It is a truth well acknowledged that if you’re using forms to collect data in any way for your organization, you need an established forms management process. That’s because there are many different types of forms, from surveys to contact forms to quizzes and more, and there are many different departments making and deploying them. If you’re going through the trouble of collecting data for your own uses, you need to implement a standardized, organized process that won’t work against you.
Forms management entails the deployment and management procedures that keep all of your forms on track as they move through the stages of their lifecycle: creation, publication, reporting, recording and archival. The goal of this process is to centralize these activities, so that HR and Accounting and Operations are not each running their own shows. When everyone is benefiting from the same management and oversight, you’ll be able to retrieve and share data more effectively, track the costs and benefits of each form and manage their life cycles.
With each form, there is a lot to consider: the type of form you need, the path it will take through your company, the rules and regulations it needs to follow and much more. You’ll quickly find that forms management requires a lot more planning and resources than you expected, but once you get your forms process under control, you’ll be able to inject more efficiency into data collection for your organization while also maximizing its value.
More Than One Type of Form
When you break down your forms – those checklists, COI disclosures, request forms, surveys and submission forms – into their most basic structure, you’ll realize that there are a few different kinds of forms. You should consider how each needs to be treated in your management process. Essentially, you have two categories: web forms and physical forms.
These kinds of forms are typically made available electronically, and when they’re needed, they can be printed-on-demand (POD). PODs are filled out manually and turned in to the proper person or location. The benefit of using such a process is that the form is available immediately as needed. The recipient of the form is responsible for getting it themselves, and you don’t have to worry about printing, storing or sending it out to them; it’s very hands-off for an organization.
While PODs save you time and money you’d spend handling them, users still have to print out and turn in these forms. That takes a key part of their lifecycle away from your control. You’re also likely to receive a lot of handwritten responses, which are harder to process. Fill-and-print (F/P) forms are a bit better, as they allow users to fill out a form online before printing and sending it in. They can be especially useful for the times in which you need a physical signature along with the information recipients are providing.
F/P forms may have a more sophisticated creation process utilizing field restrictions, some masking, and special fields such as checkboxes and simple dropdown selections, but ultimately, they still suffer the same problem of PODs. There are still blindspots in your ability to effectively manage them.
These can also be called intelligent forms. From a user perspective, they are truly paperless; they access, fill out and submit these forms all online. These forms are classified as intelligent because they employ features such as hidden and conditional form fields, weighted questions and responses, designated required fields, calculations and other advanced formatting. You can also embed supporting documents and materials to provide context and improve the quality of data collected.
Intelligent web forms are ideal for forms that require dynamic internal routing within your organization. Forms can be automatically sent to the next supervisor in a sequence to verify that the data collected is accurate and thorough. As needed, forms can be shared with supervisors, upper management and HR without dedicating a real employee to take up the task. This improves productivity, saves time and resources and reduces paper waste.
With these kinds of forms, the collection and reporting of data is streamlined. All form data is compiled into a report, giving you insights into responses, both overall and at an individual level. With this information, you can easily tally results or progress reports. Reports can also be exported for further analysis and presentation. Perhaps the same insights can be generated from paper forms, but compiling and reporting data requires significantly more manpower and time.
Controlling Your Forms Management Process
Once you establish an official process for your forms, you want to do all you can to ensure that everyone buys into your strategy. That’s because your process will allow all forms to be regularly evaluated for accuracy, compliance with policies, obsolescence and overall effectiveness. A form that is created outside of a centralized process runs the risk of noncompliance, costing you money and resources and ultimately being ineffective.
Your strategy should include a plan for instilling an effective workflow: form creation, approval, deployment, management reporting and support. Along with that, you also need to consider your software requirements.
An Effective Forms Workflow
Form Creation: This stage of your workflow jumpstarts the whole process. For this stage to be successful, you need to identify the people who will be involved in creation and assign responsibilities for content contribution, revising and updating forms, managing different versions and orchestrating the approval process. You also need to ensure that you’re using the right tools and templates when building forms; consistency is very important for users and for processing data.
Distribution: Determine how your forms will be published. This may depend on who the form is for and how you want them to have access to it. If a form is for internal use, for instance, who does it apply to, just a few individuals, a whole department or everyone? You also need to think about your timeline for each form. If you need the data by a certain date, you’ll need to create a system of reminders to ensure recipients actually follow through with your form request. You should carefully consider and document the routes each of your form types will take beforehand.
Submission and reporting: If users encounter any obstacles during submission, you’ll be less likely to receive the quality and quantity of data you’d like to. Your system for forms management should be able to bridge the gap between the information users provide and yourself. You need to be able to aggregate all of your data from each form into an easily digestible format, and analyze it from more than one perspective. For the forms themselves, you also need to track usage – how often is each form used, who uses them, how long does it take to create forms, how do recipients respond to them, etc. – to assess the efficiency of your process.
TotalCompliance Intelligent Forms: Meet Your Software Standards
Forms management is not something that you can tackle in a single day. Depending on how you use forms in your organization, it can be a tough animal to wrangle. That’s why you need the right forms management software working on your side. A platform that enables the creation of dynamic forms, a seamless distribution process, automated reminders, real-time reporting and comprehensive document management.
TotalCompliance Intelligent Forms will check all of your boxes. Built out of our powerful policy management system, it enables complex formatting, automated workflows and reminders, customized distribution lists, version control and more. And, our solution is ideal for a variety of situations. Single forms created within our forms management software can be sent to recipients inside and outside your organization, no user account necessary.
Managing forms may seem like a cumbersome process as you get started, but with TotalCompliance helping you each step of the way, you’ll have your various forms under control in no time. Request a demo with ComplianceBridge today to see how it works in practice.