Electronic document management today is about more than just your documents. Your forms have a vital role to play, as well.
What is Forms Management?
Forms management is the process for managing, distributing, completing, and processing forms. This used to be a paper-based process, but web-based forms are becoming the standard for capturing information from customers, vendors, employees, or even business partners.
The goal of forms management today is to get better data, faster turnaround, and lower costs. Lengthy forms processing times are a no-go. Information gathered on forms should be synced with back-end applications automatically.
Another crucial element of forms management is control. Organizations want to control how information can be captured. This is typically done through requiring certain fields on a form, or providing a limited set of options that people can select from to fill out a form.
Forms management software makes forms processing go a lot smoother. But older variations of forms management software—like OmniForm—have fallen out of support. So, if you’re using one of those, it might be time to move on.
What’s the Difference Between Forms and Documents?
Typically, forms fall under the document umbrella. They’re a type of document, typically used for gathering information from customers or vendors. What distinguishes forms from documents is fillable fields.
Practically every type of business uses forms to capture information. Hospitals use forms to collect patient intake information. Banks use forms for customer loan applications. And any business with an online presence uses forms to collect payment information.
And to get the most out of your forms, you need electronic forms management.
Forms Management in Real Life
Forms are everywhere—hospitals, banks, every human resources (HR) department.
There are many ways that electronic forms management systems are used today. But forms management systems can go awry when paper is involved.
Do you remember a time when paper-based forms ruined your day?
Let’s say you need to go to the passport office to renew your passport. You get there and wait in line—just to find out they’ve run out of paper forms and you can’t renew your passport that day. You’re left feeling frustrated and annoyed—how could they be out of forms?
Your customers, vendors, employees, and business partners don’t want to feel that pain.
Forms management can prevent it. And it can save your business time. After all, even a modest savings of 10-12 hours a week adds up fast.
What Should You Put on a Form?
Some web-based forms are better than others. Using the right electronic forms technology can make the difference between adoption and rejection by your customers, vendors, employees, and business partners. And it all comes down to how the form is put together—and what you put on it.
So, what should you put on a form?
Common Form Elements
|Element||What it Does|
|Back||Allows user to go back a page without losing previous entries.|
|Reset Form||Resets all data fields on a form to a default value (can be empty).|
|Submit||Allows user to submit form when finished.|
|Text||Area for free-form text entry.|
|File or Attachment||Allows users to browse their local machine or network and select a file to include with form.|
|Username||User’s log-in name (can build rules such as minimum required length).|
|Password||Password entry (can build in requirements such as minimum length, inclusion of uppercase or numbers, etc.). Characters entered in this field should be displayed as asterisks.|
|Forgot Username or Password?||Allows users to follow a pre-defined procedure to retrieve their username and/or password.|
|Checkbox||Users can select or clear a checkbox.|
|Radio Button||Allows users to select one option from two or more choices.|
|Table||Allows presentation of information in a table form.|
|List Box||Users can select from a list of choices.|
|Drop-Down List||Allows users to select from a list, using an arrow on the side of the control to see more options.|
You should make your forms as easy to fill out as possible. For instance, don’t make the people filling out the form figure out what date format you want—mmddyy, mm/dd/yy, mm/dd/yyyy, dd/mm/yy, dd-mm-yyyy. Instead, let users select dates from a calendar to populate the date field. (Or, at least provide an example of what you want.)
You should also put rules in place in case of errors. After all, if a user gets an error but doesn’t know where the problem is, how will he or she fix it?
How to Collect Accurate Information on Forms
How do you know if the information you collect on a form is accurate? Data validation.
Forms management should give you the ability to validate data against a database in real-time. And the more you can validate when data is collected, the better the quality of the data in your database.
This also enables you to sync data back into the system—without manual data entry.
Common Form Validation Tactics
|Validation Tactic||What it Does|
|Required Field||Ensures that user has input an acceptable value. This might allow alpha only, numeric only, or a combination.|
|Compare Fields||Ensures that input used in one area matches another. This control is often used when users are asked to provide their email address twice to ensure its accuracy.|
|Range Check||Ensures values entered are within a specified range.|
|Custom Field Validation||Allows scripts to validate input content in the field.|
Capturing information is great. But what do you do with it after you capture it?
Many organizations use this information to build and assemble documents—like invoices. You don’t want bad data to go from form to invoice. And that leads to the other side of forms management—document automation.
What is Document Automation?
Document automation is the process of using data (often the same data collected on web-based forms) to create documents. It can also involve assembling supporting documents as attachments.
Many companies use document automation to create purchase orders, invoices, ship notices, and even checks. Good document automation software automatically populates data into these documents. Then, you can use workflow automation to route them for approval. It should alert you if approval isn’t received within a specified time, so you don’t need to worry about manual follow-up.
Using document automation helps companies speed up processes. And it improves customer service, because key documents—like invoices—can be referenced in an instant.