Hiding in plain sight, part 3: regulated forms don’t have to be paper!

Welcome to the final installment of the hiding in plain sight series, where we’ve taken a look at how paper forms slow your business and frustrate your customers.

Now we’re going to address the issue of when you have paper forms you need to re-create exactly in an electronic format, either because the process depends on their structure or because they have been through an approval process with a governing body. Your electronic form needs to look exactly like your paper forms, but what can you do to make these types of forms electronic?

There are several ways you can re-create your forms to look exactly like your paper version, but how do you choose what’s right for your organization? Time and technical complexity are great places to start. How difficult will it be to re-create that form, and do you need a programmer or highly technical resource?

Ease of use is another important factor in deciding which method is best for your electronic forms. The forms have to be intuitive enough to accommodate different levels of technical knowledge for those filling out the forms. The best scenarios for end users are when electronic forms are pre-populated with known information (if available) and are able to dynamically guide them through the process of entering any additional information.

Re-creating forms as HTML

Re-creating a paper form exactly using HTML and CSS is very difficult, and not always advisable. Paper forms are often designed with information stacked closely together, which is limiting and may not allow for adding the conveniences of electronic forms (think drop down lists, radio buttons, and date pickers).

HTML forms generally require a highly technical forms designer to create a sophisticated eform with user-friendly features to support end users. And technology evolves rapidly, meaning that you have to maintain eforms so they are still operable on the newest devices and in the newest browsers.

Proprietary forms products

There are many third-party forms products on the market that promise to help create electronic versions of regulated or highly structured forms. Some of these products are “niche” players and may absolutely be effective for your forms needs.

Considerations for these types of products are security of the forms, storage, and integration with other business applications. Will this system work with your existing systems, or will it be an information silo? Will the forms be stored securely? Will retention policies apply to them?

These are important questions you need to answer before you move forward.

OnBase forms products

OnBase has a propriety eforms product built into its enterprise content management (ECM) suite called Unity Forms. We built Unity Forms with a WSYWIG editor and designed it to integrate natively with OnBase Workflow, document management, and even integration platforms your organization might use to interact with other business systems. Unity Forms have a lot of benefits for users and administrators alike, but for years, they were not ideal for re-creating highly structured or regulated forms because they do not have the fine formatting control needed.

OnBase 16 changed the game for these types of forms, however, by combining the ease of configuration and usability of Unity Forms with a new product, Image Form Composition. Image Form Composition maps the values from a Unity Form to placeholders on an image of the paper form. After filling out the Unity Form electronically, you can permanently burn the data on an exact replica of the paper form with a click of the mouse.

The advantages of using OnBase eforms extend beyond the simple calculations of determining paper, toner, and labor associated with moving from a manual process. OnBase securely stores eforms, where they can be automatically routed for approvals, initiate timers for follow-up, and available for retrieval from a variety of devices (including mobile). In addition, you can leverage the data from the forms for future use of the record, real-time reporting, and even to enforce retention policies.

I hope this series has helped shed some light on the world of paper and electronic forms. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

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