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Transforming Businesses with Electronic Forms – Part 2

Note: This is a three-part series that aims to provide you with all the information you need to understand and implement eForms within your organization. You can find Part 1 here.

Part 2) Preparing to Go Paperless with eForms

Despite the numerous benefits electronic forms offer, many industries still rely heavily on paper. In fact, The World Counts reports that U.S. offices use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper annually. One of the reasons organizations decide against the transition is their fear of disrupting existing processes. Yes, digital transformation will affect businesses initially. However, this minor setback is nothing compared to the high ROI eForms have to offer. Decision makers can calculate how much they can save by adding the costs of paper forms, handling them, and locating and recovering lost forms.

Now that you know just how much you can save annually, let’s begin planning your conversion to eForms.

Determine Your Readiness for eForms

Before creating a well-thought-out plan, organizations should assess whether they’re truly ready for this step.

  • Determine ‘Employee Readiness’ to Sign Electronic Forms – Ask employees whether they’re comfortable signing forms electronically. This is especially important if the workplace comprises of personnel who are used to paper-based forms.
  • Analyze the Organization’s Digital Environment – Judge whether or not your organization’s digital environment can easily implement eForms. For instance, organizations that embraced enterprise mobility can have electronic and mobile forms in place.  
  • Assess Existing Forms Electronic Viability – Analyze forms already used in the organization. Decide which ones should be overhauled, updated, or eliminated. Remember to keep legal compliance in mind.

Select Which Forms to Digitize

Opting for a phased approach will make transitioning from paper forms to electronic forms much easier. Also, selecting a ‘cluster’ of forms to begin with will help the process of transformation.

A sound approach is to begin with low-volume forms which can be easily converted before moving on to more complex forms. Make sure to factor input from other departments as well. However, the fewer stakeholders to review and agree on the form, the quicker the process will be.  

Choose a Vendor (and Product)

In order to effectively achieve value for money and proper form automation, organizations should select the best vendor and, consequently, product for creating forms. According to Info Tech Research Group, the following are the main four criteria for evaluating the best eForms vendors:

  1. Viability – Select a successful, knowledgeable and well-established vendor.
  2. Reach– Depending on the size of the organization, the vendor should be able to effectively provide products and have proven post-sales support. Better yet, the vendor should be able to customize products to feature local languages.
  3. Strategy – Ask how committed the vendor is to this field and whether or not they have a future product that can enhance their portfolio and business operations.
  4. Channel – The vendor’s channel strategy should be suitable for the organization. The channels should be equally as strong.

The product itself should also be assessed against the following four criteria.

  1. Architecture – The delivery method of the solution aligns with organizational expectations.
  2. Affordability – The total cost of ownership of the product should be economical.
  3. Features – The solution provides a mix of basic and advanced features.
  4. Usability – The solution should be easy to use and ‘dashboard intuitive’.

When it comes to features, decision makers can be tricked into investing heavily in features they may not need. To prevent this, here’s a quick look at the main capabilities eForm solutions should have.

  • Digital Signatures – Digital signatures are very important, especially now that they’ve become legally binding.
  • Data Integration – The forms should be able to integrate seamlessly with data sources used throughout the organization. This is very useful if you intend on pre-populating eForms later.  
  • Form Design – The vendor’s solution should allow users to create and design their own eForms.

Other advanced features you may want to consider are:

  • Archiving – eForms should be easily converted to PDF or similar formats for archiving purposes.
  • Rich User Interface – eForms should be designed with a rich UI to deliver good user experience.
  • Mobile – With enterprise mobility becoming a priority, organizations should seriously consider mobile-friendly eForms.

Assess How Easily You Can Design the eForm

The design function of the solution you pick should be user-friendly and adaptable. That way, the form can be well-designed and useful to end users. For a product to meet these two criteria, it should allow you to:

  • Design custom forms from scratch or using templates
  • Add numerous components to the design canvas
  • Align, select and delete components during the design process
  • Decide on the order of form-related actions
  • Save unfinished designs for further edits or later publication
  • Validate data against pre-specified criteria

You can find out about these capabilities from online user guides. However, if the vendor offers a free trial or demo, you’ll get a better idea of the product’s user-friendliness.

Plan the Security of Form Data

As eForms are used for collecting sensitive data, organizations need to proactively secure them. One factor to keep in mind is the regulatory requirements within your industry and your country. For instance, forms in the healthcare industry in the U.S. have to comply with certain stringent guidelines to be considered official.

That said, organizations should plan how to implement the following data security methods:

  • Data encryption methods
  • Secure connections
  • Role-based access control
  • Database encryption and similar measures to protect business systems

Decide How to Make eForms Available

There are a number of ways that eForms can be made available. In addition to the company’s website or portal, you can have these on users’ mobile devices. Which channel of these you choose depends on criteria such as the purpose of the form, the organization’s nature of work, and the type of workforce. For example, a construction company with personnel reporting from the field may prefer to use mobile-friendly eForms.

Develop a Reasonable Timeline

If the organization is ready to embrace eForms, its next step is to define project tasks and goals. To execute these thoroughly, you should develop a reasonable timeline. How you set the timeline completely depends on your requirements, as well as the complexity of the organization’s systems.

Plan the Creation of User Guides and Support Materials

Since the organization will be taking a new direction, it should be prepared to assist users. Only then will they wholeheartedly adopt eForms and ensure that the company’s efforts haven’t been made in vain. By collaborating with the vendor, you can create user guides targeting end users. You should also plan a hand-holding period. This ensures staff receive support, until they’re accustomed with paper-free processes.

These steps cover the planning phase, but you still have a long way to go. Your next step is to implement eForms and ensure their adopting at your organization. Don’t worry; the next post will cover that stage to ensure that your organization’s transition to a paperless environment is smooth.
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