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CRN Interview: Mark Seamans, Cardiff Software

As Microsoft gears up to formally launch Microsoft Office 2003, a lot of its energy will be focused on InfoPath-driven workflow collaboration and document management. But Microsoft isn't the only vendor in this space, and in many ways is playing catch-up to players such as Cardiff Software, which later this month is slated to launch a document-capture application that complements its existing platform-independent electronic forms and workflow system, called Liquid Office.

In an interview with CRN Editor-in-Chief Michael Vizard, Cardiff CTO and vice president of business development Mark Seamans explains why he thinks his company's ability to support multiple standards, including PDF, HTML, standard XML and Microsoft's InfoPath variant of XML, gives it a competitive edge over larger rivals.

CRN: Given that most people aren't familiar with Cardiff, what's the company's core intellectual asset?

SEAMANS: The company has been in business since 1991, and it's focused pretty much on the form- and document-automation marketplace. We have focused on the processing of information from primarily paper-based forms, with the role of just pulling up index data and then putting that into back-end repositories. As the Internet boom occurred, there was a big push to move a lot of what people were doing from paper to the Internet. Parallel with that development, we created a Web-based platform for both e-forms, as well as the whole process automation underpinning that. So not just doing the collection of the data but the movement of information from person to person, all of the routing, approval, tracking and digital signing that goes along with that.

CRN: What standards do you support?

SEAMANS: We made the decision, even with the original work that we did, to focus on an open-systems approach. We build all products on standards and continue to support HTML forms, PDF forms, and now more recently Microsoft has announced a new form standard as part of their Office 11 or Office 2003 offering. It's called InfoPath, and so we have support for that format right within our platform. Beyond that, we're looking at the W3C standards called X-forms, which is the next generation of how forms are going to get done.

CRN: Are you dependent on any particular client platform?

SEAMANS: Our product has a Java J2EE-based server implementation. As far as what people need on the client, the only thing you'd ever need the client are in cases where you're using one of the formats that has a client component. If you're using a PDF, you need to have the reader software there. Or if you were going to use the Microsoft InfoPath forms, Microsoft has a client that you need to have. In fact, the software was designed so that even within one process, a person starting the process might start it with a PDF form and if they route it to the next person, that person may not have any of the client software so they can choose to say, 'I want to see my forms with HTML.'

CRN: How are people changing their approach to forms and document management in general?

SEAMANS: There's really two different things going on in parallel. There's a huge need out there from people who want to take business processes and move them to the Web. Those processes today occur on structured forms that people are very familiar with. In many cases, we try to keep the user interaction very much the same on the Web as what people are used to doing sending out paper in order to get the adoption out there. But people are also investing the next generation of tools. They want to have the flexibility to develop new classes of applications that aggregate data from a number of different sources. That second area is where Microsoft has focused some of it strength with InfoPath, versus when you look at something like the PDF that tends to be a much more rigid. Our goal in supporting all these different platforms is certainly to try and take advantage of in some cases the best of what's out there.

CRN: Given Microsoft's client-centric approach, what are the limitations of InfoPath?

SEAMANS: It's a client application that doesn't have server infrastructure around it. It doesn't have a very established, robust and reusable way for people to share. It does a lot of neat things with XML. But in essence, if you want to share that with other people you're e-mailing it around, just like you've been e-mailing around Word documents today. You're not taking advantage of any ability to do tracking or the auditing of the process, which is especially important given Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. Customers want a lot of that server infrastructure to be there to allow them to do all this stuff in a repeatable, predictable way. So with InfoPath, we can provide all the pieces that are probably missing when they look at that format from the whole picture.

CRN: How does this differ from what people have been doing with Lotus Notes for years?

SEAMANS: People who use Lotus Notes and LotusScript to build a set of forms and process infrastructures have gotten to the point where they're just buried under LotusScript maintenance and trying to keep it all running. They need a more centralized infrastructure that takes all the weight off them. They want to quickly deploy these things and to manage them once they were out.

CRN: Where do portals fit into this overall strategy?

SEAMANS: A number of our clients have already been spending time building portals. What's going on in those cases is that under the hood, they want to take our server and plug it into the portal in order to provide seamless access to all of the enterprise forms. On the back end, they want to know if they can connect to some of the back-end apps so that when these processes finish, you can get the data out there to avoid me having to repetitively key stuff in again.

CRN: On the application side, all of the major ERP vendors are pushing their forms offerings. What's your differentiation?

SEAMANS: With us, you go into the repository, find the right form, interact with it consistently, route it and you don't have to learn six or seven systems with different forms. It's going to take care of what needs to get done on the back end, and you don't have to think about will that function be an SAP thing or would that be a PeopleSoft thing.

CRN: How expensive is Liquid Office?

SEAMANS: One thing that we saw was the other applications were very complex to figure out in terms of what you need to buy and how much is it going to cost. With us, whether you're running with the BEA, [IBM] WebSphere, Oracle, SQL Server, the cost for the package remains consistent. Liquid Office has a base price for the server that comes with 50-user licenses, and that price is $15,000.

CRN: What's next for Cardiff?

SEAMANS: Even after moving processes onto the Web, a lot of what goes on in companies still tends to be paper-oriented. We provide the ability in Liquid Office to build the paper-to-digital transaction. As part of that, we're rolling out on Sept. 30 a brand-new product that runs in conjunction with Liquid Office and but could also be used as a stand-alone paper document capture application. It's going to be called Liquid Capture. It's a totally browser-based application. You don't have to have any software again on the client, but you just log in a Web site. It drives any scanner that's out there. It's all on Microsoft technology, and we see probably 65 to 80 percent of the sales of new product being channel-driven.

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