Forms – How a Good Idea Became a Disastrous Concept

Authored by Paul Gorman, ImageSoft Account Executive

I read a recent statement issued by Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT) saying that, in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is leading the coordination of DOH and the Florida Highway Patrol to implement Executive Order 20-86. As a result, more than 8,000 traveler forms have been collected at the I-10 and I-95 checkpoints. The statement went on to say that FDOT is also coordinating with public use airports, DOH and law enforcement, and has already collected more than 15,600 traveler forms at public use airports across the state.

That, my friends, is a lot of forms, especially for one state agency to process! I soon found myself down a thought rabbit-hole, wondering how this idea came to be. At some point, after all, the concept of a paper form was a great idea.

So I started by researching the most common definition for “forms” in the Dictionaries, and this is what I found:

noun

plural noun: forms

  1.  

the visible shape or configuration of something.

“the form, color, and texture of the tree”

Similar: Shape, Configuration, Formation, Conformation, Structure, Construction, Arrangement, Disposition, Appearance

2.

a particular way in which a thing exists or appears; a manifestation.

“her obsession has taken the form of compulsive exercise”

Similar: Manifestation, Appearance, Embodiment, Incarnation, Semblance

No where in all of the synonyms do you see “paper-based tool used by businesses and governments to frustrate customers,” because, if we are being honest, that is the primary role that forms play today.

It is sometimes fun to reflect on who may have been the first to invent things that we use every day.  We marvel at the visionary inventors who created the light bulb, the automobile and the television, even knowing most of them by name.  No one, I would hazard a guess, wants to claim to be the inventor of the “form.” 

Forms were, at one point, a Huge Improvement

When it was invented, the form was likely a huge improvement.  I have done original colonial legal research in archives and spent some time studying legal case papers.  In colonial times, law was not practiced with forms as it is today.  The handwritten ‘case records’ are anything but standardized.  Although certain phrases and word choices were part of the legal lexicon of the day, the format of the document was entirely up to the legal scribe. Yes, forms were a huge improvement.  I imagine early business documents were similar in that narrative letters gradually became forms to help communicate more rapidly.  It is ironic that a paper-based form, once an improvement, has become an obstacle to more rapid communication.

It was likely in the Pre-Victorian times – Pre-Industrial Revolution (1820-1840) that paper-based forms became popular and have been ubiquitous ever since. And, today, one of the most beneficial improvements that any agency or business can implement is to replace all the paper-based forms with electronic forms. After all, it’s no secret that tremendous time savings can result from organizations formatting information while simultaneously eliminating the paper.

Printable Forms v. Digital Forms – There is a Difference

As with all technology, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.  While digital forms on a website are an improvement over paper forms stacked on your office countertops, if the customer cannot electronically fill out and submit the form, merely having a PDF document on the website for a customer to download, print, manually fill out and then mail in is NOT a digital form.  It provides a printable form to the customer. News Flash! Customers HATE that.

And you, a customer and/or constituent having probably done this, know the feeling.

Another common mistake? The fillable form on the website that doesn’t allow the user to submit supporting documents alongside the form. If you are going to provide, for example, a fillable PDF form for a process that requires the customer to submit supporting documentation and, yet, have no way to connect or submit the supporting documents with the original form…what were you thinking?  Obviously, the solution requirements are that the form and the documents need to be received together.

Unity v. Image Forms: Applications for Each

A common issue to overcome when providing electronic forms in lieu of paper is the form’s format. Often, the agency or business receiving the form has complete control over its format.  In these cases, the form can be optimized and transformed to reflect the new electronic medium, meaning there is no reason to maintain the original format.

In such instances, we recommend the agency use OnBase Unity Forms. Unity Forms simplify the creation and up speed of the implementation of advanced forms. Form creators use an integrated, point-and-click Forms Designer that greatly reduces the time and specialized skill required to build forms for use within OnBase. For end users completing forms, advanced controls add functionality like data validation, dynamic rules and actions, calculations and more, with a consistent, user-friendly experience across devices.

A Unity Form On An Intranet Site (we cannot display OnBase interfaces in broad based content)

But what happens when the form is, for example, a Federal Agency mandated form?  When the specific format is not in the control of the agency or business, we use Image Forms.  Image Forms electronically replicate paper forms, providing the ease-of-use and accessibility of an eForm and eliminating frustrating duplicate entries or costly mistakes. Built on the same platform as Unity Forms, Image Forms are easy to configure and share popular features like Custom Actions, Signatures, and Calculated Fields. The form can be filled out in a supported client or browser, and routed through Workflow. Image Forms can dramatically reduce the time it takes to fill out, process and submit forms.

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated
       An easily configurable OnBase form built in the Forms Designer.

      

The Perfectly “Formed” Combination

For many of our clients, a combination of the two electronic form types is the ideal way to eliminate the remnants of Victorian technology from their processes. For forms with formats they control, use the Unity Form. For forms with formats that they do not control, use the Image Forms.  Both solutions provide hugely beneficial functionality, including:

  • Supportive Document Attachment
  • Automatic indexing
  • Eliminated data entry
  • Triggers and Connects directly to automated workflow engines
  • Supports eSignatures
  • Supports validation and masking
  • Text-Searchable
  • Supports security and hidden fields

Time for a Digital TransFORMation?

The way I see it, true, end-to-end digital forms empowers everyone – insurance agencies and insureds, organizations and customers, governments and constituents, etc. – to do more together.

To learn more about the opportunities of electronic forms and find the perfect fit for your needs, check out our Forms Management webpage. And if you have questions, concerns or just want to vent about all you soon-to-be form-er pains, please don’t hesitate to webchat us.  


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