Hiding in plain sight part 1: the paper form problem

At our most recent annual conference, CommunityLIVE, I started each of my forms sessions by asking the attendees whether they still had paper forms in their organizations. In every class, filled to capacity, almost every hand went up. All of these organizations already own OnBase, so they know the value of eliminating paper from their processes. But somehow, paper forms are still a problem for most of us.

Flash back to 2008, when electronic forms (also known as eforms, e-forms, and digital forms) were a hot topic in ECM. All our forms were going to be electronic forms! They could be easily routed within a workflow, accessed more easily by remote workers or even the general public, and they would bypass imaging requirements entirely.

It didn’t take long to realize, however, that creating these forms in electronic format was difficult and time-consuming. Not to mention the issues that arose when technologies kept changing, rendering some forms obsolete soon after people created them.

Paper is a bad user experience

Eight years later, most of us still have some paper forms. It’s an interesting problem, because forms are arguably the most visible documents in any organization. Many times, your first contact with a service provider, business, government organization, or school is through a form. Whether it’s an application, profile, or request, the paper experience is a bad one for everyone.

For example, when I enrolled my daughter in Kindergarten this year, I filled out all of our information in triplicate—by hand—for the school, after-school program, and transportation department. Suffice it to say, as much as I disliked filling out the forms, I’m sure processing them was an even bigger nightmare.

We all know that having an efficient, maintainable forms solution is the ideal, but there are so many variables and roadblocks that it’s difficult to find a single solution for all of your forms needs.

But what if a single solution isn’t the answer? Paper forms all share the same medium—paper and ink—but are rarely the same when rendered electronically. With electronic forms, things like mobility, data collection, signatures, and routing are important considerations and start to distinguish certain types of forms from others.

Lack of technical resources = reliance on paper forms

You know that paper forms are slowing your processes and bogging down your organization, but someone has to create them—and own them. Unfortunately, that often takes time and resources you don’t have.

I often see customers searching for a ‘magic bullet’ for their forms problems. They tell me they have hundreds or even thousands of paper forms that they would need to recreate, so they want something that makes it easy to transform paper into electronic forms.

But it’s important to invest in a forms technology that will be upgradable and maintainable so that you’re not reprogramming all your forms in a few years. Web programming standards change rapidly, and without an innovative solution, you would have to rework many electronic forms to accommodate an evolving business process, new browser versions, or new devices.

You definitely don’t want to be reworking your thousands of forms every few years!

Flexibility in your form solutions

The good news is that there are solutions that can help. OnBase has three forms solutions: HTML-based for completely customized forms, configurable forms for easy design and maintainability, and an image form product to replicate paper forms exactly as they appear on paper. This allows you to choose the best electronic forms for your organization—and sometimes it’s not a matter of which one but using a combination of products to meet your needs.

The good news is that we built all of these products on a single platform, so you’re not maintaining three completely different solutions—just tailoring your electronic forms to your specific needs.

If you are still trying to solve your paper form problems, I encourage you to look for a rapidly deployable electronic forms solution that will evolve with changing technologies (and devices) and allow you to upgrade with minimal troubleshooting or changes to your forms. And once you get rid of that paper, you’ll see decreased cycle times, better/more complete data in your system, and less frustration from your users!

What’s next?

Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll discuss why your organization should stop printing forms to capture signatures and how using electronic signatures gives you a competitive advantage.

In part 3, we’ll take a look at how you can recreate electronic forms to look exactly like the paper-based versions when you are required to do so by regulations or laws. We’ll also discuss how to make them user-friendly with options like auto-population.

Carolyn Kane

Carolyn Kane

Carolyn Kane has been an OnBase product evangelist since 2009. With a background in digital communication and design, she specializes in integrations, electronic forms, signatures, and correspondence management. She shares... read more about: Carolyn Kane