Big Faceless and CSO/CEIS E-Filing
The Big Faceless library is being used by the British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General to help process electronically filed court documents.
There are two applications involved: one public facing J2EE application - CSO (Court Services Online) and an internal facing Oracle Forms Application - CEIS (Civil Electronic Information System). The best way to understand how these systems interact is to first consider the manual system.
Prior to the E-Filing components of CSO, the only way for civil court litigants to file documents was to physically bring the paper documents to the court.
Once presented to court staff, the documents would be examined for completeness. Documents that were considered acceptable would be stamped (rubber and ink stamps) and signed.
Accepted documents would be manually entered into CEIS. CEIS would then be used to track the documents and associated case results from that point on.
The E-Filing component of CSO enables litigants to submit PDF documents via the internet. Since these documents were reaching the court in electronic form it was considered desirable to find electronic analogues of the paper and ink stamping/signing process. The BC (British Columbia) government had already selected a hardware token to hold digital keys. Therefore it was mandatory that any signing solution would incorporate these tokens.
In order to maximize work flow efficiency we wanted to integrate as much of the old manual review process into CEIS as possible. We were limited to java in our choice of libraries because Oracle Forms (the tool CEIS is written in) allows for custom developed java components to be incorporated into an application.
Big Faceless was chosen because they were the only java library we could find that allowed us to digitally sign PDF documents. Big Faceless also allowed us to create electronic equivalents of the rubber and ink stamps. (It should also be noted that we are using an additional library supplied by Entrust to communicate with the hardware token.)
At this time we were not using the viewer. The original requirements stated that the visual component of the signature and any stamps would always appear on the same place on the first page of any document.
Users Need to Select Stamp/Signature locations After developing the signing/stamping components the development team was informed of the need for users to select the location of the stamps/signatures.
The requirement change meant:
- CEIS needed a way to render an image of a PDF.
- Users had to be able to select an area of the image.
- The area selected had to be passed to the Big Faceless library so that the stamp/signature could be applied to the selected location.
After some searching we found an additional library (not Big Faceless) that would provide an image of a PDF page. By combining this library with Big Faceless we were able to create a custom java control that could be integrated directly into Oracle Forms. This component met the above requirements.
Shortly before pilot (September 2005) we became aware that Big Faceless now offered a viewer. We had been very impressed with Big Faceless' support while developing the signer so we tried using their viewer in our control. There were some issues because the original Big Faceless Viewer worked on Java 1.4 only and because of our need to integrate with the Oracle Forms Application (which for a number of reasons would be working under Java 1.3 for the indefinite future).
Ultimately we decided on the Big Faceless viewer for four reasons:
- Big Faceless accommodated us by changing one of your viewer components so that it would run under Java 1.3 (we are not using the entire viewer control - just the part that renders an image of the pdf page).
- Big Faceless impressed us with their quick, helpful response to support requests (both during the viewer evaluations and during the signer development).
- Big Faceless gave us assurance that if we ran into any PDF's that would not render fully under 1.3 - they would provide fixes so that failure conditions would be graceful and something our users could live with (It is not necessary that the PDF be perfectly rendered in our viewer - it is only necessary that users be able to distinguish white space - page components that do not render properly under 1.3 will be replaced with a grey rectangle or some other indicator that lets the user distinguish white space).
- After the fixes/adjustments the Big Faceless viewer rendered more accurate images than the competitor's. Specifically, Big Faceless was the only java library we could find that properly rendered the visual component of digital signatures.
Advantages of Using Big Faceless Based Solution
If we had been unable to develop a custom control which supported signing and stamping within Oracle Forms, our users would have been forced to use the following awkward, error prone work flow.
- Download the document from CEIS to their local workstation.
- Sign the document using a separate application.
- Save the signed document back to their workstation.
- Upload the saved document back to CEIS.
By integrating the signing/stamping within CEIS we minimize the mouse clicks and effort users must expend. (As well as eliminating the chance of mistakenly uploading a signed PDF to the wrong court case.)
We are not using the viewer for the simple reading of documents. In other words it is not replacing Adobe Reader. Our users can open any document they choose in Reader with a button click. (The PDF appears in Explorer which calls the Reader plug in).
Our users are being trained to use Reader for normal review of documents but to use our custom control (based on Big Faceless) whenever a signature or stamp needs to be applied.
For us, the value of the viewer is in conjunction with the other Big Faceless Features. Big Faceless offers a lot of options for marking up (signatures, stamps etc.) an existing PDF. With the viewer we can now let users choose where that mark up appears. So ultimately we are using the viewer along with other Big Faceless to build our own very low functionality PDF editor. (i.e. an editor that allows the option of placing certain predefined stamps and images anywhere the user chooses).
I have included a few screen shots. The system is now in pilot (i.e. it is in production but restricted to a limited number of locations).
The first screen shot shows how users can apply a digital signature. The hollow rectangle can be dragged to the desired location using the mouse. The users then presses the sign button, is prompted for the password on their hardware token and the digital signature is applied. The view button calls up the document in Adobe Reader (via Internet Explorer).
The second screen shot shows the document after the signature has been applied. Note the visible portion of the signature appears in the area indicated by the hollow rectangle.