Though eForms come in many different shapes and sizes - including fillable PDFs, on-premise “thick” clients, and cloud-based platforms - the underlying value they provide, regardless of vehicle, cannot be overstated. The growth of eForms, particularly across Financial Services (Banking & Insurance), Healthcare and all forms of government is growing at a rapid pace.
An eForm (also written as e-form or electronic form) is a digitization tool that replaces and/or replicates a traditional paper form. eForms are a vital component of any digital transformation effort, regardless of industry, because they satisfy both the need to improve customer experiences and an organization’s need for clean, structured data for use in broader initiatives. When used in place of paper forms, eForms not only eliminate the cost of printing, storing, and distributing pre-printed forms but also provide a dramatic reduction in the effort, NIGO (not in good order) percentages and time associated with obsolete forms. Typical eForms support the ability to automatically format, calculate, look up and validate collected information. Upon submission, most can also support complex delivery and the routing of collected information via email, SFTP, and RESTful APIs; further streamlining existing processes.
Though the terms are often used interchangeably, purists state that eForms and Smart Forms (smartforms) are not the same; with the latter often being cited as the 2nd generation/more advanced version of electronic forms and data collection.
Generally speaking, both eForms and Smart Forms are used as part of process improvement initiatives; often replacing ad-hoc processes and paper forms. However, while eForms are typically closer to a mirror image of an existing paper form, Smart Forms represent a broader deployment of technology used to consolidate multiple processes into a unified experience and are capable of more complex branching and personalization throughout the user’s experience.
Having said that, any move towards the digitization and elimination of paperwork is a smart and necessary step forward.
Think about the last time you were required to fill out a paper form or static PDF to complete a process.
Chances are, you answered "no" to at least one of those questions!
If so, you're not alone.
That’s where eForms come in. By replacing existing processes with their electronic form counterpart, it becomes significantly easier for customers, and employees, to self-navigate and complete even the most complex of processes.
The tax industry understood this value from an early age, and as such, has some of the most mature e-form solutions. By replacing government forms and addendums with electronic versions and, more importantly, versions that prompt users for specific answers, automate calculations and validate answers on-the-fly, companies like TurboTax have created a multi-billion dollar industry around the digitization of a single form-based process: taxes.
What's even more enlightening is the fact that TurboTax exists despite because the process it supports has been unable to make the necessary changes.
In the absence of tax reform, we’ll do the job for Congress.
There's a valuable lesson here; not every process can or needs to be completely changed. Sometimes, the biggest gains can be had by simply working within the confines of an existing problem.
It’s not just complex processes that benefit from digitization efforts, though. Almost any paper form - from a change of address form to a requisition form - can benefit by transitioning off of paper and into a digital format.
Today’s CEOs and CIOs are on a mission (with a mandate) to transform every aspect of their business. At the heart of this transformation is the need to change operating models to better align with the needs and wants of the customer.
Every digital transformation is going to begin and end with the customer, and I can see that in the minds of every CEO I talk to.
But with such a broad mandate, and rarely a corresponding budget (or even plan), how can any organization realize tangible results?
One place to start is with the digitization of forms and processes. Though eForms obviously do not represent a holistic transformation program, they are often one of the first, most visible and fastest-returning investments an organization can make on their road to digitization.
As noted by Antonio Piraino, Chief Technology Officer at ScienceLogic in a recent article for Forbes, "The first step to digital transformation? Get your data in order."
Having a unified, organization-wide mechanism for collecting data and delivering to current and future back-office systems is an absolute requirement. Those amazing ideas and benefits of AI and machine learning are virtually useless without a massive, consistent data set for them to work with.
Before you get started with building your own eForms, or your eForm strategy, it’s important to understand the 4 pillars of a typical eForm: Simplification of Process, Validation of Input, Delivery of Information and Security of personal information.
While each eForm software solution available on the market may offer different features/functions to accomplish these results, most of the major players will have the ability to help you accomplish the following:
The goal of an eForm should be to simplify the effort and reduce the time required to interact with the process it enables. Unlike a paper form, electronic forms can use simple algorithms and logic to determine which questions the current user does or does not need to answer. As such, a well-designed eForm should be able to completely eliminate, or automatically fill, unnecessary questions for the user. Think about a typical paper form. Often, there are multiple sections with detailed instructions on when you should or should complete them.
For example, have a look at this section of a standard US Passport form.
In just that small sub-section of the form, the user is being told:
An eForm, on the other hand, would be able to use your previous responses to tailor your experience.
By leveraging known information of the user - whether through previous answers or via integration with your core systems - and eForm can greatly improve the customer experience while simultaneously reducing the risk of errors and omissions (E&O).
Another cornerstone of any eForm is its ability to validate information before the information has been sent to a back-office for processing. As trivial as it may seem, any adjudication department will tell you that the most typical causes of form rejections (and culprit of high NIGO scores) are mistyped, misspelled or simply missed fields.
Once again, let's look at our Passport example.
Without any inline validation, I was able to enter whatever I wanted in any fields. In just that small portion of the form, I:
This example may be a little over the top, but form errors are absolutely real and pervasive throughout every industry.
Just imagine this was a form to open a new account and transfer my assets from one bank to another. That's an incredibly high-value opportunity. With an incorrectly filled form, the receiving bank is now going to have to reject the transfer, contact the client and ask them/help them to complete the process correctly.
Many people are now involved, and statistically, many clients simply won't come back into the process.
On the flip-side, had this been an intuitive, electronic form, all of those issues would have been eliminated.
By ensuring that all required fields have been completed - and completed correctly - eForms ensure a smooth transition from customer to processing the first time through.
Nothing is worse, at least in my opinion, then thinking I’m interacting with a digital experience only to be prompted at the end to print, sign, and mail (or even worse, FAX) my completed work.
When I’m asked to print and send in a document, it generally takes me more time than just starting and working directly on paper. I haven’t had a printer at home for over 5 years, and my landline has been gone for just as long. Generally, I’m out of luck until the next day at the office; and that's assuming I actually remember...
An eForm should be just that; electronic. If you negate this step - the electronic delivery of completed processes - you're effectively eliminating over 75% of the value of an electronic form. Sure, the customer had a better/easier experience providing their information, but now what.
Gone are the benefits of immediate processing; Gone is the digital input; Let’s hope the scan or fax comes through legibly; and Oh, that’s right, the business needs to keep data entry (or double-blind data entry) teams on staff to once again re-key the information.
Often mistakenly overlooked, security must be at the heart of any digitization effort; including eForms.
As you transition your paper-based forms into their new electronic format, there are many options and eForms platforms available. While some have less risk of a data loss, those same solutions also don’t afford the advantages of cloud-based solutions. However, any move to the cloud requires a detailed evaluation of the security practices and policies of the technology vendor.
Think about what’s done with paper forms today:
Reputable eForms solution providers spend millions employing security professions and threat detection software to ensure your data is secure at all times. By engaging with one of these organizations, or looking for solutions that ensure your data always resides with your organization, you can ensure a smooth and painless transition to electronic forms and processing.
Beyond the standard components, many modern eForm (or Smart Forms) solutions provide even more options to take your processes to new heights. Typically, these include Personalization, eSignatures, Digital and “Paper” artifacts, Analytics.
No one wants to be treated like a number.
Luckily, eForms offer a rare opportunity to take static, impersonal experiences - often built around topics that are inherently stressful like health and wealth - and turn them into unique, personalized “customer journeys”.
When rebuilding a paper form as an electronic experience, it’s import to leverage the power of digitization to not just recreate the existing process, but to improve upon it. Think about it, when you - as a user - navigate through an electronic form, you’re providing a wealth of information about yourself. In turn, a robust eForm should be able to use that information to tailor the experience to you and make you feel attended to and understood. Examples of personalization include:
One common component of modern eForms is the ability to enable eSignatures (e-signatures or electronic signatures). As the user is already engaged in an electronic form experience, forcing them to print and sign is a step backward to the old, analog approach. Instead, look for eForms software solutions that offer integrations with industry-leading eSignature providers. Not only will this improve the experience, but they are legally approved and backed, so you'll have your bases covered.
A true eFrom has the ability to render the respondent's answers in multiple ways simultaneously.
For many industries, even with the desire and mandate to move forward with a digital transformation strategy internally, regulations require they maintain paper/hard-copy records for future audits and reporting.
With an electronic form, this requirement doesn’t have to be an impediment to progress; as eForms are capable of producing both a paper copy, typically a PDF, along with digital records - JSON, XML, EXCEL, etc. - at the time of completion.
The need for multiple data formats isn’t exclusive to regulatory requirements, though. Many organizations make the move to electronic processing gradually or in phases. By allowing the configuration of output type dynamically, eForms can initially provide an improved customer experience while allowing back-office processes to continue uninterrupted and operating off of legacy paper-based workflows.
One of the major downfalls of paper forms is the inability to track and report off of uses or abandonment.
While not all electronic forms offer this ability, eForms that are cloud-based are effectively a collection of web pages that allow users to provide information on any device. As web pages, these eForms offer new abilities for your marketing team to engage in the workflow and look behind the curtain as to how your processes are performing.
Typical analytics include:
Often times, the digitization of processes is focused on the customer. While this is a sound approach, many processes are conducted with the help of internal staff.
Most typical banking experiences, especially ones that are branch-based, involve a "knowledgeable" staff member helping navigate a form, (or forms - plural), to complete some activity.
eForms offer an opportunity to simplify not only the customer experience but also the employee experience as well.
With a single eForm, we consolidated the 42 PDFs used across our Power of Attorney (POA) processes. We have 1,200 branches, with cumulatively 20 000 POA submissions per year and are saving over 37 500 person-hours by cutting the completion time, and errors, to a fraction of what they were. Not to mention the benefits of completely eliminating the training around the process.
By reducing the time it takes for an employee to find, fill and complete forms for-or-with your customers, you are effectively doubling the impact of your effort. Not only can you measure the effects of improving the core customer experience, but should also be evaluating and measuring the time savings in terms of training, and in the case of time reduction, the ability for employees to spend more time serving (and/or cross-selling) the customer that is currently in front of them.
Like any other process improvement project, transitioning to eForms isn’t going to happen overnight. It doesn’t matter how great your team is, or how great your vendors are; there’s still going to be legwork. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Take inventory of your existing forms
Whether you have 1 form or a forms catalog with thousands, every journey begins with a few steps. Before jumping in, it’s important to take stock of what you have and where commonalities exist. By evaluating your existing paper forms, you may find opportunities to consolidate or discover the need to develop a new eForms portal to allow discovery of your new offerings.
Plan your data model
Are you simultaneously moving away from paper forms and into digital consumption of your new information? How are you going to store (and secure) that information?
Understanding how your organization does (or will) store a massive amount of information is essential. As trivial as it may seem, having standards for how you’ll collect and store information can be the difference between unified data or new silos.
In healthcare, there's an old but still relevant example that illustrates how a lack of standardization helped create the billion dollar integration market. It's centered on how physicians asked and recorded information. Think of the following example:
Your physician wants to know if you’re a smoker to better offer advice and treatment.
Physician #1: Records your response as: “Heavy Smoker”,
Physician #2: Records your response as: “2 Packs per week”, and
Physician #3: Records your response as: “40 cigarettes per week”
Though the intent of the information is the same, the simple act of not planning ahead now requires additional back-end resources to decipher and cleanse the data. Proper planning can eliminate these headaches.
Look for efficiency gains.
Not all companies, or forms, are alike. Consider the following two scenarios:
Challenge #1: A major Insurance carrier has historically built “super-forms” (forms that combine multiple processes into 10, 20 or even 50-page documents). These have made sense in the past because they print and ship these forms to Brokers and Agents and keeping a single form for all processes meant it was simpler to update and replace forms when changes needed to be made.
With eForms, this organization now has the option of breaking these forms into more logical, and easier to maintain, discrete functional eForms.
Challenge #2: A mutual fund company has historically maintained dozens of nearly identical forms, each branded differently for the respective subsidiary or association it services.
Once again, eForms can offer efficiency gains by allowing this organization to consolidate these disparate forms into a single electronic version that can display the branding and other personalizations dynamically via a unique URL or code.
Have a fallback plan
Moving to digital forms is fantastic, but there’s a reason your paper forms have stuck around so long; they never “go down”. Moving towards fully-digital is a risky endeavor that requires planning and operational plans for what you’ll do if there’s a loss of power, systems or other factors that may impact an eForm's performance. Obviously, the gains of digitization outweigh the risk by a massive factor, but it still warrants an evaluation and the creation of a fallback plan
Citizens are increasingly accustomed to smooth, paperless processes; yet most government services are still hidden behind opaque/complex forms. Nearly every agency would benefit from taking a look through their most heavily used forms and investing in change.
Banking is actively going through a transformation towards digital and eForms are already playing a large role. Continued effort to align customer's expectations with organizational service offerings will help define the next-generation leaders in the space.
From quotes to claims; insurance is synonymous with paper documents. As one of the most cost-sensitive industries though, most insurance carriers are developing digital transformation programs and have the data to justify their efforts.
Though not always seen as an industry at the forefront of innovation, constructions sites are becoming more and more digital with a new reliance upon processes that can be easily accessed in the field and on any device.
Many core transactions within the real estate market are still reliant upon outdated paper forms. Agents, brokers, and FIs are constantly looking to differentiate their offerings and often turn to electronic forms to help demonstrate their progressive and customer-centric offerings.
From Order Sets to billing, modern healthcare is data rich but also paperbound. Recent legislation, incentives, and pay-for-performance mandates are forcing every provider to look for new, efficient ways to treat patients.
Inventory, transport and quality control all require the completion of multiple documents. eForms can help standardize and simplify the effort required to ensure the line keeps moving.
Though much of retail has been digital for years, in-store operations often still require employees to record stock, order supplies and engage with corporate functions using paper. These areas are ripe for change.
Getting a store customer or new student to apply for a credit card or new offer is tough enough. Doing so with a clipboard and paper forms only make things worse. By digitizing the experience, and letting potential customers review and/or complete applications even after they leave, direct promotions firms have a new tool in eForms.
Health and Safety
Checklists, checklists, checklists. Health and safety reviews are essential for all of our wellbeing, but doing so without an electronic form to streamline the data collection process and easily compile results is just plain silly.
The ability to conduct in-the-field surveys is essential. Providing teams with the ability to complete their work on tablets, and bring multimedia directly to subjects, opens new doors for teams looking to gather information quickly.
Security & Risk Assessment
Not only is the dreaded risk assessment checklist inefficient, but documenting such critical information on paper that can be misread or misinterpreted must pose new risks in and of itself. Right?
Welcome aboard; we're so excited to have you at our progressive company. Now, just spend your first 2 days filling out these 37 paper forms and consent documents, and you'll probably be enrolled in our group benefits plan.
While the standard measures of eForm success are centered measured by cost reduction and user acquisition, it's also important to take a more holistic view of costs and improvements gained to fully quantify your results.
Initially, ROI can be easily measured by looking at the items and steps that are completely eliminated with your migration to eForms.
Printing, storing, shipping, and maintaining paper documents is an easy cost to calculate. Beyond just the paper-costs, it's also important to calculate the person-hours that previously went into processing the intake of the filled documents.
Note: Like any undertaking, it is essential that you have historic data before implementing changes so that you, and your organization, have metrics to look back on and compare against.
Also, consider the costs that previously were used to cover the overhead of the teams that were evaluating (and probably rejecting) NIGO forms. With fully-validated, pre-submission, electronic data, you've gained new efficiencies across your data-entry/back-office teams and these numbers should be included in any evaluation.
Deploying eForms often means acquiring customers across new channels. If your process is sufficiently complex, chances are you had dedicated staff whose responsibility it was to help customers navigate your difficult forms. With the release of eForms, customers may now be able to completely self-serve their way through your process. In this case, including historic and new acquisition costs can be a major addition to your overall ROI.
Don't forget to explore your old and new training costs as part of your evaluation. Many organizations are able to dramatically, or completely, reduce the effort put into employee training once eForms are in place. This can be a harder number to lock down, but it's worth the effort if it provides a lift to your overall business case.
Also, consider attempting to quantify what employees are able to do now that they aren't stuck behind a desk filling forms. If the effort to complete a process has been reduced by up to 80%, your employees are (hopefully) filling that time with new activities. Ideally, these new activities involve work that generates new revenue, improves customer retention or both. Do not underestimate these soft numbers as they can be significant.
Now that you have a broad understanding of What an eForm is, how to build an eForm strategy and how to measure success, it's time to start at a detailed evaluation of the best solutions for your needs.
eForms might not be your complete digital transformation solution, but they can be part of the equation if you plan and execute well.