PDF-it: The Future of Digital Transcript Delivery

What is the future of digital transcript delivery?  And what is all this talk about digital signatures anyway?  At the NCRA convention last week, I met Morgan Babin the founder of Reporting Solutions Inc. the publisher of a new product called PDF-it.  I got the opportunity to interview Morgan about PDF-it and discuss digitally signing your transcripts and the future of legal support software.
 
You can contact Morgan Babin at:

Reporting Solutions, Inc.
4545 Post Oak Place, Suite 350
Houston, TX 77027
(281) 410.6922
http://www.pdf-it.com

 

TODD OLIVAS: I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.  I know that you're probably pretty busy launching the software, but I met you at the convention and it seemed to be a very nice product, that could really -- you know, that a lot of reporters could benefit from.  So what is your background in the court reporting field?  Just to kind of recap.

MORGAN BABIN: I worked for a court reporting agency position for five years, and during my tenure I worked in various departments, including production and billing, accounting, as well as research and development.  I have a passion for technology, and would initiate any special projects where things can be done faster, better, simpler.

TODD OLIVAS: Great.  So that kind of has dovetailed into this product. So what got you to start Reporting Solutions, Inc. in the first place?

MORGAN BABIN: Well, I launched Reporting Solutions in January, 2007.  And the main reason was I wanted to provide reporters and reporting firms alternatives.  I felt like there was not enough choices in the industry.

TODD OLIVAS: Some of the major players have sort of cornered the market for a long time now.

MORGAN BABIN: Correct.  And there was nothing wrong, per se, with that.  Having a natural monopoly is fine as long as it is not taken advantage of.  From various people I was hearing that it felt it had gotten to a point where that was starting to happen. 

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah.  So that was pretty much the impetus behind your first product, PDF-it; correct?

MORGAN BABIN: Absolutely.  The first seeds of PDF-it were planted in April of 2006 with the passing of electronic signature policy by the CRCB of Texas.  The signature policy prohibited the use of powers of attorney and fax signatures.  This meant after years of simply emailing ASCII files, reporters were now required to either physically sign and deliver originals, or digitally sign.  And at the time only one product offered digital signatures.

TODD OLIVAS: So basically your product comes along and has that sort of built in, right?

MORGAN BABIN: Absolutely.  There's no additional charge for the digital signature option.  Other than the reporter getting their digital ID for $20 from a company like VeriSign or GeoTrust.

TODD OLIVAS: Oh, I see.  And what other states are there that you know of that require digital signatures? 

MORGAN BABIN: Well, Texas is the only one I know that has a very specific rule on it.  Now, there are other court reporting associations that have opinions, so I'm sure other states will quickly follow as they see that the industry has more alternatives and choices to comply with the ruling. 

TODD OLIVAS: So just for the readers of this blog who might not understand what a digital signature really even is, could you give them the -- you know, the 411 of that?

MORGAN BABIN: Sure.  A digital signature basically is comprised of two pieces.  It's a digital file that represents your identity, and those files use cryptography and all kinds of crazy technology, but it's really not important to understand all of the details.  Just the fact that it works.  And then there's also the electronic signature portion of it, which is the image of your signature.  These two files are put together and actually applied to the documents when you are digitally signing.

TODD OLIVAS: So take me through steps of a person first getting going with a digital signature.  Would they literally scan in their signature, and now it's part of an encrypted file?

MORGAN BABIN: No, there's the digital signature itself which is called a digital ID.  That file is purchased through a company like VeriSign or GeoTrust, where the third party accesses particular information from the person to verify their identity.  The level of security is very minimal; they essentially ask for your e-mail, they ask for your credit card to buy the digital ID.  So those two pieces of information become your identity.  They assume that if you use this person's credit card and you have access to that e-mail account, you must be that particular person.

TODD OLIVAS: I see.

MORGAN BABIN: And then you have the electronic portion of it, which is the scanned-in image of your signature.

TODD OLIVAS: Oh, I see.  Okay.  And your product handles all of that seamlessly?

MORGAN BABIN: Correct.  Reporters upload a certificate or digital ID, upload a scanned image of their signature, and both of those files are then applied to the document on a page and line number in which they designate when they're going through the PDF-it Creation Wizard.

TODD OLIVAS: All right.  So for most people -- people who are familiar, let's say, with the E-Transcript product by RealLegal, your product is a competing product to that and it's web-based; correct?

MORGAN BABIN: Absolutely.  And that's actually one of the biggest advantages of PDF-it.  Our software is web-based, which means you can access it 24 hours a day from any internet-connected computer.  This means desktop-related support issues have been eliminated, and updates and upgrades to the program are deployed much more efficiently.  Our clients are not burdened with the responsibility of maintaining software or installing updates.

TODD OLIVAS: Oh, I see.  So whenever there's a new release, you know, or whenever you guys tweak some area of the product, then it's sort of a seamless integration.  The people using your product won't even know, it'll just automatically be there next time they log in?

MORGAN BABIN: That's exactly right.

TODD OLIVAS: Great.  So is it hard for people to learn to use PDF-it?

MORGAN BABIN: Not at all.  We always conduct a short webinar for new clients.  We walk them through account set-up, and a short training session in which they can invite up to 15 people, including their staff or their reporters. In the webinar we basically familiarize them with PDF-it and all the options and set up their formatting, so that they can get the look and feel that they have become accustomed to for years and years.

TODD OLIVAS: And that's included in the price, that training webinar?

MORGAN BABIN: That's right.

TODD OLIVAS: And speaking of, how much does PDF-it cost, and how did you kind of figure out what the price points were going to be when you launched it?

MORGAN BABIN: Well, we based our pricing on the market. At the time, the competition, was $85 a month.  They had an extra feature which was a turn-in piece that we did not initially offer but will be rolling out in our upcoming PDF-it product, It will allow the reporter to enter in all the ordering information at the end of the transcript creation wizard.

TODD OLIVAS: Okay.

MORGAN BABIN: But we understood our Firm Edition didn't have all of the features that competitors were offering, so we decided that we would not be able to charge the same prices.  We heard feedback from various reporters that they felt like they were paying too much considering they may only be doing a few transcript conversions a month.  That was the driver for offering two different pricing structures, and for two different parties.  In addition to our Firm Edition, we launched a Reporter Edition.  Our Reporter Edition is offered at $300 for a year subscription, and our Firm Edition is $750 a year, both with unlimited use.  Both editions also have an option of per use pricing at $6.99 per file.

TODD OLIVAS: Oh, okay.  So that's great.  So for the occasional user then, they can opt in on an as-needed basis, or the pay-as-you-go model, basically.

MORGAN BABIN: Correct.

TODD OLIVAS: Okay.  When you compare PDF-it  to E-Trans, what would you say are some of the differentiating points, if any?  Because I know that when I met you at the convention that you said -- basically, that that wheel has sort of been invented and people are expecting a certain functionality level, and so your product needed to at least be at that level.

MORGAN BABIN: Right, absolutely.  And that did take a lot of time.  And obviously since the competitionís products were build on their own client feedback over a 10 year plus period we knew we had to at least match all those features.  But the one thing that we, of course, had going for us is that many agencies have been scanning in their exhibits in PDF -- and this is when the light-bulb went off.  We realized that there was going to be a huge advantage to having a transcript and exhibits in the same file format.  Not only do you see that the legal industry is quickly adopting PDF as the standard, the exhibits can be added into what we create  -- a PDF portfolio. The exhibits and the transcripts can be viewed simultaneously with one viewer.  So the PDF format has lots of advantages over a proprietary viewer in the fact that it's firewall friendly and typically doesn't require the user to download an additional viewer.

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah.  Because wouldn't you say that most attorneys probably already have Adobe Reader on their machines already?

MORGAN BABIN: Yes, exactly.  And when they forward these on to experts, such as doctors, they're more familiar with Adobe PDF files.  If for some reason they do have to install the latest Adobe viewer to take advantage of the PDF Portfolio that we create, it's more likely to get approved through their IT department.  They are familiar with Adobe opposed to a proprietary viewer from an unfamiliar company. 

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah, and I can even foresee -- like, if I'm Todd Olivas and Associates Court Reporting Firm sending out my transcript to my law firm client, and then I'm asking them to go to this third-party website, RealLegal -- who's RealLegal, and why am I downloading their software -- you know, there just could be some confusion there.

MORGAN BABIN: Right.  And in this day and age, with so many viruses and Trojans and all that, you don't really know exactly what you're installing.

TODD OLIVAS: Right.

MORGAN BABIN: So there is some concern there, especially if you're not aware of who the company is.

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah, which is Ė

MORGAN BABIN: A big difference.  A differentiating point between competitorsí products and the PDF-it product, is the condensed and word index.  It actually has to be generated using our competitors application.  So there's extra clicks involved.  pdf-it automatically generates a full-sized, condensed, word index and AMICUS file based on the customer's formatting request.

TODD OLIVAS: Got it.

MORGAN BABIN: And all of that is wrapped into a neatly organized PDF Portfolio.  And beyond that, some agencies are actually taking it to the next level.  They're either just scanning exhibits with their high-speed scanners and adding them into the PDF Portfolio.  Sometimes they're even OCRing, making them word-searchable, so that now paralegals can search across the entire portfolio all in one search Being a PDF portfolio means that only one file needs to be burned to a CD or uploaded to a repository.

TODD OLIVAS: That's an interesting point.  How would somebody accomplish that OCR search without your product?  I mean, how are they doing it now?  Not as -- I mean, is it even possible?  Or do they have to go document by document and search for the text in each exhibit?

MORGAN BABIN: Typically, exhibits are not OCR.  Essentially, they're snapshots, pictures, made by the high-speed scanners, and they're not word-searchable.  Some of the larger firms will use third-party OCR software, or even middleware that's attached to their high-speed scanner that will OCR the document.

TODD OLIVAS: Right.

MORGAN BABIN: That makes them word searchable.  And that's where the power of having a PDF Portfolio will make sense, because now these searches can be conducted across the entire transcript and all the exhibits without having to do multiple searches.  Or having to jump around within different viewers that don't communicate with each other.

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah.  So basically, in a nutshell, you've created a product that is easy for reporters and agencies to use without updates and things like that -- they just go to the website and log in; and the end-product is actually more powerful than what people are used to now, because of the portfolio aspect of it.  It's all-encompassed.

MORGAN BABIN: Right.  And we also understand that being web-based is very crucial, too, because it's all about location and time.  Reporters have their transcripts, the office has the exhibits, so it's a centralized point of meeting.  You don't know when the firm is going to introduce the exhibits.  It might be the day after the transcript is done, the reporter drops them off and those exhibits can be scanned.  And so all of that can be married up somewhere on the web, it doesn't matter what time or location where these various people may be but the components will all come together.  We actually do have an exhibit piece coming out.  It might be toward the tail end of this summer, but it's going to be all about marrying up every part of the transcript, the reporter with the transcript, the office with the exhibits, and then ultimately video from the videographer. 

TODD OLIVAS: Well, that sounds pretty exciting.  And you mentioned a future product, the exhibit piece.  What other products are coming down the pike?

MORGAN BABIN: We also have a big change in the way that the signature is going to be processed.  Because we understand there are a lot of firms that want the ability to create the PDF-it files, yet the reporters want to remain in the loop, we are essentially going in both directions -- it does not matter if the reporter creates the files, which currently is the way it works.  The reporters create the files and a copy of the files automatically goes to the agency in which the work was performed for.  And it's also going to work the opposite direction, meaning if the agency creates the transcript, the reporter will automatically get a notification and a copy of the file within their document history. 

TODD OLIVAS: Got it.  Well, that's great.  I think I've learned a lot, and I think the readers of my blog will appreciate the information too, and I'll put a nice link and everything and all your contact information in there as well.  Just in final -- what do you see as the future of transcript support software, let's say in the next few years?

MORGAN BABIN: Well, I see Adobe continuing to push the envelope.  They're going to offer more features specific to the legal industry, including video integration and synchronization.  So the Adobe Reader is going to become much more powerful and the Adobe Acrobat application is going to eventually become so powerful, it will possibly become part of the trial presentation software that you see various vendors offering.

TODD OLIVAS: Wow.

MORGAN BABIN: So it's going to be highly competitive in that particular field.  It's the battle of the viewers, and I've got my money on Adobe.

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah, I think you've probably backed the right horse, or hitched your wagon to the right train, so to speak.

MORGAN BABIN: Correct, that's how we feel.

TODD OLIVAS: So that's great.  All right.  Morgan, I really appreciate it.  I know you're busy, but I think that this will be cool.

MORGAN BABIN: Did you want me to make any final comments on the feature and comparison documents?

TODD OLIVAS: Oh, yeah.  Go ahead, shoot.

MORGAN BABIN: Okay.  There were only a couple of sections that I kind of ticked off and highlighted or made some notes on.  One column was called Editable Content, and I just wanted to make this comment clear.  Nothing, including E-Transcript, is 100% tamper-proof.  And this is when the importance of digital signatures comes in.  If for some reason someone were to alter a digitally signed PDF document, the signature would become invalid.  And the unscrupulous person would need to have access to the reporter's digital signature file and know the reporter's private key or password in order to forge their signature.  There was also a comment made about how the reporter had the ability to change the date and time on their clock on their computer, and attach the signature with an invalid date and time.  That is not possible with our service because the date and time of the digital signature is applied by the clock time of our server.  And users do not have access to that clock.

TODD OLIVAS: Good point.

MORGAN BABIN: So it's more likely to be accurate when it's done through us than it would be, per se, by a reporter directly using software on their desktop.

TODD OLIVAS: And once again the benefits of a web-based model shine through.

MORGAN BABIN: Exactly.  We have plans to take it to the next level.  We are going to integrate a third-party time server with our digital signature.  It's no different than getting a third-party digital ID and certificate from a company like VeriSign or GeoTrust.  The time server service will be provided again, by a third party, so that it's not our company vouching for the personís identity or the time the digital signature was applied.

TODD OLIVAS: Well, that could be important.  Good.

MORGAN BABIN: Now, there were two actual columns that talked about formatting lockdown and transfer of manageability -- management compatibility.

TODD OLIVAS: Yeah.

MORGAN BABIN:  Many of the transcript file management and trial presentation software vendors have already adopted PDF transcript file import options.  We also generate the AMICUS file so that in case our client's clients are using an older software version or one that doesn't have a PDF import, they'll be able to import in the AMICUS file

TODD OLIVAS: Now, just for clarification, some people use the term ASCII instead of AMICUS, but they're synonymous, correct?

MORGAN BABIN: Not exactly.  The AMICUS file structure is actually more strict. -- ASCII is a generic term, and can have extra information like headers and footers and time stamping.  And all of that extra information can interfere or may have to be manually removed by the paralegal. AMICUS files have been stripped of all of that extra information, including line spacing. There's are no headers, no footers, no time-stamping -- it's just raw text with page and line numbers.

TODD OLIVAS: Thanks for the clarification then.  I appreciate that.

MORGAN BABIN: Sure.  And that's pretty much it.  Thanks for your time, Todd.

TODD OLIVAS: You're very welcome.  Give me about a week or so to get this thing up there and I'll send you a link to it, and maybe you can link from your website over and so forth, but it will hopefully  bring you some eyeballs and some users.

MORGAN BABIN: Yeah, that would be great.  I mean, it's like a groundswell.  People are starting to recognize the format, the technology It's really pretty encouraging, because the clients are getting more educated.  It's not as hard of a sale as it was a year ago, when we first introduced pdf-it. I had to sit there and go through about thirty minutes explaining, why PDF?  The industry's quickly understanding where PDF is going.  Clients understand and request the format now.

TODD OLIVAS:  I think that you've got a winner, and I appreciate it very much.


 

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Author
Todd Olivas

Todd Olivas is a court reporter and entrepreneur.
He founded TO&A in 2003.

  Comment by Nancy J. Grega | Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Most interesting. I have not been asked for a digitally signed transcript yet but I can certainly see that I may be. Here is my problem -- I am the old reporter who still dictates. All of my transcripts are done in Word. Is there applicability here? Thanks.
  Comment by Morgan Babin | Friday, January 30, 2009
I`m not aware of a way to digitally sign a Word document. However, I do believe it is possible to convert your Word document into an ASCII and then convert into a PDF using pdf-it. We provide options to not sign, electronically sign or digitally sign. Plus you could have total confidence that your transcripts can`t be altered. Feel free to contact me if you are willing to give this a try. I would love the challenge and the opportunity to learn something new.


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