Better Forms by Design
Beginning with digital form design, companies can make their transition to digital forms processing a smooth one, and they definitely have a lot of flexibility when it comes to the actual design of their digital forms. Sometimes, companies choose to replicate the traditional hard-copy form because they want users to see a familiar document. But oftentimes, they choose to utilize the technology to be more creative and more streamlined with their forms design.
O’Brien says that many clients want their digital forms to be browser-friendly, “which means it’s easy for people to scroll up and down,” he explains. “You add to it in a way that truly does embrace the browser and in a way that people are used to.” Kelly says that it’s more likely for companies to replicate a paper-based form for external processes (such as those involving customers), whereas “internally, you have a bit more variation and control over that, or an opportunity for change.”
However, adoption (both internally and externally) can be aided in the design stage by making the forms almost tutorial in nature. Lincoln notes how companies can create forms that have applications of sorts that will guide users as they enter data into a form, ensuring that all of the required data is entered and that it is accurate.
Organizations must have the users and their specific needs in mind when designing and creating their digital forms. “It’s one thing to sell this to managers and IT directors when you’re selling the advantages and benefits and how you’re going to get compliance and control of your processes,” says O’Brien. “When you’re actually dealing with the folks who are going to be using it day in and day out, it’s a completely different sales process. The most important thing to them is what the interface looks like.”
While some companies create online-specific versions of their forms, some opt to just convert their print forms into online digital files. Yet both processes enable the same result: making form content accessible in a digital format.
Improving Information Management
The main goal of creating digital forms is to make data more usable and to help streamline business processes related to that data. However, some companies don’t initially realize how deeply many segments of their business can benefit from these initiatives. In essence, creating the digital forms and collecting the data is just the beginning and provides a framework for a variety of data management capabilities.
O’Brien says that once organizations take a deeper look at the capabilities related to digital forms processing, they typically do recognize even more value. “They realize it’s more than just a data collection method,” he says. “It becomes a way to manage that data. The user starts entering the information and then interfacing with your back-end systems so you can take action on that form. You can interface with your ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.”
The available features and functionality work to make digital forms processing systems a complete solution. Kelly notes how companies can have different systems (such as ERP) through which they need to flow information between. “That’s an opportunity for forms processing to manage those interactions, such as managing something that comes in from a fax machine that needs to get entered into an ERP system and needs to be verified externally through some other service,” says Kelly. “That would be forms automation as well.”
In terms of data entry, Lincoln says he has seen electronic forms being used as the presentation layer for a business process management application. “The presentation of the data for that work will be controlled through the use of e-forms,” he says. “Different people in that process can be given a different view of the data.”
Regardless of the view, all users must be able to access the data that is most crucial to their particular tasks when and where they need it most. DocuLex’s Archive Studio product contains its WebSearch functionality that works like a typical internet search engine, says Nissen. It enables users to search the forms they need (via password access). The technology works for forms that are created digitally and paper documents that are scanned and converted into PDF or XML.
“The real key is that we’re able to capture and have access and usability and reusability of any form in its native format,” explains Nissen. “We’re able to organize it and provide access to users who need it. It provides a level of security. The people who an organization needs to have access to the documents can have it quickly and easily literally from any location.”
Having such processes in place is also serving companies as a security measure of sorts. Having digital forms and related processes at work can help ensure that important data and the workflow surrounding it remains accessible and intact.
“Having important documents on paper is a recipe for disaster if a disaster were to occur,” says Lincoln, noting that DocuShare has customers who use the solution as part of their disaster recovery or disaster prevention efforts—including a judicial court located in a hurricane zone in Florida. “Whenever a hurricane would hit and they couldn’t get to their paper documents, or paper documents were lost, it would interrupt their court proceedings."