cost associated with scanning offline forms by eliminating indexing and Optical Character Recognition, where data entry or translation mistakes can occur. "The gist of this is to eliminate indexing or recognition errors. There is generally an indexing step where the user enters information about the document such as keywords, document author, etc. and the Adobe technology eliminates the possibility of author error because the 2D barcode contains all of the information and extraction is quick and accurate," according to Brett.

To enhance the connection between the data and enterprise workflow, Adobe recently released a beta of Adobe Designer 6.0, a tool that has been redesigned to work with the Intelligent Document Platform allowing forms designers to design XML schema and link them to PDF or HTML forms. This offers a way for enterprise customers to create custom workflows and links to backend data repositories where the schema outlines where to send data or how to populate enterprise databases with data culled from the 2D barcode forms.

Adobe anticipates a need for this type of technology in vertical markets such as government, financial services, and education where they have customers who may fill out forms online, but print them to include a signature and hard-copy documentation. For example, a bank customer may fill out a loan application online, capturing the data in the 2D barcode, then print the application, sign it, and mail it in with backup documentation such as last year's tax return. Adobe is currently conducting a beta test at the Internal Revenue Service, which they hope to complete by June and release the product in the second half of this year.

Meta Group's Brett agrees that this is the best market for Adobe. "In government or medical, anywhere there is a lot of information being generated and has to be put into some back end document management system, [this platform] will speed up processing and reduce the cost pretty substantially," Brett says.

Brett sees this initiative has part of a broader move that Adobe has been making for some time to make PDF more than a document holder. "The PDF is really just the presentation container for the data that's in it," he says. "Data is not necessarily hard coded to the document; it can live in several systems or repositories."