Most people probably remember the time that filling out paper forms to start a business process was normal. The picture of a desk completely buried under enormous piles of application forms. Forms that needed a stamp or a signature before they could be processed. It seems like an image of the previous millennium. But still in 2016, organizations massively rely on these paper forms. Why and how are these papers still used? How can we overcome any obstacles and abandon these time consuming monsters from our business processes?
To answer the why question and find a possible way to get rid off paper forms, lets first analyse why paper forms should not be used anymore.
Once a paper form has been sent off by fax, scanned copy or postal services, the sender looses track of their request. They have no idea if their request is being processed or perhaps waiting for someones signature. The receiving party is dealing with massive amounts of paper and can easily loose forms or emails as there is no management system keeping track of what work is pending processing. When asked, these receiving departments will always be "busy" and have no clue how to optimize. That is because they can't measure their work. No one knows exactly how much work is pending, to be expected or where processes get stuck. Paper forms and mailbox request processing is simply killing for department's efficiency.
Recent research shows that more than 90% of the organizations have implemented or are implementing digital archives. All existing paper documents are scanned and made available for digital processing while new documents should be born digital. Some organizations have even set digital policies. With such a policy, there is no room for paper forms anymore and any obstacle found should be eliminated. But those policies often only apply to business related documentation and not internal request processes. That's strange and unwanted as they cause complex processing, lost of data, manual labor and no tracking possibilities.
I've done a great number of projects in which we replaced paper forms and unclear processes with digital, online request forms and workflow automation behind them. Reasons found in the past to not implement these forms earlier in a digital format varied and I've summed up the most common, with solutions we found.
Demand for signatures. This is one of the most heard reasons. People say that documents should be signed and therefore they should be on paper. A number of solutions can be found for this: check if this signature is really needed. Would an email confirmation or digital approval vote of a person be sufficient as well? In most cases it will! Another solution may be digital signatures. A variety of vendors deliver great solutions to make sure the document is signed by the right person.
Unawareness and habits. Sometimes people never wondered about automation of paper forms at all. They have been using paper forms for years and have never felt the need to digitize. I've seen many of these forms at HR departments, for example to request contract changes or to file job interview notes.
Industrial environments. Paper forms are often used in production lines to keep staff informed on what to produce or assemble. I think these forms will always exist, but should have a digital source and be part of a digital process. Any notes written on the production papers should be transferred into digital content as soon as possible. Possible solution here are scanners or touch pads where paper documents get collected.
In 2016 no organization should be using paper forms anymore as source for service request. Great solutions exist in the market to
No matter what reason to not automate may exist, solutions are available. And if you do find a reason, please get in touch with me and I'll take the challenge to digitize your form.
Raymond Crijnen - Managing Director SMTX