In today’s challenging economic times, organizations are trying to do more with less. This objective is proving a strong selling point for the implementation of digital forms processing solutions. Through the design, creation, and management of digital forms, companies can improve efficiencies across all aspects of their organizations—both internally and externally. From forms that are used to register customers for new services to forms that employees fill out to receive company-sponsored health benefits, the ability to offer these documents in a digital environment ensures that tasks are done completely, accurately, and efficiently.
While the forms represent a way in which companies can collect information from all of their stakeholders, from customers to employees, they (as a more robust data entry tool) can actually serve as the beginning processes that help store that data and make it usable in various applications across an organization’s operations.
“Digital forms allow organizations not only to capture information but to automate the processes associated with that information, manage those processes, report on them, optimize, and leverage that information in ways you just can’t do with manual forms,” says David A. Kelly, president of Upside Research, Inc.
Kelly adds that referring to these processes as forms “may be a little misleading because it’s really about the automation of business processes and information,” he explains. “So ‘forms’ is sort of shorthand for a collection of information. In this case, [the information is] represented in a form.”
What the Form Can Do
The form in its digital state actually serves as the framework in improving business processes. Through the design, creation, and management of these forms, organizations have the potential to significantly change how they conduct business.
Brian Lincoln, senior product line manager for Xerox DocuShare (web-based content management software) says that Xerox customers are transitioning to digital forms because of the ability to save money on paper and storage costs in addition to the efficiencies a reduction in paper naturally yields. “By moving a digital forms process online, you’re able to find that information much faster; sometimes in terms of seconds as opposed to hours or days,” says Lincoln. “With a form, you’re usually seeing some sort of approval process or downstream workflow that needs to be triggered by that incoming form. Rather than have something that has to be physically routed around or physically looked at, you have all that happening online.”
Another benefit, notes Lincoln, is the reduction of data entry errors. Validation of the data can be done at the point of input, he says. This can also lead to time and cost savings.
In addition to cost-saving measures and improving efficiencies, other potential benefits are motivating organizations to transform their forms-processing strategies. Collaboration and compliance are two main drivers, according to Tim Nissen, director of marketing for DocuLex, which provides document and content management software solutions.
“Collaboration is really where the forms come in, especially with being able to share information in real time with colleagues throughout an organization or vendors or anybody else who is involved in a company’s project,” says Nissen. He also notes that compliance is becoming more crucial in this space. “Whether it’s because they’re going to have to report [data] or if they’re going to have to justify it for funding, litigation, or prediscovery, they need to have knowledge of what information is being circulated within an organization.”
While organizations bring different reasons to the table to explain why and how they want to utilize a digital forms processing initiative, how they actually integrate such solutions varies as well. Some choose initiatives that encompass all of their forms at once, while others prefer a gradual entry. “In many cases, organizations do this at a project-based level, focusing on one form or forms associated with a certain process,” says Kelly. “They want to define the process, define the forms, and get the automation in place. They tend to expand out from there, adding forms or processes as they go.”
Joby O’Brien, VP of development for BP Logix, agrees that this is typically one of the best places to start. “Where we’ve been successful is going in at that branch level, department level, or business unit where they’ve got a particular problem that has gotten to a point where they realize that some type of forms-processing automation is going to be a good thing for them,” says O’Brien. “It lets them have a high degree of control of what that is. So it’s not a corporate edict that says, ‘This is how documents are going to be stored or forms are going to be collected.’ It lets them tailor it to their requirements. The key is it allows them to do business a little bit closer to the way they do currently.” BP Logix enables customers to transition to an automated digital form system through its Workflow Director web-based offering.