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Electronic forms gaining in popularity

August 10, 2006

In today's many different business segments, various paper-based forms still represent a very large aspect of daily things to do. They include such important documents as human resources (HR) records, tax filings, account opening forms, etc.

However, in recent years, a growing number of companies have successfully used e-forms (electronic or digital forms) enabling them to adopt computerized versions of frequently-used business forms. There are obviously many advantages to this.

As managers look to reduce costs, boost performance and ROI, business processes that rely on paper-based, labor intensive practices will receive a lot more scrutiny. Indeed, Gartner estimates the average worker wastes about forty percent of each business day on document-related, non-value-added tasks.

For insurance companies who must settle, process and outsource claims regularly, embracing e-forms technology could substantially lower costs and boost productivity. According to one Forrester analyst, all of this could amount to savings of at least $10 billion or more annually, and would take less time to process by at least one week.

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According to a May 2006 Gartner report, with as many as 85 percent of business processes dependent on forms, shifting to e-forms could provide significant savings in cost, time and human resources.

Beyond the corporate sector, many state governments are also migrating to e-forms. Specifically, thirteen states now mandate tax preparers to electronically file each client's tax returns. Federation of Tax Administrators President Harley Duncan opines the rapid increase in e-filing is attributable to these state mandates.

In addition to the time and money savings, implementing e-forms technology easily translates into other measurable business remunerations. Errors and incorrectly filed forms augment already drawn-out procedures. However, e-forms can vastly improve overall operational efficiencies. With built-in checks and balances.

For example, you may not select the gender box "male" and then choose an "I am pregnant" option! E-forms can substantially lower the probability of mistakes appearing in critical paperwork.

Compiling and sorting information from forms can be difficult, and factors including geographic spread and organizational complexity often exacerbate these tasks. E-forms, however, are emerging as a critical component of executing a service-oriented architecture (SOA) strategy, along with open standards and organizations that adopt this technology will reap the benefits of interoperability.

SOA refers to a method of designing and running an infrastructure's software, ensuring that it supports the necessary individual and interrelated functions required to operate a particular enterprise.

Breaking down a company's business tasks into reusable services, SOA allows them to then connect with each other through the open communication environment it creates.

Through SOA, organizations with multiple devices or platforms can easily communicate with one another and share E-forms. Large, complex businesses will readily appreciate the value of E-forms across their departments.

Increasingly, e-forms products, such as IBM's Workplace Forms which just released its 2.6 version, are being built on Ajax, a main component of Web 2.0. Support from Ajax enriches the Web 2.0 user experience, streamlining the forms process by supplanting the traditional Web page loading on the server with an Ajax engine using JavaScript to communicate with the Web browser.

Ajax also enhances working with e-forms by providing more flexible development option via the Eclipse-based designer. Moreover, E-forms with Ajax support do not require expensive and time-consuming programming.

Although E-forms can assist businesses of all sizes in a variety of sectors, perhaps those best served by the technology are small and medium businesses (SMBs). These enterprises depend on cost-effective enablers to compete within their respective industries.

Lacking the wide-scale cost advantages of their bigger competitors, E-forms are vitally important to SMBs, and can provide efficiency by automating and removing manual handling of forms. E-forms, for SMBs, facilitate the processes essential to providing top-tier customer service, while remaining competitive with larger players.


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