How to Achieve the
Impossible: Dramatically Slash the Processing Time of Paper
Forms - AND the Cost!
Imagine taking a crucial business process – designed to be
completed in a few days but which often ends up taking much
longer – and completing it in less than a minute. And with
greater accuracy and reliability. Imagine the cost savings in
Impossible? Futuristic? Unaffordable?
No! Sillero’s Digital Pen and Paper solution delivers this
promise now. Handwritten forms – using real paper and real pens
– are delivered and fully processed within a minute of being
sent. That includes generating a 100% accurate image of the
form, doing hand writing recognition on the filled-in data and
storing the information in a backend computer system.
And this is all done at a fraction of the cost of
processing the form in the usual way. Even the
cost of training is minimal since the technology is extremely
easy to use. Everyone who’s been to school has already been
trained to use the interface: pen and paper!
As an example, let’s compare a common process done in the
old way with the process done using Sillero’s DP&P
solution. The process we’ll examine is the field collection and
processing of user survey information.
The old way:
- A interviewer visits an interviewee and fills in his
demographic details and survey responses
- He then places the completed form together with the
others in his car, and moves on to his next
- At the end of the day he adds the pile of completed
forms to the pile of forms from previous days
- At the end of the week he drives to the regional office
and delivers his week’s worth of forms
- They are counted and this is entered into a register
together with the surveyor’s name and the data and time of
- At the beginning of the next week all the forms
received from the region’s surveyors are packaged up and
sent by courier to the head office
- If all goes well, the forms are received by head office
the next day where they are sorted into piles for data
- The piles of forms are distributed to the
data-capturers where they are captured during the course of
the following week (if there is no backlog)
- Forms not correctly filled in are marked by the
data-capturer and placed in an out box for sending to the
interviewer (another process – let’s not even go
- Captured forms are stacked and sent to storage
- When all the forms are finally captured, a batch report
is generated from the computer system and a payment is
generated for the interviewer based on the number of
correctly completed forms processed.
The Sillero DP&P way:
- A interviewer visits an interviewee and fills in his
demographic details and survey responses using his digital
- He ticks a marked area at the end of the form and the
electronically captured pen strokes are automatically
transmitted via his cell phone to Sillero’s server
- On receipt of the form, it is automatically checked for
correctness (required fields, valid values, etc) and a
message is sent back to the interviewer if any changes or
additions are required
- Within seconds of sending the form, the interviewer
receives a confirmation of receipt and the details of any
corrective action he needs to take
- If required, he makes the necessary changes to the form
and resends it by again simply ticking the end of the
- The data is extracted from the form, hand writing
recognition is done, and the results, generated image and
interviewer’s details are sent to the company’s server via
- The real-time data is available on the company’s server
for reporting and for the prompt and full payment of the
In fact, two processes were covered in the new, Sillero
The benefits of this new way should be quite obvious, but
let’s explore some of them further, by asking these
- Where is physical delivery of the forms?
- Where is the transport logistics?
- Where is the manual monitoring and counting of the
- Where is the sorting and distribution of the
- Where is the data capture?
- Where is the physical storage of the captured
- Where is the anger and frustration at the delays in
- What happened to the whole verification and correction
But not only have all the inefficiencies been eliminated,
new benefits arise out of using this incredible new technology.
Here are a few:
Manage your staff better:
Real-time monitoring of staff productivity and activity is
possible since the send-time of every form is known and is
processed within one minute of receipt. Where a work-flow
system has been implemented, it is even possible to contact the
sender by phone while he is still on “site”.
Electronic delivery of every form is guaranteed - no more
“lost” or damaged forms. Even where a form cannot be
transmitted, the pen strokes are stored in the pen’s memory
until such time as they can be transmitted. Once received,
Sillero guarantees delivery of data even where there is
Secure data delivery:
Sensitive data is delivered using secure encrypted
transmissions. How secure is the data written on forms left
lying around in the back of a car or in an in-box on an office
counter? Or at an unmanned fax machine?
Reduction of fraud:
Completed forms are transmitted immediately and so cannot be
tampered with. Attempted fraud can be detected even when a form
has not yet been transmitted. Because every pen stroke is date
and time stamped, the exact sequence of strokes can be
determined (and even played back like recording!) So, for
instance, if a piece of information is altered after the form
has been signed by the customer, suspicious entries can
immediately be brought to the attention of the company.
Accurate data extraction:
Sillero, with a combination of intelligent form design,
codification and highly advanced handwriting recognition
techniques, is able to extract very accurate data from
handwritten forms. Although a 100% recognition rate could never
be achieved since it is highly dependant on how legibly the
user writes, it is not unusual that higher rates are achieved
than through data-capture since human error is removed.
Electronic image storage:
A 100% accurate electronic image of every form is generated.
Every scribble, scratch and doodle is faithfully captured and
shown on the image. Images can be generated in any format: PDF,
JPEG, TIFF, GIF, etc. No need for expensive scanning and
indexing – electronic forms can be put straight into document
management systems, fully indexed. In fact, you might never
need the paper copy again.
The digital pen technology is robust and guarantees delivery
– when it works. As we all know, technology will always have a
failure rate: the device could be broken or stolen, or simply
not be charged. But unlike other technologies such as tablet
PCs and PDAs, you still have the completed paper form! That
means nothing has been lost and the form can still be processed
using the old process.
“A technology for Africa”
Digital Pen & Paper technology might as well have been
developed for Africa it’s such a good fit. The unique
challenges of deploying technology in Africa: weak
infrastructure, harsh conditions, low skills and low
maintenance budgets are more than adequately met by DP&P
technology. It is a simple technology, appropriate for African
GPRS is available on a growing number of GSM networks
throughout Africa. Wherever there is GPRS coverage, it would be
possible to submit forms using a digital pen and a cell phone.
No other infrastructure is required, neither electricity nor
land-based telecommunications. This literally supports the man
filling in application forms under a tree.
But it is quite common to use the digital pen technology in
an off-line mode. For instance, if there is no GPRS signal in
the area, the on-the-phone software will cache the pen strokes
on the phone until such time as a GPRS signal becomes available
and will then automatically transmit the data.
Where no GPRS is available at all, users can use the Sillero
Pen Client for Windows and dock the pen to the PC. This will
automatically upload the pen strokes to Sillero via the
Internet. And since a digital pen has a memory capacity of at
least 1 MB, it can typically store a number of days worth of
work before requiring docking.
A digital pen is a small device, the size of a fattish
ordinary pen. It can fit snugly in a jacket pocket or in a
folder. This means that it can be used anywhere, in all weather
conditions – unlike larger devices like tablet PCs. The other
part of the technology – digital paper – is ordinary paper
which is as hardy as any other paper.
Being a pen, a digital pen is less susceptible to theft. It
is small enough to not be noticed, and is an unattractive
target since it is only useful for writing on predefined
No interface training is required since every person who has
had basic education is capable of writing with a pen on paper.
This is an enormous advantage over more complicated
technologies requiring computer skills.
Of course, some training is required. Forms need to be
correctly filled in and the data needs to be transmitted. This
training can usually be completed within a day and does not
require a high level of technical skill.
“But how would I use it in my organisation?”
Sillero has been involved in developing and deploying
Digital Pen & Paper solutions in a wide variety of sectors.
Amongst them are: Banking, Finance, Health, Insurance, Law
Enforcement, Logistics, Retail and Telecommunications.
Obviously DP&P technology is not a “silver bullet”
solution to all problems. However it does have wide
applicability across sectors. If the answer to the question,
“Does your organisation process a large number of hand-written
forms?” is “Yes”, then your organisation probably will benefit
from deploying DP&P solutions.
Let’s examine some sectors to see what sort of solutions are
being considered and developed within them:
Sillero has developed a suite of DP&P applications in
this sector, covering all aspects of an application for and
approval of credit. These were aimed specifically at micro
loans where business can be written up in remote locations such
as at taxi ranks. In these kinds of applications speed is of
the essence since competition is fierce and the funds are
usually required immediately. DP&P technology is ideally
suited to achieve this.
Sillero has also developed an application to automate the
filing of signature cards for cheque signing mandates. These
images are stored along with the customer’s account number and
Other banking applications would include:
- Customer interaction and compliance forms for statutory
- Home loan applications
- Property valuation forms
- Card and document collection registers
- Deposit and withdrawal forms
Sillero has developed a set of applications in this sector
for the monitoring compliance of insurance brokers. Compliance
officers complete forms as they carry out audits on insurance
and inspectors do spot checks on the compliance officers, again
filling out forms. Auxiliary forms include those to record the
content of meetings and automatically email minutes and meeting
Other compliance applications would include:
- Industrial health and safety audits
- Financial audits
- Employee quota audits
Sillero has developed an application for the submission of
car finance application forms. The forms are filled in and
submitted by finance agents in dealerships and sent via their
PCs. They are also to send them via their phones when out the
office. The application is integrated into the finance
company’s backend computer systems significantly reducing the
turnaround time on an application. Furthermore, the finance
agent can choose to have the forms automatically faxed to other
finance companies by simply checking their names on the
Sillero is developing an application for all the lifecycle
documentation for donor funded HIV/AIDS ARV clinical trials and
on-going management of patients. DP&P technology enables
drug/dosage related problems to be picked up immediately –
truly a matter of life and death. The clinics are situated near
mines in a wide geographic area.
Other health sector applications would include:
- Doctors’ Prescriptions, with the ability to check drugs
against a formulary, automatic billing and instant delivery
to a dispensary of choice
- Emergency services, allowing the condition of a patient
to be conveyed to the receiving hospital before arrival. In
addition, the billing time is reduced dramatically
Sillero has developed a number of applications for an
insurance company, ranging from broker compliance to customer
debit authority. A sophisticated application to do real-time
quotes based on the requirements filled out in a form was also
Sillero has been involved in designing applications for
law-enforcement, but by their nature, cannot be discussed.
However, Law Enforcement sector applications would
- Crime-scene investigation notes
- Traffic violation ticketing
- Complaint dockets and statements
- Border control documentation
- Firearms registry and control
Sillero has developed an application for proof-of-delivery
documentation in the glass industry. Not only does it provide
for an instant record of proof-of-delivery, but also for the
recording of delivery shortages, breakages and returns. This is
integrated into their backend ERP and accounting system, which
can automatically generate credit notes.
Another application developed by Sillero is linked to a
workflow system. As soon as any annotations are detected on a
form, an operator is alerted who is then able to contact the
driver before he leaves the customer’s premises.
Sillero has written two applications used in the
merchandising to cell-phone outlets. Problems, comments,
promotions and stock delivery details are recorded. Competitor
information is obtained and analysed.
For one of the applications, the entire IT system was
outsourced to Sillero who managed and maintained all the data,
reports and processing.
Sillero has developed an application to process applications
for cell phone contracts. Different parts of the application
are sent to different departments, and the time to approval has
been reduced from days to minutes.
As can be seen, DP&P applications are and can be used in
a wide variety of sectors. Among those that would reap enormous
benefits would be:
- Housing and Development
- Local Government
- Social Services
Sillero has the experience, in-depth knowledge of the
technology, proven delivery capability and the tools to deliver
world-class DP&P applications. We've been involved with
this technology since shortly after it was made available to
developers in 2003.
This experience has taught us a number of things:
- DP&P is not a "silver-bullet" technology, and
should only be used where the circumstances justify it
- Good form design is vital to a successful DP&P
- Customer's consistently under-estimate the total cost
of managing traditional paper forms
- DP&P solutions have to be actively marketed with
Sillero has a team of highly skilled technologists, process
consultants and form designers. Sillero’s South African
- Aurum Health
- Beyond Outsourcing (service providers to Vodacom in
- Capital Software
- Cell C
- Full Signal (Nokia Service Providers in Sub-Saharan
- Liberty Life
- The Motor Finance Corporation
- Moonstone Compliance (Pty) Ltd
- PG Glass
- Ultimate Fund Administrators
“Need to know more?”
Now that your appetite has been whetted on this wonderful
technology, you will want to know more, and discuss your
requirements with an expert. Contact