Avoid Letting Paper Forms Slow Down Your Business
Collecting information on paper forms has, until recent times, been the norm for many businesses. Creating and distributing a paper form to collect data is still considered an easy option by many.
The time-consuming part of the process comprises digitising the data, and transferring it to a modern database for further use. As a business grows, the paper forms tend to pile up and the time taken to process them soon becomes a bottleneck in operations.
Technology has brought us to a point where it’s now far better to go digital from the start. Various methods of form digitisation allow us to cater for all data collection needs, and in a far superior way too.
Let’s look in more detail at the limitations of paper-form data collection, also why digitised forms could be the better business choice to make.
What’s wrong with manual data entry?
Business is evolving at a faster pace than ever before. In order to stay ahead of the competition and survive, it’s paramount that a business keeps operational overhead to a minimum. Digital data entry can be the low-hanging fruit for operational optimisation.
Form digitisation can significantly reduce the workload on staff, freeing up their time to tackle other important tasks.
Another important factor to consider is the human error associated with paper-form data collection when this is done by staff. Any number of things could be on the mind of a staff member filling out a paper form, and they could end up being less than meticulous.
Operational efficiency and reduced human error are the two primary factors promoting the need to move away from paper forms. Other factors include environmental impact and staff job satisfaction due to greater efficiency.
Ways to automate data entry
It is becoming clear that paper forms are a way of the past. So, let’s take a look at the tools we have available to digitise forms.
Numerous businesses provide what are called “Fillable PDF Forms”. These are simply PDFs which allow a viewer to enter information in form fields. The purpose of this is to remove the need for paper and allow for digital transfer of the completed form.
These forms can furthermore be digitally signed by the viewer, which means it will be suitable for use in legal documents.
When completed forms are returned to the business, staff can electronically export the data from the PDFs and transfer it into the business systems in a few steps.
Where this method falls short is its limited ability to scale. Because a manual step of processing the completed forms is still part of the process chain, staff will be kept very busy if the number of forms is large. Budget permitting, this manual step could be eliminated – read on for more about that.
Online form providers
The past decade has seen great growth in the numbers of online form providers. It is now exceptionally easy to build forms online. This is typically offered via a web interface where the user can build a customised form by dragging and dropping.
In exchange for this convenience, the online form providers have payment plans that individually price items such as available field types, customisation, support levels and many more.
Some of the leading providers include:
- Google Forms
These all offer products that allow users to set up online forms quickly and easily.
The limitations of these products lay in scalability and integration with existing business systems and processes. Users are also at the mercy of the platforms’ pricing plans, and integration into third-party products and databases is limited.
It’s becoming increasingly cost effective to build online forms with bespoke web technology. These type of online forms are served via a web application, similar to internet banking, social media or e-commerce platforms.
Building a dedicated web application to handle the data input of your users means that you can design your online forms exactly the way you need. There are a number of benefits to this:
- the ability to design the forms according to brand guidelines;
- pre-filling data already on record;
- seamless integration with customer databases, CRM or other systems; and
- creating automated reminders and notifications relating to the forms.
Traditionally, the development of bespoke online forms has been exclusive to larger businesses and corporations. Yet, in recent times, the web technology has become far easier to work with. By leveraging modern technology such as Progressive Web Apps and Hybrid Mobile Apps, bespoke development is a viable option for many small to medium sized businesses.
The upfront cost of bespoke development can seem daunting at first, but when the operational savings are factored in, it could be an attractive option.
There are many benefits to moving away from paper forms. Depending on your business needs, you might be inclined to resonate with one or all of the following:
- Streamlined operations
- Improved data integrity
- Environmental benefits
- Improved job satisfaction among staff
The modern methods for collecting data from your users or customers include:
- Fillable PDF Forms,
- Online Form Builders and
- the use of bespoke development.
Fillable PDF Forms are convenient and simple to set up but do not scale well. Online Form Builders are also simple to set up, but come with limitations in their capabilities, as well as ongoing fees. Bespoke development has an upfront cost which can put a business off at first, but may, in the long run, be the more prudent path to take.
The best method for you will depend on your business needs and characteristics.