Electronic forms, also referred to as e-forms, are not new, but there are many businesses and organizations that still use paper forms. Many forms are prefilled, printed, and then used to record a signature. Some companies use a word-processing program to create a fillable PDF and end up printing the form to retain a paper document. These are not e-forms!
It’s time to abandon paper forms and switch to electronic forms. Here are 10 reasons why your organization needs to make the change.
According to AIIM, the average cost to process a simple paper form is $4.56. Let’s do some math. If you have five people who handle five forms each day during a five day week, that’s 125 forms at a cost of $570 per week or $29,640 per year. Complex forms cost much more. According to a recent study, companies in the U.S spend annually more than $120 billion on paper forms, and most forms are outdated within three months. Electronic forms dramatically reduce these costs.
It should go without saying that a switch to electronic forms will eliminate paper. One recent study shows that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year, but there’s more to this than cutting an organization’s carbon footprint. The true cost of paper isn’t the cost of the paper itself, but the costs associated with handling the paper, including printing, capturing, distribution, storage and retrieval. Eliminating paper from the start can have a huge impact.
Paper forms are a pain to route. Often the form needs to be copied or scanned so multiple individuals, groups and department have access to the information on the form. Sometimes forms end up buried on someone’s desk or are misplaced, which makes timely sharing impossible. If the information on the form is important enough to be on a form in the first place, it needs to be in a format that allows for easy document sharing with the ability to control access and security.
Sure, paper forms can be scanned and emailed, but electronic forms are inherently easier to access remotely using any device. More importantly, the access can be easily controlled – ubiquitous access doesn’t equate to open access as document security is managed with a few clicks. With the distribution of work to remote, non-centralized locations, the ability to provide for secure, remote anytime, anywhere access to forms is essential.
It’s easy to make a mistake on a paper form, and it’s easy to err during data entry. E-forms allow for data validation to ensure the information that’s being captured is in a valid format (for example, telephone and email information). Electronic forms also allow for automatic formatting and calculations, further reducing errors. Form fields can be integrated with current databases for synchronization, ensuring the right data is flowing where it needs to go.
A form is not an island, but paper forms often end up looking like the Florida Keys – scattered and loosely connected. E-forms can be easily integrated with other business platforms, including HRIS, ERP and accounting platforms from companies such as Microsoft, Info, Sage, SAP and Epicor. Business uses might include purchase orders, sales orders, contracts, student records, patient records, HR onboarding and employee information, and the like. Related forms can be bundled together to form a document package so the forms can be gathered, grouped, reviewed, approved, and distributed quickly and easily in a consistent and accurate process. The forms reside in the enterprise content management platform but are synchronized with the appropriate business platform and databases.
Forms typically pass through many hands, and some of these are making changes to information collected. Who sees the form and what changes were made can be extremely difficult to track using paper forms or scanned documents. E-forms are trackable – you can see who has viewed the form and if any changes have been made to the data. If the form is part of a process, you can quickly see where the form is in the process, and report on its status. Try doing that with paper!
In the United States, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act of 2000 granted legal recognition of electronic signatures if all parties to a contract choose to use electronic documents and to sign them electronically. This applies to virtually all uses. The European Union and the United Kingdom have similar regulations as well. In most countries, electronic signatures are treated the same as a written signature. Electronic forms are easy to distribute, easy to sign and easy to verify; this is all done securely with advanced safeguarding to prevent fraud and misrepresentation.
This is perhaps the best reason to switch from paper to e-forms. Electronic forms allow for automated notifications of workflow assignments to ensure faster, more efficient processing across every department. Paper forms simply do not offer this. Real-time workflow integration streamlines the entire document management process, and secure, remote anytime, anywhere access ensures that forms are getting to the right people, no matter where they’re located or how they chose to connect.
Add up all the reasons to switch, and you’ll find that e-forms will deliver a quick ROI. Some businesses look at the cost of the switch and balk, but they’re not looking at the true cost of document management and all the benefits that electronic forms offer. Electronic forms increase data and workflow visibility, shorten cycle times, improve service and eliminate paper and paper-related expenses. That adds up to a real ROI, real fast.