The Internet isn't just for opening accounts anymore - it's for keeping legal records. San Francisco-based Internet solutions firm UWI.com saw the need of many financial and legal firms having to process lengthy documents in large quantities, and they promptly came out with InternetForms, a virtual post office which moves secure documents along to be filed - complete with digital signature in tow.
UWI.com's e-document offering is also a bit unusual in that the firm has developed legally binding electronic forms, through the use of the extensible markup language (XML). Once filled in, the forms are collected and stored electronically with both question and reply included on each form. This makes each document more comprehensive than a logged database file, which in most cases is set up to store only the replies to questions. "The critical insight that UWI had," says Steven Telleen, managing director, electronic commerce IT practices at Giga Information Group, "was that it is not the answers to the questions that are important, but the context of the question being answered as well."
For example, if a client on a brokerage site anwers yes to a question, the record of the reply in the stored file is "Yes." The original question could be either: "Please re-confirm your trade: Would you like to buy 10,000 shares of IBM?" vs. "Please re-confirm your trade: Would you like to sell 10,000 shares of IBM?" As you can see, it is the question, not the answer that imparts the meaning, says Telleen. A traditional Internet form captures the answer in the database, potentially with some authentication, "but the question is managed as a separate object. You should be able to see that this could be used to raise questions in a court trial."
UWI.com decided to utilize XML in creating their forms so that any user of their product would have access to a fairly standard language. Their InternetForms technology, predicts Eric Jordan, president and CEO of UWI.com, should prove popular. "The financial services industry runs on forms - it is about 80% paperwork. It takes some $10 to $50 per form to move that along the chain in a paper format. Electronically, you can get that figure down to around $2 - but you can't do that without making sure of the legality of the forms."
The fact that UWI.com has constructed their form templates using a standard language also makes the product appealing for its accessibility, according to Jordan. "XML describes these documents in a way that is easy to read, it's a public language," he says. "Contracts are the lifeblood of business. Companies aren't going to want to stand in front of a judge with a little black box saying 'no one else can read this, but he owes me a million dollars.' Once our form is signed electronically, everything that represents that agreement is on one piece of paper. . . . You can take it out in 10 years . . . and say 'here it is, in black and white.'"
David Yockelson, vice president and director of the Stamford, Conn. consulting firm META group, who tracks developments in the areas of e-forms and corporate workflow management, sees UWI.com having a slight lead over other companies providing the same means of delivery for business firms. "JetForm would be the leading competitor relative to e-forms, but no other forms company can provide the level of security (as well as securing components of the form) that UWI can."
For more information about UWI.com, see the firm's Web site at www.UWI.com
See UWI.com's Web site for sample forms and a free forms viewer.