Making the transition from paper to electronic forms

Making the transition from paper to electronic forms

Written by Richard Adams on Tuesday, 14 August 2018. Posted in Electronic forms

Organisations and the departments within them depend on the efficient movement of information to run their businesses effectively. Inefficient business processes and the manual collection of data can lead to reduced productivity and costly delays.

Consequently, more industries are digitalising their paper forms and moving to web-based eForms to optimise the processing of information.

One example is clinical trials organisations. Over the last few years, we have noticed a shift away from paper CRFs (case report forms) to electronic CRFs as clinical trials organisations seek to allow trial participants to provide more accurate data in a secure online environment.

Another interesting change we are seeing is an increasing need for a seamless solution for clients requiring both paper and electronic forms.

What are eForms…

Any group, organisation or process where data collection is involved can benefit from eForms software which takes existing paper forms and presents them to internal and external users in a web browser for online completion.

Put simply, eForms enable users to create web forms to collect data.

eForms software is not necessarily meant to introduce new forms and processes; its most important role is in its ability to handle your existing forms and processes.

…and what they are not

When people think of eForms, fillable PDF solutions such as Adobe Acrobat tend to spring to mind. These forms are created in Word or some other design tool and converted to a PDF that end-users can complete onscreen. However, these solutions rarely provide efficient processing of the information, which is exactly what a true eForms processing solution offers. For example, users need to be authenticated, information needs to be validated in real-time, routed to individuals for review and approval and sent to back-end databases for regulatory reasons.

You might also consider using web-based services such as Survey Monkey. Back in 2015, we discussed the European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling that the ‘Safe Harbor Privacy Principles’ were invalid. The ruling meant that if a UK or EU company stored customer/patient/employee data with a company in the US, they would not comply with EU Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of personal data.

Effectively, if you were using online survey tools for data capture or information on your customers/patients/employees was held in data centres in the US, you were risking a fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Over two years later, Survey Monkey claim on their website that when you work with a global company some data may always need to be exported and accessed for legitimate and beneficial purposes to do with service provisioning outside of Europe. They do say, however, that they are hoping to offer European data storage solutions in the near future.

What processes are suitable for electronic forms?

Some paper based processes are perfect for eForms processing including:

  • Registration forms
  • Government forms such as self-assessment and legal aid
  • NHS and GP forms such as patient safety incidents
  • Clinical trials forms such as case report forms (CRF)
  • Timesheets for recruitment agencies
  • Employee and HR (hiring, salary, expenses, performance reviews, holiday, leave requests)
  • Purchase order submission
  • Review and approval processes
  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Course booking and evaluation forms
  • Web based form submissions (support, helpdesk, etc.)

Why you should move to eForms?

Minimal learning curve

A good eForm processing solution will simplify the task of moving paper-based forms into their electronic format, making it easy for business users and non‐programmers to create feature-rich electronic forms in a way that makes them familiar to the users of the existing paper forms.

Embrace workflow automation

Moving to eForms will not only eliminate paper forms, it can be a stepping stone to workflow automation. Electronic forms processing without workflow is simple data collection. Forms are filled in so the information can be processed, not just sit somewhere.

Capture electronic signatures

Most forms require signatures to indicate that a specific person acknowledges or agrees to the contents of a given document. It’s one of the reasons why clients still persist with paper forms.

However, did you know that electronic signatures carry the same legal authority as pen and ink signatures in the United States, the European Union and Australia?

Web-based with no software to install or download

Electronic forms are accessed, completed and submitted through your web browser with no software to install or download.

Access forms on your mobile or tablet

Users can complete forms directly from their smartphone or tablet.

Integration with third-party systems

Need to integrate with other systems? A good eForm processing solution will give you the tools to integrate with external systems via web services or an API.

Eliminate errors and improve data entry

Are you seeking to convert a paper form into an electronic document? Are you fed up of illegible handwriting on completed paper forms or do you suffer with the perennial problem of users submitting forms with incomplete or incorrect information?

Data entry features such as editable or read-only, hidden or viewable, empty or pre-populated, required or optional and fixed or dynamic mean only accurate data is submitted which expedites the lifecycle of forms processing.

Eliminate delays

Routing paper forms from person to person within an organisation, sometimes across time zones and geographies, can take days – or weeks. Using eForms, data can be reviewed, commented on and approved in a fraction of the time.

Regulatory compliance

Do you need to track and record every meaningful transaction in a way that can be retraced later by managers, auditors and regulators? Are you a Clinical Trials Manager seeking a eForms processing solution that conforms to 21 CFR part 11 and Annex 11?

A good solution will offer digital signatures, multi-factor authentication, re-authentication, data encryption and an external audit log to record all events and actions.

Will paper forms ever be completely eradicated or is a hybrid solution the answer?

Many organisations today are undergoing a complete digital transformation and are looking for efficient ways to collect and process information from their customers.

The ability to automate the collection of information using both paper and electronic forms and manage the onward processing of that information within a single solution makes a lot of sense for our customers.

There might be legal regulations that dictate the continued use of paper while some customers may prefer to use paper – or not have access to the web. In these cases, having a single solution supporting paper and electronic forms is essential, allowing them to take on digital transformation at their own pace.

Conclusion

The first step in searching for an eForm solution is to understand your environment. Identify the problems you want to solve, the timeframe you need the solution deployed, and the skill set you have to work on the problem. Paper intensive or manual processes are good candidates for eForms automation. You should expect an ROI within months with a good eForm solution.

Request a free demo

Are you seeking to offer end-users the option to complete forms online and route them? Contact us today for a free demonstration of our electronic forms software.

About the Author

Richard Adams

Richard Adams

Richard is the Marketing Manager at ePC where he is responsible for marketing, PR and ISO 9001 accreditation including transition to ISO 9001: 2015.