The Economist profiles Bruce Chizen, the boss of Adobe Systems. Some of these ideas become even more important in the context of Adobe’s decision to acquire Macromedia.
Last week, he was in Brussels to demonstrate how. Belgium will be the first country in the European Union to give its citizens electronic ID cards. And by plugging these cards into the USB ports of computers that have Reader, Belgians will soon be able to signie, digitally authenticate and sealPDF documents such as tax forms, mortgage applications, patent approvals and anything else that today requires a signature in ink.
The news is not that these forms can then be submitted electronically for instantaneous processing. Rather, it is what happens to those forms that are submitted on paper (because the owner is offline, say). Today, such loose-leaf is the atavism that disrupts all those bureaucratic workflows that are allegedly already electronic. For instance, billions of PDF forms have been downloaded from the website of the IRS, America’s tax agency, in the run-up to this week’s filing deadline. But most of these were then printed out and sent by mail, for poor drudges in some back office to type again into a computer. What a bore.
Adobe’s trickin effect, a sort of alchemy that turns paper into computer codeis a clever bar code at the bottom of its latest PDF documents. As a PDF form gets filled in on a computer, this bar code constantly changes so that all the information is captured. This includes not only the obvious (name and address, say) but also higher forms of intelligence, such as audit trails (who has read this form?), access privileges (who may view or e-mail it?), and business logic (who needs to see this form next?). When the form is then printed and sent as paper, it only needs to be scanned at the other end for all the data to enter their destination computers as if the form had stayed electronic all along.