Understanding Form Automation
If you were to ask any businessperson today if their forms are still paper-based, you may be surprised at the response. Paper forms are still here, making up some of the 12.1 trillion sheets of paper US offices use each year. US companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms, with most becoming outdated within three months’ time. Paper forms and paper-based processes cost the US federal government $39B. Clearly, we still have a paper problem.
Advanced OCR technology known as Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) or Intelligent Forms Processing can help solve this problem through the scanning/digitization of the form, followed by automated classification algorithms that determine the document type and automated extraction algorithms that pull data from the form based on its location or field name/value pairs. Any errors can be corrected by a human being in a data validation step before being sent on to downstream systems. While Advanced OCR can reduce the burden of paper processing, the process still starts with paper.
Ideally, the paper would never get created in the first place. Enter Digital forms. Digital forms are forms that are born digital and never live on paper to begin with, with form submitters using electronic devices to complete the form, thereby eliminating the inefficiencies of paper form completion and return. A digital form is the central component of any form automation.
Learn more about the Nintex Forms product.
What is the purpose of an automated form?
70% of AIIM survey respondents indicate that they plan to expand their efforts to encourage and support more digitally-born documents. 41% said they plan to fully embrace electronic forms. Why are automated forms so valuable? Organizations opt for automated forms over paper forms for many reasons:
H3: Cost savings
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of forms automation is the drastic cost savings over paper forms. With digital forms, organizations can completely zero out the expense of paper, printing, transportation, scanning, manual document classification and data entry, and storage costs. These can add up to thousands of dollars per year for each form an organization processes.
Forms automation accelerates the processes that require forms to be completed as part of the process. Instead of days to complete, return, receive, process, and respond to a paper form, digital forms allow for instant submission of form data and faster turnaround of requests—in minutes or hours.
Reduced processing errors
Field accuracy validations and automatic multi-field calculations ensure that fields are correct before the form is submitted. With paper forms, errors are not caught until the form is received, and then the process must start over again, wasting time and effort for the organization and the form submitter. And with human operators manually entering data from dozens of forms every day, data entry errors are inevitable. Form automation removes human data entry error from the equation.
Greater information sharing
Unlike their paper counterparts, automated forms are centrally stored and easily shared and searchable across a distributed and/or remote organization. Instead of thumbing through filing cabinets, forms automation allows you to quickly search by keyword for a form name or field value within the form, either pre-deployment of the form or after thousands of forms have been completed and submitted. With remote work at an all-time high, convenient information sharing and searchability are key to business agility and competitiveness now more than ever.
Form adaptability and optimization
Automating forms opens up the ability for dynamic forms that adapt to a user’s responses. Automated forms allows for an ideal user experience where I am only completing the forms required that apply to me. No more reading through an entire form and deciding whether or not I need to skip a section, and which section to jump to. Form design can be optimized as well, enabling testing of different form fields and layouts over time to optimize response rates.
Reporting, compliance, security
With forms automation, reporting on data submitted within the form across hundreds or thousands of forms becomes a realistic option—something not possible with paper forms. Organizations can spot trends in the data and make adjustments to the business. This improved reporting also helps an organization stay compliant and be more prepared for data audits. Last, collecting sensitive data in an encrypted manner and storing it in encrypted cloud storage provides a much more secure approach to forms data collection than filing cabinets.
More seamless workflow integrations
Forms automation is a key component of broader workflow automation, where completion of the form is a step within a larger end-to-end business process. After all, a form existing in a vacuum isn’t very useful—we need to be able to call the form in various ways, and leverage the data submitted in that form to advance the next steps of the business process. Forms automation enables effective workflow integrations on the input and output sides of the equation.
How do you automate forms?
Automating forms is a straightforward process using forms automation software, involving three stages: Build, Integrate/Deploy, and Maintain.
To build a digital form, follow these steps:
- Decide whether your form will be publicly accessible by anyone with a provided web link, or if only accessible through authentication as would be the case for customers, partners, or employees.
- If a PDF fillable or non-fillable form already exists for your form, no need to build the form from scratch–use a PDF to form converter, which will use machine learning and computer vision to automatically identify the form fields you want to create. Simply select the data fields in your document and import them into the form designer and customize from there.
- To build a form from scratch, use a no-code visual designer to drag and drop field controls onto the canvas and configure the fields to say and behave the way you want them to. Out of the box form fields available in the Nintex Forms designer include:
- Single choice
- Multiple choice
- Data lookup
- File upload
- Repeating section
- Short text
- Long text
- If your form is long or complex, it may be a good idea to split it into multiple pages, with each page having a distinct grouping and purpose. For example, you might have page 1 include personal information fields, page 2 include fields describing the products, quantities, and prices quoted, and page 3 contain the legal language and signature and date fields. Navigation headings at the top help the form completer know where they are at any given time.
- As you build the form, you will want to be able to preview it for appearance as well as functionality. Does the form work the way you think it will? Periodic previews provide a nice way to test the form during the design phase.
- You will also want to consider the style of the form. Your forms builder should provide out of the box templates for common themes, as well as the ability to customize fonts, colors, brands, etc. manually or with cascading style sheets (CSS) to align with corporate branding.
- What makes forms automation so powerful are the dynamic rules, advanced logic, and conditional formatting you can define that dictate the behavior of the form and how the user will interact with it. No-code forms solutions provide the ability to define if/then/else and and/or rules that are very easy to define. For example, if the “I Agree” box is checked, then show the signature area, else do not show the signature area. Or, if product X is selected, then display optional item Y that is offered for that product, otherwise do not display optional item Y.
- Forms builders should also support the concept of variables. Form variables such as “First Name” and “Customer Number” and “Email” are helpful not just when exporting the data to systems of record, but also when defining actions to take outside the form itself. For instance, when form is submitted, send an email to “Email” and address it to “First Name.”
Integrate and Deploy
Once you build a form with a forms builder, forms automation takes it a step further and helps you integrate that form with other automation steps in the business process. For example, a secure form URL might be emailed automatically as part of an employee onboarding process, once the employee reaches a certain step. Or a form display on a web page or app might be triggered as part of an online quoting process on an insurance company website. Data from the forms can then flow into an HR system or CRM system, respectively. The data can also auto-populate a personalized document that can be emailed to the prospect for esignature.
- Employee reaches next step in onboarding process
- Email digital form URL
- Upon submission, data sent to HR system.
Online Insurance Quotes:
- Request quote button selected by web visitor
- Display full digital form requesting more information
- Upon submission, data sent to CRM system and auto-emailed to sales rep, and data auto-populates a personalized document emailed to the prospect for esignature.
You can configure these workflow steps using a workflow automation product like Nintex Automation Cloud, dragging and dropping steps of the process onto a digital canvas with no code required.
The forms automation solution should also have the ability to display the deployed form on any device (desktop, mobile, or tablet) and supported browser. These are called “responsive forms” and selecting this option should be as easy as a configuration checkbox. The solution should also provide the ability to auto-populate the form with known data based on webhook integrations with existing systems, saving the visitor time when completing the form.
Forms automation solutions should be maintained over time in three ways. First and most importantly, since forms change so often as the business changes, it is good business practice to periodically ensure that the form is still meeting the needs of the business.
Second, the form response should be measured over time to guage which fields are being completed, which are not, and which form versions are being fully submitted, and which are being abandoned. This will ensure optimal response rates.
Third, the broader process itself should be reviewed periodically. Are the right steps occurring before the form is presented or emailed? Are the right systems and people being notified after the form is submitted?
How do organizations use form automation?
Organizations spanning all industries take advantage of forms automation to streamline the collection of data from prospects, customers, partners, and employees. Common digital forms include:
- Insurance claims
- Bank account applications
- Loan applications
- Job applications
- College applications
- Hospital admissions
- Surveys and customer feedback forms
- Work orders
- Sales orders
- Purchase requests and purchase orders
- Expense report
- Timesheets, vacation requests
- Field inspection report
- Financial reports
- Marketing content requests
- Marketing lead gen forms
- IT help requests
- Support ticket form
Thousands of customers benefit from Nintex Forms today. Here are three in particular:
Ferring Pharmaceuticals used Nintex Workflow and Nintex Forms to make its travel approvals faster and more accurate. They eliminated manual request processes, removing paperwork bottlenecks and enabling managers to approve travel requests quickly, from any location. They now see fewer delays as a result of efficient travel approval, and the digitized travel approval process delights employees.
Northumbrian Water must track the physical condition of hundreds of chemical tanks – even those 50 meters below ground. Before Nintex, Northumbrian Water’s field inspectors depended on paper forms and spreadsheets to track the status. Now, thanks to Nintex Forms, remote workers record tank conditions digitally from mobile devices. Once recorded, the information is automatically routed to a SharePoint database that is monitored by business analysts to spot and address compliance issues right away.
Hamra Enterprises, owner of more than 150 franchise restaurants, required a simple and scalable solution to automate its timesheet process. In just one week with Nintex, Hamra Enterprises built an entirely automated digitized process for collecting and importing the timesheet data with modern forms and advanced workflow on the Nintex Platform. Now, employees easily submit their hours into a Nintex Form which kicks off a workflow routing the hours to their manager for approval. Once approved, submitted time is automatically entered into the import file for the company’s payroll system.
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