How to Solve the Business Forms Challenge
Nearly every business in virtually every industry uses some type of business forms to collect important information. From personnel forms to tax forms, order forms to insurance forms, expense forms to overtime forms; there are multitudes of business activities and processes that start with the data on a form.
Why are forms so ubiquitous? Because, regardless of how much data or how complex the data is, forms enable people to submit the necessary data in an organized, structure way. Data submitted on a form is generally more accurate than data submitted verbally, or in writing without the guidance of the form questions and categories.
Many organizations have switched to electronic forms, but there are still plenty who rely on paper forms. Forms may be sent via the postal service, via email, downloaded as a PDF file from a website or handed to the person on a clipboard with a pencil attached.
Personally, I hate having to fill out forms. My hand writing has never been the best, but after years of sitting at a keyboard, my hand writing has deteriorated to the level of a well-educated chimpanzee! Paper forms may, like any I fill out, be difficult to read and therefore, tedious to process. They may be slow to manually route via mail or around the office; they may even get lost. Finally, they’re costly to print and cumbersome to store. This is where electronic forms excel over paper…
Benefits of Electronic Forms
First, people, like me, who are more comfortable with a keyboard or a touch-screen than a pen or pencil can easily, quickly and legibly enter the required information. Then, the data from electronic forms can be accessed, often as soon as it’s entered, by designated users; it can be routed for action and even set to trigger certain processes automatically.
Challenges of Electronic Forms
But, as great as electronic forms are, there can be challenges with the set-up of the forms and the execution of the data delivery:
- Forms must be accessible on all devices, including mobile
- Web-forms must be current and up-to-date at all times
- Employees need to be able to access and upload the data into relevant computer programs
- Attachments, when needed, must also be able to be accessed and processed
- Privacy requirements, such as HIPAA for healthcare forms, must be adhered to
- Legal compliance, when required must be clear
- Provision for electronic signatures must be made, when a signature is required
These are just some of the issues that may need to be addressed as a business sets up electronic forms.
Setting Up “Behind-the-Form” Processes
In addition, once someone enters and submits information via the electronic form, what happens to that information needs to be managed. This is a business process. Often this “backend” of the forms process is overlooked in the eagerness to get a form on line. The efficiency of the electronic form will be for naught if the backend processes remain paper-based and manual.
Ideally, the submission of the form triggers an automated process that requires as few manual interventions as possible. This type of process management ensures smooth operations, with few or no errors, and timely attendance to detail.
So, before you decide to create an online form, think about the processes and management that must occur to complete the request or the transaction that the online form initiates. Forms serve a critical business function between companies and their customers and employees, between healthcare providers and patients, governments and constituents, companies and manufacturers, and more.